April 8, 2021


Time to Take UBI Seriously?: MAmericans have gotten a glimpse of Universal Basic Income programs. They like what they see so far. And we should like its potential to disrupt our stale debates. (MICHAEL J. TOTTEN  APRIL 8, 2021, The Bulwark)

A UBI is hardly a new idea, nor are its advocates confined to the left. Libertarian economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek advocated their own versions of it decades ago. Charles Murray joined them recently with a book and a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Thomas Paine hoped to implement a UBI as far back as the American Revolution. It's one of the few big public policy ideas with champions on the left, on the right, and in the center--amazing, frankly, at a time when our hyperpolarized citizenry can't even count on unanimous support for the earth being a sphere anymore. Polls before the pandemic pegged support at roughly 50-50, with those for and against on both sides of the political spectrum. When it comes to a UBI, the tired debate between big versus limited government has been scrambled.

Progressives like it because it provides a shot in the arm for the working poor, the unemployed, the disabled, the retired, college students, and the struggling middle class generally. Conservatives and libertarians like it because it eschews central planning, the choosing of winners and losers, and the arrogant assumption that a distant bureaucracy knows how to spend money better than individuals do. Centrists have reason to hope that by reducing economic anxiety, populist rage on both the left and the right might at least be mitigated if not eliminated. Small businesses with razor-thin profit margins would benefit from there being less pressure to raise the minimum wage, while employees who earn the minimum wage would get a much-needed cushion.

Yang dismissed concerns that a basic income is socialist: "This is capitalism where income doesn't start at zero." Indeed, it's entirely contrary to a command economy's answer to hunger and privation: a ration card that can redeemed for basic goods at government "stores." In the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Vietnam, virtually everybody, not just the poor, was forced into this kind of imbecilic and tyrannical system. The United States responded by giving struggling people food stamps, the equivalent of a cash payment, that can be spent at the same grocery stores everyone else uses, thus preserving the market economy, leaving the middle class unmolested, and ensuring that nobody starved to death.

Unlike traditional welfare payments, a basic income wouldn't infringe on personal freedom any more than food stamps do. "People who get on welfare lose their human independence," Friedman said. "They become subjects of the dictates and whims of their welfare supervisors who tell them whether they can live here or there and tell them what they can do with their lives. They're treated like children."

Posted by at April 8, 2021 8:32 AM