Why Not a Basic Income for Everyone?"If you want to end poverty, just give people money" Jun 17 2016
With growth stalled at 1.5%, with wages flat for decades and household income $4,000 less than when Bill Clinton left office, with a Federal Reserve survey finding
that 46% of Americans could not cover a $400 emergency expense without borrowing or selling something, here's an idea that's often floated. How about the government just paying everyone a basic income every year?
That surely must top the list of nutty ideas that bleeding-heart liberals have come up with.
Except they didn't. It's a Republican scheme, going back at least to Richard Nixon and Milton Friedman before him. Nixon proposed in a 1969 address on domestic programs that "the Federal Government build a foundation under the income of every American family". There were limitations, but the idea was given voice and it persists.
The Finns are considering the idea and the Swiss just voted on it in a referendum. It lost by a huge margin 77% against to 23% in favor but how much of that might have been the whopping amount proposed?: $2,500 a month to be paid to every citizen.
On these shores, the latest is an essay in the weekend Review section of The Wall Street Journal by Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, preceded by his 2006 book on the subject. In his essay, Murray proposes that every American citizen age 21 or older receive $13,000 a year from the federal government. Of that, $3,000 must be used for health insurance. Persons earning under $30,000 a year keep the rest free of taxes. For those earning over $30,000 a graduated payback to the government sets in up to half the original payout for someone who makes $60,000 a year or more. But all would be left with a minimum of $6,500 no matter how high their income.what's the catch?
One of the reasons a universal basic income is attracting renewed interest is the fear that the mix of robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies will take away millions of jobs. Large corporations will have no compunctions about getting rid of payroll. Machines ultimately cost far less. So there is the question of what will happen to those millions of idled workers? How will they be able to support their families if there is no work?
But putting food on their table is not Murray's mission. He at first is more preoccupied with arguing against those who fear that free money will cause people to "idle away their lives" as if the problem for the future will be jobs aplenty that will go begging and it will be industry that is idled for lack of workers.
But he does later in his article bring up the grim prospect of jobs vanishing, except one gets the picture that he is using that looming future as justification for what he really hopes to accomplish, a motive revealed in the title of the book just mentioned: "In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State". In a jobless future when one would think safety net programs would be more essential than ever, his deal is that, in exchange for receiving an annual income, we get rid of all social programs. And he does mean all. Here's his list:
Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, housing subsidies, welfare for single women and every other kind of welfare and social-services program, as well as agricultural subsidies and corporate welfare.
If the basic income program took their place, Murray claims an annual saving of $200 billion.not so fast
Eduardo Porter of The New York Times writes of a growing interest in a guaranteed income on both left and right, but has a problem with the arithmetic. An annual payout of $10,000 a year less than Murray's $13,000 to 300 million Americans amounts to more than $3 trillion a year, almost the entire amount the government collects in taxes. His recent piece is not a response to Murray, so he doesn't figure in the funds recovery of up to half by the government from those who earn more than $30,000.
Even so, the American public would never agree to a tax hike to cover even a fraction of the added cost, so to pay for government' s new largesse, Murray would indeed get his wish: every safety net program would have to be abolished.
That his proposal would leave everyone with at least $6,500 a year half the $13,000 says that his is an underhanded plan to divert money upward to those who don't need it while leaving the poor in dire straits. The $3,000 that Murray allocates to health insurance would not buy much of a policy leaving the indigent with potentially huge medical costs in the total absence of Medicaid or Medicare should a major illness strike. For older people the average social security benefit is $16,020 a year compared to the $10,000 that Murray's plan would provide instead. And there's nothing else. No food stamps, rental assistance, nada.
Murray's answer to that? He would leave it to local organizing to pick up the slack. We would return to an earlier time, reviving the town-level groups, religious and secular, that once came together to take care of their own, a "key feature of American exceptionalism" that so impressed the reliable guide to 21st Century America, Alexis de Tocqueville. Murray says this fabric of society was displaced by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society war on poverty. He concludes by saying that the universal basic income plan "would say to people who have never had reason to believe it before: 'Your future is in your hands.' And that would be the truth". It would indeed. Put another way, "Sink or swim, you're on your own".
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