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If, within our lifetimes, a nation of similar global economic importance as America, China, or Russia (i.e. G8) were to switch to a basic citizen's income, and was able to maintain a top position in global economics (unarguably still eligible for G8 status on economy alone), what would be the likely effect after 10 years on the people who might have gone on to be street hustlers, or pickpockets?

What effect would that have had on street level crime, and what would the shift of policing focus have resulted in?

Assume America for the answer.

edit: I'm trying to get a picture of what the bulk of police work would be dealing with in a world where poverty and desperation are no longer a factor in a society like America. (For the sake of argument, I'm assuming that the bulk of police work will be to do with the crimes that are most commonplace)

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    $\begingroup$ Street hustling will never be replaced because a core group will divert their basic income into things they favor more - gambling, drugs, luxuries and have to hustle for the basics again. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jan 15 '16 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not talking about whether it would be eradicated. I'm talking about what the police focus would be in a world where the need to hustle to survive no longer exists $\endgroup$ – Nathanael Feb 3 '16 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ It isn't the focus of police efforts now. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Feb 3 '16 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ It is a lot of what police work deals with. But let's say for the sake of argument that you're right, the question still stands; it's not a binary situation where resource is only focused on one thing. $\endgroup$ – Nathanael Feb 4 '16 at 9:29
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I think I am beginning to understand you question. The problem many (most?) answer have had is that basic income would not remove such crimes since people would still run into situations where the income would be insufficient to cover their expenses. Poverty in this context is not about income or even wealth, it is about not having enough cash: it's a cash flow problem such as one that some banks or even countries have suffered in recent years.

Such problem can't be removed by a static basic income not even one that tries to compensate for known factors. People would still have problems. Errare humanum est and so on.

In addition to basic income you would still need active intervention to deal with transient problems and special circumstances. There would have to be some instance where people could turn to when in need of help instead of turning to crime.

In modern welfare systems that is generally either the municipality and its social services as in the Nordic countries and presumably rest of Europe or a private enterprise offering short term loans. Typically for a problem like gambling or (other) addiction you would first try to cover it with loans and then after running out of credit turn to the social services. Unfortunately the social services can't really force you to get rid of your addiction or other problem. The best they can do is to make their help conditional on personal effort. Which for people with serious problems is useless and leaves crime as the last resort. Or first if the person already knows the system can't help him. Or just thinks that crime is easier than dealing with the system.

So what is needed is a system that pro-actively watches for such issues without relying on people self reporting and then enforces treatment or therapy to fix them. With that addition on top of basic income and normal social services we already have, I believe you really could remove such crimes as a meaningful factor.

My naming sense totally sucks, but it would amuse me call this "big brother" service "the Police" for historical reasons. I am something of a history buff and all.

So now that we have dealt with the preliminaries of how such society could exist, we can move to the actual question: "What would the police mostly do in such society?" We also know the answer: they would be actively preventing crime.

The system needed for this kind of observation would probably be highly automated as it wouldn't really be designed to deal with people actively trying to avoid detection. Just combine and analyse some economic, medical, and social data and flag "bad patterns" for direct confirmation by the police force or social services. So it probably would be less intrusive than Facebook or Google despite being even more of a constant presence.

The same system can be extended to many other forms of crime that have regular patterns preceding them. A society like this totally would build psychological profiles of its citizens and then intervene before the issue generates into something that is expensive or even impossible to treat.

This would leave crimes motivated by politics or religion. Honestly most crimes considered as such are caused by mental health issues and would be prevented as normal.

So I am guessing the police would mostly be doing interventions by visiting people flagged by the system with a social worker or maintaining order in areas with intoxicated people or potentially unstable foreigners. And of course just being visibly present. Although a policy of pro-active intervention would make up for lot of presence.

I doubt this is the answer you wanted or the society you imagined, but it is an answer to your question, at least.

And there would still be crime so you would still need some people to investigate such.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's actually exactly the sort of answer I was hoping for. Not the answer I would have come up with myself, but exactly the sort of answer I was looking for. :) $\endgroup$ – Nathanael Nov 10 '15 at 20:11
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You asked about America, but consider the reality across the pond. Many European nations already have a welfare system in place to meet the basic needs of the population -- food, shelter, clothing, even a few euros extra for spending. Nobody should have to beg or hustle. Or so the theory goes. Yet there are still hustlers, beggars, panhandlers.

  • Some find that the welfare allowance isn't enough, either because the allowance didn't keep up with rising prices, or because they're paying off debts, or because their lack of money forces them into inefficient economic choices.
  • Some people are unwilling to put up with the welfare bureaucracy and intrusive case-workers. They don't want to be "helped" with job applications that won't get anywhere, anyway.
  • Others have addictions or mental problems, not bad enough to get them treatment against their will, but so bad that they won't fit into "the system."
  • Some are not legal residents, which makes it difficult or impossible to apply for government aid.

Most of those problems would still apply with a basic income. Fewer people would be affected if the basic income was higher than the current welfare payment, and if there was a less intrusive welfare bureaucracy, but the basic principle still holds. People will fall through the cracks of the system.

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer is more or less right. While basic income makes casual hustling and petty crime economically pointless, most such systems are, for obvious reasons, designed not to have a negative effect on peoples willingness to work for a living. So they have no effect on people to whom hustling or petty crime is a serious occupation for one reason or another. Still the rates of such acts do seem to go down. Most serious things grow from casual starts, after all. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 8 '15 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ Worth noting that none of the EU nations have anything approaching a basic citizen's income, which has the important distinction of being no-strings attached, and puts the recipients above the poverty line (where most social security schemes here in the EU will not generally keep you out of poverty in of themselves), and without the need to police people desperate to get out of poverty, the police force would be able to focus elsewhere. I'm trying to figure out what the police force would look like in that sort of world where it's resources are allocated with a different set of priorities $\endgroup$ – Nathanael Nov 8 '15 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think there would be a difference. The important factor is whether you have basic social security available or not. Whether you have to do something because of political concerns or if it raises you over some arbitrary measure of income are distinctions without a difference in this particular concern. It can be, it is, argued that basic income would lead to an entitlement society of slackers, but there is no actual proof of that. And won't be until somebody tries it. And the reasoning behind such fears rarely goes beyond political slogans. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 8 '15 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ Also "poverty" in context of income level and "poverty" as a motivator for crime are too different concepts. There is an indirect link since former does increase medical issues which can lead to second type of poverty. Fundamentally, the former simply means that you are less well off than others to a degree where it impacts your (and of your children) chances of improving yourself. The second means that you actually need more money. People do not engage in small time crime to escape poverty, which would not work anyway, they do so because they need the money to cover their expenses. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 8 '15 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Nathanael, a genuinely no-strings payment would allow people to take it and then work some more to get more money. Considering that the basic income must be well below the average income, people would still consider begging or panhandling to improve it, and not just casual or steady labour. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 9 '15 at 6:42
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In my opinion , street hustling doesn't stop with basic citizen income. Only regular police enforcement of the law guarantees results.

Of course a nation with a good economy would have milder cases.

Someone would say that education may also be a solution. Yes, but it's time consuming and does not guarantee 100% reduction of crime.*(it's also needed nevertheless). And poverty and vanity are not easily removed if the human animal is not 200% satisfied and repetitively until death.

"The paradox" of having a capable police force, an still crime on the streets, is because of political decisions taken at high levels.

The only way crime would stop and confusion would ensue, is if there would be no need for anyone to do any kind of work and basically satisfy almost anything our biology needs, repetitively.

Don't forget that there's crime because of poverty, and crime because of a need to go up higher in society and enjoy everything possible. If you somehow had it, crime would vanish and our society, at least in the beginning, would be at total chaos. We haven't learnt to live without deficits, and this might shift deeply ingrained incentives for activity.

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  • $\begingroup$ "In my opinion , street hustling doesn't stop with basic citizen income. Only regular police enforcement of the law guarantees results." This is a very controversial claim. In fact most of your answer is based on controversial claims, therefore consider providing evidences of them (studies or examples) to improve your answer's objectivity. $\endgroup$ – Kolaru Nov 8 '15 at 17:09
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The idea behind basic income is to provide all citizens with the basic necessities so they don’t have to worry at all where their food, shelter, education, health, entertainment or whatever they need on a basic level comes from, without having to rent out their time, intellect, expertise or strength, i.e. work for money. It is assumed that people would then pursue their dreams and excel at what they really enjoy, thereby improving themselves and society. Many would also take a job as is usual today, because they want to have a better life than one with just the basic needs covered. A welfare state could, of course, also provide these basic needs for free to everyone, but the theory states that by giving them a certain amount of money that would cover all that instead, supply and demand would better shape society than central planning and controlling. So basic income is the capitalist alternative to a classic social welfare state.

Accordingly, governments cannot stop there. When they introduce basic income they may cut other social security benefits as long as they ensure they’re still affordable on basic income. Paid work and reinvesting your accumulated capital would probably become the only accepted ways to get a better than basic life-style. Criminals who choose alternative ways to get rich would be sentenced to more severe punishments, but at the same time people that cannot survive on basic income because they have an expensive addiction, for instance, would be eligible for help getting rid of that problem. Despite free (and perhaps mandatory) therapy, society could decide that the addictive substance must be affordable on basic income and hence either decrease its price (e.g. by decriminalizing it) or increase basic income for everyone.

What does that mean for street hustlers – I’m assuming that excludes prostitutes – and pickpockets?
Society thinks they have enough to live by. If someone takes wealth from others without giving anything in return, only to have more, that is just greedy and therefore subject to rigid persecution and severe punishment. If in rare cases they actually can justify their actions with something they absolutely had to fund that basic income can not and other social subsidies do not cover, they will likely be pardoned in court and the state would have to find a solution so the accused would no longer have that excuse for being a criminal. If their reason was that they wanted a better life but could not get a job due to their limited education, jail time would actually become mandatory school time – if you don’t get educated you’ll have to be satisfied with basic income or crappy jobs.

Over all, crime rates should decrease with basic income, because there would be less incentive, lower tolerance, higher clearance, more alternatives. The justice system would become more interested in identifying and treating the reasons for crimes rather than mere retribution.

There might be a new phenomenon that criminals get creative with finding valid excuses to keep on stealing, which itself could become a criminal profession.

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Many people believe that criminals are motivated for money or profit, but in many cases, the criminals are people of normal or higher intelligence who choose to be criminals. (Think of the movie "Heat", Michael chooses to stay with the gang for a final score despite having invested his considerable profits in real estate and bonds because "The action is the juice").

There is the rush of planing and executing a crime. There is the feeling of power over the helpless victim of your scheme. You could be taking a score for revenge. You might need to take a score to maintain your position in a criminal hierarchy. Sociopathic criminals carry out their crimes because they simply don't see their victims as people (and sociopaths who use modelling to gain the trust of people they later defraud simply see this as a complex game).

So, no amount of money will end crime, however since it will change economic opportunities and outcomes for everyone, the sorts of scams and victims will change because there will be different opportunities to exploit.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, and since it's now not about people desperate to get out of poverty, but mostly going to be people with a predilection (for whatever reason) towards crime rather than "honest" work, I'm trying to get an idea of what sort of enterprises would be the ones that end up being the bulk of police work. $\endgroup$ – Nathanael Nov 8 '15 at 20:18
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OK, assume that a magic wand made hustlers go away, what would the police do?

  • Cops and prosecutors in the US use plea bargains to resolve many cases. What if they had the time to properly investigate each crime, and not just settle for a lesser included charge?
  • The practice also leads to blackmail by overcharging, since the police know that the initial charge is merely the first bargaining position. So they add "resisting arrest" or whatever to the charge to make sure at least something sticks.
  • The clear-up rate for many crimes is abysmal. How about a task force on car theft, or on complicated fraud cases?
  • If there are good police-community relations, most people would appreciate more patrols. Possibly even on foot, by cops who really know their beat.
  • More "idle" patrol cars improve the response time. Also, less overtime and better training makes for better police.
  • While you're at it, train them all as paramedics, where every minute counts.
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    $\begingroup$ I think that you are missing the second level effects. The immediate effect would be to give law enforcement more time to investigate each case, but the secondary effect would be less law enforcement. I.e. after police departments and prosecuting offices noticed they had spare time, they'd cut back. Afterwards, there'd be fewer police and prosecutors. In particular, if crime is less of an issue, there'd tend to be fewer patrols, not more. How do we know this would happen? In the '90s, crime rates declined and they downsized police departments. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Nov 9 '15 at 13:41
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If you gave everyone enough money so they could have enough to eat, live with a roof over their heads, keep the heat on, etc. I don't think that it would resolve the poverty problem, because you're assuming the people receiving the money are responsible planners.

For some, now they simply have more money for drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. or even just wasting on unnecessary but attractive things (big screen TVs, holidays, etc.) You may have less pick-pockets / hustlers / muggers , but you will also increase business to the illegal drug trade, which should keep the police busy enough....

You'd also have a slightly higher level of crime... Now that more people have money, you'd have an increase in scams to con them out of it, as well as burglaries, and that kind of thing.

Think of the people who take advantage of the vulnerable (such as the elderly living alone). They now feel that their targets have more money and are a juicier target whereas previously they wouldn't have bothered.

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For some people it can never be enough. In (north-western) Europe no-one needs to starve or freeze, but there are still pickpockets and muggers, because they think they are entitled to take from other people without giving in return.

A basic income would just give criminals more reason to steal from their poor neighbours.

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  • $\begingroup$ I heard a documentary on Swiss radio about this a while ago - the idea comes up regularly in the silly season - and the economists and social workers were against it. A social worker from Berlin said there are areas where the handouts from the state are so big that no-one bothers even to look for a job. And these people are not using their spare time to create art or learn philosophy. And indeed, if your television is smaller than that of your neighbour you feel entitled to commit crime and get hold of a bigger one still. $\endgroup$ – RedSonja Jan 15 '16 at 11:47

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