December 16, 2015


The Basic Income Bros (Justin Fox, 12/16/15, bLOOMBERG vIEW)

[t]he idea of universal basic income has a long history in the more dog-eat-dog English-speaking world, too. English-American pamphleteer Tom Paine promoted a similar arrangement, as did English philosopher John Stuart Mill. More recently, the Citizen's Income Trust has been promoting a U.K. basic income plan since the 1980s. And this month, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, a centuries-old London think tank known as the RSA and currently headed by Princess Anne, issued a detailed proposal for a U.K. universal basic income that would add up to 3,692 pounds ($5,543) a year for most adults. 

In the U.S. in the 1960s, libertarian economist Milton Friedman proposed a negative income tax, which is similar to universal basic income, and several negative-income-tax field tests followed in the 1970s. That helped inspire the earned income tax credit, which has become the biggest cash welfare program in the U.S.  But the idea of giving everybody money had mostly faded until recently, when it was given new life by tech-industry denizens worried that the rise of robots will soon render most paid human labor superfluous.  [...]

[This week Lauren Smiley of Backchannel] does such a nice job in her article of summing up the diverse ideological streams converging behind basic income that I'm just going to borrow rather than try to rephrase it: 

The technologist crowd says a basic income will become a moral imperative as robots replace workers and unemployment skyrockets. Conservatives say it would replace the kraken of welfare bureaucracy, with its arbitrary income cutoffs and overlapping programs. Optimists say humanity will no longer have to work for survival, freeing us to instead work for self-actualization. ... Progressives say it would level the playing field: the working classes could have a taste of the stability that's become an upper-middle class luxury, and would have bargaining power with low-paid work. 

Nathan Schneider, writing about the subject for Vice earlier this year, offered another explanation of basic income's appeal: 

Though it's an essentially low-tech proposal, it appeals to Silicon Valley's longing for simple, elegant algorithms to solve everything.

Is it really that simple? A key selling point of universal basic income is that it could be less intrusive and less complicated than existing means-tested welfare systems. It's also less likely to discourage recipients from working. Currently, earning more money often means losing benefits -- with basic income you keep getting the money even if you strike it rich. 

Posted by at December 16, 2015 5:18 PM