Five reasons to consider a Basic Guaranteed Income for all Americans

We recently wrote about proposals to solve the unemployment problem in the U.S. (or anywhere else for that matter). Those proposals were presented here:

We could solve unemployment immediately if we wanted to. Two “sensible” proposals.

The first is called Job Guarantee and is well-discussed in the article. It basically makes sure that all the work that needs to be done is shared out to all those who can do it, independent of the 40-hour week. Read more about it at the link — it’s a good, equitable solution and has many adherents.

How people think income is distributed vs. how it's really distributed

How people think income is distributed vs.
How it’s really distributed (click to enlarge)

I want to complete that discussion here. The other proposal, mention in the article but not explored at length, is called Income Guarantee, sometimes Minimum Income or Basic Income. The idea is that the state delivers via check or deposit a minimum amount of money, a guaranteed basic annual income, regardless of need. Everyone who’s a citizen gets it.

For an example of a state with an Income Guarantee, look no further than Alaska and its Permanent Fund. In Alaska’s case, the money comes from oil leases, and every citizen gets a piece of it, every year, just for being a citizen of Alaska.

I know what you’re thinking — “how communist!” — but those independent (right-wing) free-thinking people of Alaska don’t mind one bit. If they don’t mind, who will?

The Guaranteed Basic Income proposal

The Guaranteed Basic Income proposal is gaining in acceptance. I guess hard times makes people feel less wealthy and more “deserving” — and thus more willing to consider more equitable share-the-wealth proposals. Good.

There’s no better discussion of the Guaranteed Basic Income proposal than this, from Lynn Parramore, writing at Alternet:

5 Reasons to Consider a No-Strings-Attached, Basic Income for All Americans

An idea whose time has finally come.

What if you could receive a guaranteed basic yearly income with no strings attached? Didn’t matter how much money you made now, or in the future. Nobody would ask about your job status or how many kids you have. The check would arrive in the mailbox, no matter what.

Sounds like a far-fetched idea, right? Wrong. All over the world, people are talking guaranteeing basic incomes for citizens as a viable policy.

Half of all Canadians want it. The Swiss have had a referendum on it. The American media is all over it: The New York Times’ Annie Lowrey considered basic income as an answer to an economy that leaves too many people behind, while Matt Bruenig and Elizabeth Stoker of theAtlantic wrote about it as a way to reduce poverty.

Parramore then lists a number of people in the U.S. who supported versions of it prior to the 1980s, a list that includes both M.L. King and Richard Nixon. In the 1980s, of course, we became dazzled by the Curse of the Undeserving, served up by our then-racist-in-chief Ronald Reagan.

But that was then, as the kids say, and this is very now. Gay rights are moving forward fast, there’s a big push to make Social Security more generous, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a supporter of legalized pot. Only in a few areas are we fighting losing campaigns, notably on the abortion and choice front (more on that later).

Parramore not only says that the Basic Income proposal is popular; it also makes excellent policy. Here, in brief, are her five reason for adopting it:

1. It would help fight poverty: America is the richest country in the world, yet widespread poverty continues to afflict us. Social Security has arguably been the most successful program for reducing poverty in American history, dramatically cutting poverty among the elderly and keeping tens of millions above the poverty threshold. Why not expand it to all? …

2. It could be good for the economy: A basic guaranteed income has the potential to positively impact the economy in several ways, which is why economists from John Kenneth Galbraith to Milton Friedman have advocated it. …

3. It could have many benefits to society: Clearly, we want policies that help us create a more stable society where more people can reach their potential and fewer people resort to crime and violence. Advocates say a guaranteed basic income does just that. …

4. It might be more efficient than present systems: In the current patchwork of systems confronting poverty, like welfare, food stamps and vouchers, people can fall through the cracks. A guaranteed income could help solve problems caused by rules and restrictions that leave some without subsistence income when they need it. …

5. Let’s not forget simple human dignity: Why is living in dignity not a right? These days, even Americans who get up in the morning every day and report to full-time jobs may not earn enough for a decent standard of living. …

Do read the rest; the full discussion is brief, well researched and well argued.

Offered for your consideration. We don’t have to allocate money by work or by just-deserts. We can allocate at least a little money, a basic amount, based on simple citizenship; and we can not shame those who need it more than their fellows. Other countries have forms of this proposal — heck, even Alaska (bless its oil-soaked heart) has a strong version going.

If Sarah Palin, former Alaskan governor, could write those checks with a clear conscience, I think we can too.


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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