Here’s an idea for stimulating the economy: Free money for everyone, all the time, with no exceptions or conditions.
Writing in Wonkblog over the weekend, Mike Konczal explains the economics of a Universal Basic Income (UBI).
The idea is, every person gets a check from the government every year. If you’re not working, you get a check. If you’re working, you get a check.
This annual check would ensure some semblance of purchasing power for the populace. And by giving it to everyone, you ensure there’s no penalty for going to work. You don’t lose the check from working.
For the left, the idea of giving everyone a check has an obvious egalitarian appeal.
But there are reasons the right should like it as well.
Meanwhile, a few conservatives have advocated a form of basic income for a different set of reasons. The right likes basic income because it would allow for the removal of many overlapping and piecemeal government programs, such as food stamps and unemployment insurance, as well as programs the government directly runs. Charles Murray has advocated a universal basic income of $10,000 for every person, and paying for it by ending Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, virtually all transfer programs and certain tax breaks. Also, if you squint really hard, you could see a libertarian argument that a basic income compensates for the private appropriation of common, natural resources.
According to Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews, Milton Friedman also endorsed something similar once in the form of a negative income tax.
In other words, if you hate the idea of “big government” but recognise that the government has some role to play in provisioning some distribution of wealth and services, then writing a check directly to an individual every month is ideal, since it involves very little bureaucracy, oversight, or government meddling in the lives of the check recipient.
Obviously the technical details and amounts are not settled amount. But as a way to give everyone purchasing power in a manner that’s consistent with “small government” a Universal Basic Income holds a lot of appeal.
Amusingly, this topic is getting some attention in more mainstream political circles. Conservative sites and blogs are bashing MSNBC host Chris Hayes for holding up a sign in a segment on ending poverty which reads: “Giving people money. It’s actually that easy.” You can watch the clip that has them all flipped out here.
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