Lauren logged in to the government’s UBI site, just like she always did right before midnight on the last day of every month. Her university’s tuition increase was literally killing her, despite the trickle of income from her new consulting gig. She waited for seven minutes to log on, but this time it felt even longer than usual. Maybe it was the extra hour she just put in at the firm that made her green eyes feel (and probably look) like worn out sea glass. Maybe it was the 75 pages of reading she had to do for class the next morning that she was only halfway into. Whatever the reason for her sluggishness, she clicked on the government’s message the microsecond she heard the sharp ping of a notification.
She opened the window. Her UBI allotment had been adjusted down from $1500 to $750 for “poor behavior.” “What in the world is going on?” She thought to herself. While she had heard of past administrations using means testing to keep deadbeats and criminals from getting welfare benefits, that hadn’t been policy for a long time. And even if it was, Lauren was neither a deadbeat nor a criminal. Hell, she wasn’t even a NEET. She had the student loan debt and tax returns to prove that.
Furious, Lauren texted her friends, trying to get some semblance of an understanding about what just happened. Apparently, Lauren had been out of the loop for awhile. She was correct that traditional means testing, which involved a litany of drug tests, employment checks, etc. was a thing of the past. Unfortunately for her, there was a new government policy involving welfare payments because UBI’s initial rollout only slightly curbed the loneliness epidemic and the resulting deaths of despair. Apparently, a decent-sized check every few weeks wasn’t enough to stop people from putting guns to their heads and drinking themselves to death.
With this failure in mind, the government made a drastic change to UBI: focusing on happiness in their new initiative. Happiness, cordiality, sociality, and the rest were now to be highly rewarded, with payments being raised by as much as 66% from the typical $1,500, meaning that a person could make up to $30,000 a year just for being happy and having friends, which was quite the reward indeed.
To make things even better, the program was to be revenue-neutral. Lauren’s friends assured her that this would all be paid for through additional taxes on the wealthy, but she had other ideas about how the program likely evened out its spending. Lauren was tempted to share those ideas, but then realized it would ruin her friends’ moods, which would hurt them, as well as her, next month.
“Ignorance has finally become bliss,” she thought, rolling her eyes. Instead of shattering her friends’ illusions, Lauren picked up her phone and called up the UBI office herself, hoping to get some of her money back.
The only thing more offensive than the hours-long wait time was having to listen to Katy fucking Perry for that entire period.
Finally, after at least two hours of Katy Perry songs, Lauren got a response. “Hello, my name is Stephanie; how can I help you today?” Came a sing-song voice from the other end. Lauren gripped her phone case so hard she swore she heard it crack. Taking a deep breath, she responded.
“Hello Stephanie, I’m calling about my monthly UBI check. I know the program has changed, but I’m not sure why my payment was cut in half.”
“Well Lauren, as you know, we have a long-term problem with deaths of despair in America. The federal government has tried over and over again to make people happier, but nothing has worked yet, so we decided to incentivize happiness as a way of curing sadness. And you, well, you really haven’t been happy these last few weeks. You constantly complained to your classmates, swore into your computer at work numerous times, and weren’t friendly to people on the street.”
Lauren could tell from Stephanie’s tone that she’d been dealing with these types of phone calls all night.
“I’m sorry, but how do you know these things?” Lauren asked. I thought the facial recognition software on the street cameras was only used to identify criminals, and I go to a private university.” She didn’t even bother to ask about her work computer’s webcam; government surveillance using the workplace had been the norm for decades.
“A private university that receives federal funding. As a citizen, you should know that federal funds come with strings attached and that surveillance is one of them. As for facial recognition only picking up criminals, you would be engaged in fraud if you received your full check with your attitude last month.” The contempt dripping off of Stephanie’s tongue must have formed a puddle around her feet at this point.
“What attitude?” Lauren asked, sounding as if she were from the valley for just a minute.
“That attitude. I see you’re not off to a good start this month either. You just need to chill out. I mean, the energy you’re giving off is, like, really negative. I can feel the bad vibes in my eardrums.”
“My bank account balance will also be negative if you don’t give me my full check. No amount of yoga will give me the $750 to pay off my rent increase after HUD rejected the developer’s plan to add new units!”
“Oh, but it will get you your money back; that’s the point. If you’d like, I can refer you to a government therapist to help you out; their rates are very affordable. It’s estimated that over one-third of our patients will make their money back by the end of the year.”
Lauren slammed her phone on the nightstand. “Fuck that self-righteous bitch,” she muttered to herself before turning her phone off going to bed.
When she woke up a few hours later, Lauren opened her school email, only to find a message that she had been removed from her program for “threatening a government employee.” After that, Lauren didn’t even bother logging on to the UBI site the following month; she knew her check would be for $0.
Freddie Bastiat is a law student who’s a fan of Yoko Taro games, college football, and the restoration of the Byzantine and Achaemenid Empires. You can find him on Twitter @Tht_Fat_Bastiat.