The best argument against UBI — Notes from Naval’s JRE interview

Richard Reis
4 min readJun 6, 2019
By Richard Reis

Those of us who’ve followed Naval for a while, rejoice!

Yesterday, he appeared on Joe Rogan’s mega-popular show, the Joe Rogan Experience.

There were many great lessons, and other people have already summarized them.

So I won’t do that.

Instead, I’ll briefly talk about the part that stuck with me the most. Which was Naval’s argument against Universal Basic Income (UBI).


Do you know that feeling you get when your intuition tells you something is wrong, but you can’t clearly express why?

This is how I felt about UBI. I knew it sounded great and Andrew Yang is awesome. But I also felt something was missing.

I just couldn’t express it clearly.

So Naval did it instead! Here are his words:

“People who are down on their luck are not looking for handouts. It’s not just about money. It’s also about status. It’s about meaning.

The moment I start giving money to you, I’ve lowered your status. I’ve made you a second class citizen.

So I have to give you meaning. And meaning comes through education and capability. You have to teach a man to fish, not basically throw your rod and leftover carcasses at him and tell him ‘here, eat the scraps.’” — Naval Ravikant

He gave a couple of other arguments. But this is the one that spoke to me the most.

It’s about meaning.

Sidenote: I know there are great arguments for UBI. I’m not completely against it. But I also feel like it doesn’t solve all problems. So we need to dive deeper into the root causes and how to solve them.

Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe we should eradicate unnecessary financial suffering from the world (key word, “unnecessary”).

But I don’t think the way to get there is by giving people free money.

If my finance blog is any indication, most people don’t even know what to do with their money!

That lack of knowledge is the cause of most financial suffering (once you’re out of complete poverty).

So we need to give people a goal. Something to strive towards and be excited about.

We need to give meaning to people’s financial lives.

Why are you making money? Just to pay your bills? What is your end goal?

From a financial perspective, that goal is retirement.

I know what you’re thinking. The answer is no, not that retirement.

Here’s Naval again:

“Essentially what you want to get everybody is retirement. But not the ‘I’m 65 years old, sitting in a nursing home, collecting a check’ retirement.

Retirement is when you stop sacrificing today for some imaginary tomorrow. When today is complete in and of itself, you’re retired.” — Naval Ravikant

A place where you don’t have to work for money is the destination.

And everybody can get to that destination (to find out more about the group of people who discovered this, read about the FIRE movement).

“I believe everybody can be wealthy. Everybody. It is not a zero-sum game. It is a positive-sum game. You create something brand new, you exchange it with me for something brand new I’ve created, there’s higher utility for both of us. The sum of the value created is positive.

It’s not like status, where it’s like “you’re higher up, I’m lower down. You’re president, so I must be vice-president. You’re a +1 and I’m a -1 so it must all cancel to zero.”” — Naval Ravikant

Again, once you’re out of complete poverty, money becomes a game everyone can play (I should know, since I built the first Duolingo for finance).

And once you know your destination, the game becomes exciting.

You find news ways to save money. You find creative ways to make money. You learn new skills and reach out to new people. You grow as a human.

Soon, you’re watching your debt(s) decrease and your net worth increase. And step by step you see yourself getting closer to the final level of the game, retirement.

This is incredibly fun if you know what you’re doing!

Also, this is how we give meaning to people’s financial lives.

Teach everyone the rules of the money game, and let them play it.

After all, as Greg Anderson said “we should focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it.”

P.S.: For more 🤯 lessons, listen to Naval’s JRE interview.

P.P.S: For those interested, I’ve also put together a list of books Naval recommends the most.

Thanks for reading! 😊If you enjoyed it, test how many times can you hit 👏 in 5 seconds. It’s great cardio for your fingers AND will help other people see the story.You can follow me on Twitter at @richardreeze to find out whenever others just like it come out.📚 Do you like books? If so you might enjoy my latest obsession: 
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Richard Reis

"I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other." - Epicurus