A $250,000 Mattress, Versus Sleeping on the Street

A $250,000 Mattress, Versus Sleeping on the Street

One of the things I enjoy doing every week is taking a quick peek at Marilyn vos Savant’s Ask Marilyn column, in Parade magazine. It arrives tucked inside my Newsday, in the weekend comics section, along with the advertising circulars. This week’s Dilbert cartoon, on the cover of that comics section, reminded me of something I’ve long been wanting to put up on YouTube. I think it would be really hilarious. But more importantly, it would help communicate, in a somewhat unforgettable way, some important key points concerning how wrong our thinking is. Anyway, that’s just one of the many things that likely will not move forward, unless I some day get funding.

Here’s something else you might find interesting. In the Sunday Business section of each Sunday edition of the New York Times, there appears a Vocations column. In this column, Perry Garfinkel interviews people about their vocation. On July 1, he interviewed T J Brown, a 73 year old mattress maker employed by Savoir Beds in London. And would you care to guess what some of their mattresses sell for? Their mattress prices range from $13,000 to $250,000. No, that’s not a misprint. In fact, in the interview, Brown states that he has been entrusted to create their Royal State Bed, which retails for more than $175,000.

Right after having read that, I read the interview with Richard Branson and his daughter Holly, on the opposite page (David Gelles’s “Corner Office” column, July 1), and there, “income inequality” and “people sleeping on the streets,” just leap off the page. Think about that. The thought of a homeless person, sleeping on the street; juxtaposed, with the image of someone sleeping on a $250,000 mattress.

To give you the full context, David Gelles, the interviewer, has just asked “What do you think those in positions of power should do to address social problems like income inequality?” And Richard Branson gives his answer: “A basic income should be introduced in Europe and in America. It’s great to see countries like Finland experimenting with it in certain cities. It’s a disgrace to see people sleeping on the streets with this material wealth all around them. And I think with artificial intelligence coming along, there needs to be a basic income.”

It is amazing how fast this ‘universal basic income’ idea is gaining steam. When I first considered this concept, years ago, no one was discussing it. In fact, one of the reasons why I never brought it up, ever, is I thought people would find it ludicrous to even suggest such a thing.

But that’s certainly not the case today. In fact, this topic was once again revisited, in an opinion piece, by Annie Lowrey, published in yesterday’s New York Times (“Trump Should Just Give People Money / The president wants to cut government. So he should see the wisdom of just cutting checks.”). A sidebar appearing with the byline, states that Annie Lowrey is “the author of the forthcoming Give People Money, from which this essay is adapted, and a contributing editor at The Atlantic.”

As Lowrey states, “In the past few years — with the middle class being squeezed, trust in government eroding, technological change hastening, and the economy getting Uberized — the idea has vaulted to a surprising prominence … moving from airy hypothetical to near-reality in some places.” Indeed, as Lowrey also points out, Mark Zuckerberg (a potential 2020 presidential candidate), Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates and Elon Musk “are just a few of the policy proposal’s flirts, converts and supporters.”

If a universal basic income were implemented in this country, every citizen could receive anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a month to spend however they choose. The idea is that this could render other government assistance programs obsolete.

My main problem with universal basic income is that whenever I hear the concept being discussed, ecological considerations are never a part of the equation; and I simply don’t see how you can have the one, without the other. When I first conceived of the idea of giving citizens a sizable stipend, I envisioned it as potentially a way of getting people to be less destructive to the environment — by having fewer people employed in occupations that are causing ecological harm, for instance. But with the way a universal basic income would likely be put into practice, I see just the opposite occurring. For example, lots of people would likely be rushing to spend their newfound fortune on air travel. Travel is often one of the very first things people think of, when their financial circumstances change, in a positive way. But just imagine what impact hundreds of millions of people (in just this country alone), traveling thousands of extra miles a year, would have on climate change.

There’s so much more to say … but sorry, it’s time for this bleary-eyed blogger to get some shuteye. Goodnight.

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