Issues of 2020: Universal Basic Income

Even communists demand that each person give according to his abilities.

Issues of 2020: Universal Basic Income

By: George Noga – March 8, 2020


        This is the next in MLLG’s intermittent series covering 2020 election issues. Previously, we wrote about Medicare for all (12/8/19), the Electoral College (2/2/20) and the wealth tax (2/16/20); all these are available on our website:

      The idea for a universal basic income (“UBI”) originated with American revolutionary Thomas Paine in the 18th century. The modern genesis belongs to British politician Rhys-Williams in the 1940s. Milton Friedman advocated it in a 1962 book in the form of a negative income tax, although he later came to oppose the idea. Today, Yang, Castro, Williamson and Gabbard favor UBI of $1,000 per month – no strings attached. Warren, Sanders and Buttigeig all are sympathetic to the concept.

          UBI makes for strange bedfellows. Liberals favor it for social justice reasons, while conservatives view it as the least destructive way for government to transfer wealth between citizens. UBI (or a variant) has been implemented in other countries but failed to take root anywhere it was tried. Finland ended its UBI program in 2019. Currently, about half of all Americans (72% of those ages 18-34) support UBI.

The Case for Universal Basic Income

        There is a crescendo of voices in academia, media and politics asserting that automation, driven by advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, computers, 3-D printing, driverless vehicles and other technology will displace millions upon millions of jobs in the coming decade causing entire trades and professions to disappear. They argue UBI is necessary to provide for all these millions of jobless people.

         Advocates claim it can pay for itself by displacing all transfer payments and welfare including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, SSI, and housing subsidies plus all the bureaucracy that supports these programs. Some conservatives and libertarians sign on to UBI in the wane hope it will reduce the role of government in people’s lives and will be a more efficient way to effect transfer payments.

     Progressives cite social justice as their rationale, including providing greater security, choice and freedom to recipients. They allege it empowers individuals because there are absolutely no strings attached. Supporters cite Alaska which since 1982, despite its rugged individualistic culture, pays every citizen a royalty share of its energy fund – last year the amount was $1,600 or $6,400 for a family of four.

The Case Against Universal Basic Income 

       For centuries, going back to the industrial revolution, doomsdayers have argued advances in technology would result in massive unemployment. Each and every time for 300 years, the opposite has happened as new advances created as many or more new jobs than those displaced. Despite recent tech advances, the unemployment rate is at an all-time low even though more workers are entering the workforce. Advocates of UBI say it is different this time, but so did worrywarts for the past three centuries.

      The political apparat would not eliminate any bureaucracy; they would incessantly tweak UBI to attach conditions and mandates. UBI soon would metastasize into a monster. Politicians would favor some groups at the expense of others based on the politics du jour and engage in class warfare. A Chinese system could evolve in which each person’s UBI depends on his/her social credits. UBI would require everyone to have a universal ID and a bank account, leading to an Orwellian twilight zone of government control. If history teaches anything, it is distrust of government; however, you can’t take the politics out of politics and UBI would be a political Godzilla.

         As with many other pie-in-the-sky schemes, the strongest argument against UBI is a moral one. It would entitle people to the work of others, untethered from need and with absolutely nothing required in return. Even communism demands that each person give according to his abilities. UBI would sever the link between income and work, create a cycle of dependency and would serve as a gateway drug to collectivism.

       Universal Basic Income would result in less liberty and more government, directly opposite MLLG’s raison d’etre. UBI should stand for Universally Bad Idea!

Next on March 15th, we address the tyranny of democracy.
More Liberty Less Government  –  –