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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29 Responses to “Five reasons to consider a Basic Guaranteed Income for all Americans”

  1. John Pozzi says:

    Global Resource Bank provides lifelong basic income. – www,grb,net – jp

  2. swampwiz0 says:

    We already have too many folks who want to work, but there are not enough jobs – I’m talking about the *real* unemployment rate. As long as the amount were not so high that enough folks would still want to work, there would not be a problem. And actually a small dearth of employees would cause employers to raise wages. This is all good for the working class – not so good for the Romney class.

  3. Maureen jones says:

    Conservatives support it. It reduces the size of government and increases liberty.

  4. arugula says:

    I feel a major part of this whole conversation is missing. What about reducing or eliminating tax expenditures for all in return everyone receives a guaranteed income?

    Tax expenditures have begun to increase and have helped surpass what we’re pulling in. Right now, the more you have to donate or spend on taxes, the more you will get back. Essentially, the more you make the more money you get from the government.

    Although, I do believe people will work less, I do believe it will give people time with their families and the ability to increase the quality of their lives through better housing, food choices, and having time.

    I believe businesses would benefit by no longer having to match unemployment benefits. I also believe people with more time people would spend more time in their communities and this would create a greater sense of civic duty. With more time, I also believe people would be more willing take public transportation as one of the main reasons why people drive is because they do not have time. I also believe there will be a resurgence in small businesses as people will have more time to dedicate to get them up and running effectively.

    I do not believe giving people time to relax is a bad thing. I don’t think 40 hours a week should still be our running standard. I know in our society, the incentive to get paid more for working more will always be there. We have fairly high unemployment or underemployment I believe this is a that we no longer need a 40 hour work week. I also see it as a signal of bad labor laws. Employers do not want to pay benefit and ‘cheat’ employees of their time to get of paying them.

    I also would like to believe that it would give people the chance to seek out higher quality in all aspects of life. Instead of buying a new washer machine, they pay someone to fix the one they have. I feel that people buy cheap things because they’re obsessed with getting a good deal especially if they don’t have a lot of money. In the end, they up spending about the same as buying a quality product. Instead of looking for a good deal, people will start demanding quality. I think the need to find a good deal stems from having a lack of time. No time to have your shoes or clothes mended or you washer machine fixed. I would like to believe a shift into desiring quality would help up reduce our waste outputs. As we demand less and work less, we know we still be okay.

  5. Dan Lynch says:

    Like a lot of people, Gaius does not clearly distinguish between a Universal Basic Income (UBI) and a means tested Basic Income Guarantee (MTBIG).

    A true BIG guarantees that you will get a certain minimum income, usually near the poverty threshold. It does *NOT* guarantee that you will receive a BIG check IN ADDITION to your other income.

    A universal income (UBI) gives everyone a BIG check even if they are a millionaire.

    A MTBIG would cost about $250 billion while a UBI would cost about $2.5 trillion. That’s a heckuva big difference.

    Milt Friedman never advocated a UBI. His negative income tax proposal was a MTBIG — you wouldn’t qualify for Milt’s negative tax unless you were low income.

    Canada’s experimintal “MINCOME” program was a MTBIG, not a UBI.

    Alaska funds its UBI with oil royalties. When the oil runs out, the Alaskan UBI will grind to a halt.

    A MTBIG serves as an automatic stabilizer — more people qualify for the MTBIG during recessions, increasing deficit spending. During booms, good paying jobs lure people off the BIG and into the labor force, reducing deficit spending.

    A UBI is *NOT* an automatic stabilizer. Everyone gets a check in both booms and busts.

    A MTBIG costing roughly $250 billion could be “paid for” with deficit spending, without new tax revenues, since our current deficit is too small, anyway.

    A UBI costing roughly $2.5 trillion would be inflationary without substantial tax increases. Lotsa luck getting political approval for a $2 trillion tax increase.

    I advocate a $250/week MTBIG because it would help the poor, because it could be implemented without tax increases, and because it would serve as an automatic stabilizer.

    In theory, a UBI could be made to work satisfactorily providing the new taxes were highly progressive. If the new taxes were not progressive, the UBI could actually end up hurting the working class.

    Switzerland’s proposed UBI would be “paid for” with a combination of progressive tax increases and by replacing existing welfare programs. In addition, to the extent that inflation is driven by global commodity prices, it’s unlikely that Switzerland’s economy is big enough to have much impact on global commodity prices. The same is not true for the US economy.

  6. eahopp says:

    Of course not….Silly me! I certainly don’t mean the “usually fundamentalist Christian and/or authoritarian mindset” decent folks who like to compare liberals, socialist, Communists, Democrats, and all others who don’t support their right-wing authoritarian views to Adolf Hitler. Nah!

    Is my nose getting longer?

  7. cole3244 says:

    the 1% want more money at the expense of the 99% and their ability to live a decent life.

    plus by not giving the 99% the ability to have enough money to live without the fear of not being able to put food on the table, put a roof over their head, or send their children to get a higher education, they are guaranteeing that the economy will eventually fail and that will affect the 1% as much if not more than the rest of america.

    the 1% may have all the wealth but they are devoid of the intelligence it takes to keep america strong and successful.

  8. BeccaM says:

    First of all, no, we need to move away from this notion that people must be impelled to labor or else not be allowed to eat or have shelter. That’s a paternalistic assumption.

    For one thing, some cannot work — either for physical or mental health reasons. Sure, some will choose not to work, but all that means is a person lives at poverty level.

    And that’s there I’d draw the line by the way. Eliminate poverty. Make that the base income. People will still spend their stipend — which will enable other people to work and have jobs.

    We already know that dollar for dollar, the single most economic stimulative thing a gov’t can do is provide income for the unemployed. It would be even more so if poor families don’t have to choose between food, shelter, or medicine — because with enough income, they can afford all three AND put that money right back into the economy because someone has to grow that food, build that house, and sell the medicine.

    It shouldn’t be up to the government to try to force people to be responsible in how they spend their money. Because who defines ‘responsible’ anyway? You? Me? Some puritanical fundamentalist plutocrat?

  9. Silver_Witch says:

    You know I would totally be willing to work for a “minimum” income, the same hours and work I do now…especially if I knew that others who could not work were getting the same. Money is relative really, I make a good wage and I am happy for it – that said, if we all made the same then costs would be the same and expenses would be the same – so I would be fine. Just so long as I can pay my rent, get some yummy food and my Saturday cocktail(s), I would be happy. I like the work I do – so the wage is not as important as the equality it could/might bring to my fellow travelers.

  10. Mighty says:

    Thanks for the response. What do you think the “basic” income would be? What is to keep people from not working if its enough to live on? If that is the case won’t that harm our economy? If basic income was say only 10k to bolster our income instead of replacing it then there is still a need to work.

  11. emjayay says:

    Well that pretty much sums things up, but by batshit crazy I don’t think you mean actual crazy, but somehow so addicted to a certain usually fundamentalist Christian and/or authoritarian mindset that they suspend any critical thinking and knowledge absorbing skills on a lifetime basis.

  12. mea_mark says:

    I would just like to add, that in a country where we live with a fiat currency we really could just print the money to pay for it. As long as the rich are extracting money out of the system and hiding it and not spending it, we can just replace it with new money and distribute it. This would only become a problem if and when the rich would start spending the money they hid away. But that would probably cause the economy to go gangbusters so it really wouldn’t be much of a problem aside from some inflation. The inflation though would reduce the national debt in terms of it’s relationship to GDP, so that would be good too.

    The question is, when do we get serious about implementing it?

  13. 2karmanot says:

    “she probably wouldn’t stay in office for long” Got that right—-Palin, the half term quitter..

  14. BeccaM says:

    Of course the biggest obstacle to implementing a game-changing notion like this is the American culture, and how people have been quite deliberately trained to believe that being poor is a sign of moral failing. The wealthy want it this way, because that’s how a plutocracy perpetuates itself.

    All we need to do to see this is the case is to listen to any random Power That Be — but especially the Republicans today who in one breath say that a CEO collecting hundreds of millions of dollars even after running a company into the ground somehow deserves the money, whereas in the next breath, someone who cannot even find a job or who is working several jobs just to keep a roof over their family’s head is lazy and doesn’t deserve anything.

  15. Hue-Man says:

    It’s been tried on a test basis in Canada.

    “A controversial government experiment in the 1970s in which some households in a Manitoba town were given a minimum level of income improved the community’s overall health, a professor at the University of Manitoba says.

    From 1974 through 1978, about 30 per cent of the population of Dauphin was provided with a “mincome,” as the guaranteed level of income came to be called.”

    The focus on health is because research showed – and continues to show – that poor people are sicker and live shorter lives than rich people, despite universal socialized medicine with all Canadians having access to the identical level of medical care (in theory at least) at the same price (free). Contributing factors seem to be less healthy nutrition and financial barriers to health care access, e.g. time off work for doctor visits, cost of babysitting, cost of transport, etc.

  16. BeccaM says:

    There’ve been quite a few schemes developed for this notion, and yes in a sense this is means-tested because the taxes to pay for it would, for those who have the income, offset the amount of the payment.

    Let’s say you earn a quarter million bucks. You get a check for, oh, let’s make up a number — $30k. Your taxes would be $30k higher because clearly you don’t need that money. If, on the other hand, your income was some significantly lower number — let’s say around $40-50k — your taxes might be higher such that a portion of your $30k guaranteed income check would go back to the gov’t. However, if you have no income at all or an income below some threshold, the full amount would be yours.

    The way to pay for it is just to restore a degree of progressivity to the tax code.

    The U.S. already has something close to being along these lines with the low-income Earned Income Tax Credit. This proposal would expand the concept, so that it wouldn’t benefit just those with jobs or who have families.

  17. Mighty says:

    I remembered a story on the Swiss and this. Could be an interesting read.

  18. Mighty says:

    How much is a basic income? 350 million citizens is a lot to provide a basic income for. Should it be means tested? How would it be paid for? Would we do away with all other programs like social security, food stamps etc and that money would go towards paying this? Lots of questions on this for me at least.

  19. GaiusPublius says:

    Thanks for the contributions, MattBMO. I appreciate seeing them.

    The flaw in your reasoning is this statement:

    > The United States is a country where people work hard and get ahead.

    The statement is not factually true. Most people work very hard, some back-breakingly hard, and fall further and further behind while all the benefits of their increased productivity are scooped up by the top 10% or so.

    Until that statement (quoted) becomes true, we have only one job — make it true. I suspect if we agree on the facts, we will agree on the shape of the solution.

    The red line below is inflation-adjusted income for the mean worker (the worker at the very middle of the income scale). It’s only the un-adjusted income numbers (blue line) that makes things look like improvement for the average wage-earner (i.e., people like you and I).


  20. Indigo says:

    It could work and is an appealing notion for many reasons. Considering where the income comes from to allow such a distribution, let’s keep in mind that the earth-raping oil industry in Alaska makes the distribution possible. Where’s the money come from in the other states? I can think of only one source, the US military. I doubt the miitary’s willigness to cough up the cash, though.

  21. Bill_Perdue says:

    I and many socialists and advocates for a labor party are for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing all workers and small farmers – unemployed and underemployed, retired and student workers and workers who are poor or homeless – a wage at high trade union levels combined with a free higher education or job training, socialized medicine and interest free, quality housing.

    Tax the rich until they drop. Then confiscate what’s left of the wealth they stole from us.

  22. Jim Olson says:

    This is a new concept to me. Brilliant. All the welfare programs would be eliminated, and replaced by this.

  23. eahopp says:

    Maybe moving to France would be a lot better than living in a nation of extreme inequality, gun-toting stand your ground, crazed religious right, homophobic, race-baiting Tea Party freaks. A nation which has no good-paying jobs, crumbling infrastructure, a shredded social safety net, and an unequal justice system that rewards ultra rich and big corporations at the the expense of everyone else. And finally, there is a government where half the lawmakers are batshit crazy,and the other half of the lawmakers are too timid and scared to fight for what is right for society as a whole–not to mention both halves of the government lawmakers have been purchased by the same ultra rich and big corporations.

  24. Bill_Perdue says:

    “Per capita real personal income excluding current transfer receipts — that is, the personal income earned in the economy, excluding Social Security and other government programs, adjusted for inflation — has grown by 100.6% since 1968. In other words, the NELP has it too low — by half. If our standard for minimum wages had kept pace with overall income growth in the American economy, it would now be $21.16 per hour.”

  25. Badgerite says:

    Not entirely true. Quite e few Indian tribes have a similar system of income distribution of gaming income to tribal members. I knew of one young man who got an $11,000 check annually. No strings attached except the required level of Indian ancestry.
    And quite a lot of money flows upward to a few in our society these days. Why not reverse that and have it flow out to the populous a little more.
    What’s more, money that is distributed broadly to a population acts as what? Economic stimulant.
    The dollars spread out among the population are spent and spent again, thereby multiplying the effect of the money on the economy. Read some Krugman, for God’s sake.

  26. I would be happy if they just raised to min wage to $15 an hour which is right adjusted for inflation.

  27. Are you trying to give Conservatives a heart attack cause this might work lol

  28. MattBMO says:

    Also, you state “those independent (right-wing) free-thinking people of Alaska don’t mind one bit. If they don’t mind, who will?” Umm, the Tea Party? Every other conservative in the country? Even some liberals would object. The United States is a country where people work hard and get ahead. Your concept where people would not have to work to make a living is obviously Communist, Socialist, Fascist and any other -ist you can think of. (Not saying it’s true, but that is what the objectors will come up with.) Such a plan might be implemented at some point in a European country, but it’s never going to happen in the U.S. If you want something like that, you’ll just have to move to France!

  29. MattBMO says:

    Wow, where to start?
    1) Alaska does NOT have a Guaranteed Income. They do share the income from the oil leases with the citizens of the state; however, there is no guaranteed amount which the citizens receive. They get whatever they get, based on how many people there are and how much income the oil generates. So your example of them as a state with an Income Guarantee is false. There’s no guarantee at any time that they will receive money, much less how much money they will receive.
    2) You say “If Sarah Palin could write those checks with a clear conscience, I think we can too.” First of all, you have no idea whether or not her conscience was clear. Second, the oil income program was in effect long before she became governor. Whether she approved of it or not, she did not have the power to end it and she was smart enough to know that if she even talked about ending it she probably wouldn’t stay in office for long.
    3) The money which is distributed to the people of Alaska comes from oil leases, from money which is not used by the State Government. Where is the equivalent money going to come from for all the rest of the states? Most states do not have oil leases, and if they did they spend far more money on their State Governments than Alaska does. Plus, their populations are many times larger than Alaska. Assuming such money existed, the amount doled out to each citizen proportionately would be miniscule.
    So, your premise is false that an Income Guarantee already exists anywhere in the United States.

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