When we consider the concept of utilitarianism we base it on the pleasures and pains we encounter and how they balance regarding maximizing happiness overall. As Jeremy Bentham defines, “whatever will maximize utility; producing the most pleasure or happiness and avoiding or preventing pain or suffering” in Sandel’s Justice (2007). When taking a utilitarianism viewpoint, the results and consequences, such as the overall happiness, are the focus point. Even further, John Stuart Mill’s principle of liberty argues that maximizing utility while regarding the long run can be acquired through regarding individual liberty and lead to maximum happiness overall (Sandel 2007).
Utilitarianism essentially argues our actions are not as relevant as the outcome they produce, which is the importance we hold in maintaining happiness, and how the desire for happiness drives most of what we do. It also implies the importance of overall happiness in a community or as a whole versus the avoidance of pain and suffering and the desire to obtain such a balance of happiness over pain.
So, when we regard the “greatest good for the greatest number” concept via utilitarianism as said earlier by Bentham, the concept of a proposed Universal Basic Income should be questioned as to who and how many will be experiencing this “greater good” and how it affects them in a utilitarianism viewpoint. The simple idea of a proposed UBI of $12,000 a year seems like a parallel concept with utilitarianism on the surface but there may be some deeper roots regarding whether this approach would support such a proposal.
In utilitarianism this UBI idea could provide an overall accepted proposal in a group theory, such that the majority of people would benefit and acquire the most happiness as a whole, not just independently.
The proposal of a UBI seems to be a very progressive one. It can provide substantial help in just simple livelihood and basic living expenses especially for lower class or lower income communities. The utilitarian prospective would agree that in theory this proposal would in fact support such a fundamental help for the whole of people and provide the most happiness for the greatest number within survival means. When considering the benefits of happiness as a whole broken down into the higher class and lower classes, we could assume that since the top 1% holds the highest number of income the rest of the population would have been influenced far greater by the UBI. When we look closer at this assumption a utilitarianism outlook would agree that since the higher population stands within a lower net worth than the top 1% who, although holds a higher net worth, would show that the maximum happiness would be obtained for the greater as a whole community. Regardless if the taxes resulted in those with high incomes paying back the money obtained by the UBI, the overall happiness as a whole would still be balanced with the greater pleasure for the whole over the potential pain.
Some underlying presumptions could include that, assuming existing programs that help those with limited means are to remain, the source for such a proposal would come from higher taxes and affect those with higher incomes more. Assuming that the taxes collected for this program wouldn’t affect those with higher incomes significantly enough to be a major problem, utilitarianism would agree that although those with higher incomes would essentially pay back the money from the UBI the overall happiness would increase as a whole. This can be presumed since those with lower incomes would now have a basis for living, and even if there is still a gap between net worth of lower and higher incomes, the majority of people would now have the ability to invest in basic living expenses, presumably increasing overall happiness and decreasing pain and suffering.
However, looking deeper into the utilitarian perspective, overall happiness may have some levels to context. Although this proposed UBI can provide a basic income providing enough money to stay above the poverty line and may give people more opportunities with their lives and dreams, situationally it may still drive a gap between availability to certain living conditions and locations. Even though new money wouldn’t be created, since it is collected through higher taxes, so inflation wouldn’t occur, this proposed UBI still wouldn’t provide enough money for people to live “lavishly” or even within certain higher cost living areas, such as city living versus suburban living, or social settings for those with lower income. So, a utilitarian might argue that although overall people would be living in a basic income comfortably, able to avoid the welfare program requirements and invest in self-interests, there might still be some clear differences in opportunities and life styles and living locations between those with lower income and higher incomes.