An idea to give all Americans free money is gaining more support by the day.
The policy is pretty simple. The government would send every working age, non-incarcerated American a check every month, no strings attached. It would replace the many current government programs aimed at the poor.
Financing the program would be difficult, but not impossible, depending on the monthly benefit amount. Eliminating the current safety net programs would free up a significant amount of funding and increased taxes elsewhere could provide the remaining funds.
Conservatives are understandably concerned that giving people free money would incentivise them to forego work. But while this is certainly a risk, there are also numerous benefits that should garner conservative support.
In a piece yesterday explaining why libertarians should embrace a guaranteed basic income, libertarian writer Matthew Feeney outlined many of these benefits. Here’s his key paragraph:
Whatever the outcome of the Swiss referendum, libertarians in the U.S. and elsewhere should support the idea of a basic income as a replacement for the current welfare systems on offer. The welfare system in the U.S. is an ineffective and expensive mess, but it is unlikely that the majority of the American public are going to be persuaded to support the outright abolition of the welfare state any time soon. Rather than make the principled argument against the redistribution of wealth, libertarians would do better if they were to argue for a welfare system that promotes personal responsibility, reduces the humiliations associated with the current system, and reduces administrative waste in government.
Conservatives don’t necessarily hate the social safety net. They hate that it runs through bureaucratic government institutions that are poorly run and waste taxpayer dollars. A guaranteed minimum income for all Americans eliminates all of that bureaucracy. It gets rid of the dozens of different welfare programs that confuse low-income Americans and make the system hard to navigate.
Feeney brings up another point that the system “strips welfare recipients of their dignity while treating many of them like children.” Conservatives hate the idea of the government telling them what to do. That’s one of the reasons they have been so infuriated with the Affordable Care Act’s minimum protection standards. They argue that consumers should be able to forego certain coverage requirements if they want. The law’s requirements that insurers cover 10 basic health benefits is paternalistic, they say.
As Feeney points out, food stamps are the same way. They tell poor Americans that they can buy food, but not alcohol or tobacco, for instance. If conservatives are up in arms over Obamacare’s paternalism, they should be similarly enraged by the paternalism in SNAP.
Conservatives are also rightly worried about the work effects of a guaranteed basic income, but similar distortions exist in our current welfare system thanks to the high marginal tax rates Americans face as they move up the income ladder, but their benefits fall. A basic income eliminates those high marginal tax rates as well.
An unconditional basic income would eliminate many features of government that conservatives hate most. It’s time conservatives, such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), supported the idea.
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