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The Case For And Against Universal Basic Income

Some on the right are embracing a form of government policy as a means to end poverty: universal basic income. The notion has been championed by conservative and libertarian scholars like Charles Murray and Milton Friedman, while others like Thomas Sowell are vehemently opposed to the idea.

Which viewpoint is correct?

The Daily Wire will provide you with the case for and against universal basic income, and let you make up your own mind.

The Case For Universal Basic Income

The likes of Murray and Friedman argue that universal basic income provides a good alternative to the welfare state–instead of the bureaucratic quagmire of several federal and state government programs providing a various cash and welfare benefits, there is simply one streamlined cash flow to individuals.

Murray explains the details of his idea of universal basic income:

Second, the system has to be designed with certain key features. In my version, every American citizen age 21 and older would get a $13,000 annual grant deposited electronically into a bank account in monthly installments. Three thousand dollars must be used for health insurance (a complicated provision I won’t try to explain here), leaving every adult with $10,000 in disposable annual income for the rest of their lives.

People can make up to $30,000 in earned income without losing a penny of the grant. After $30,000, a graduated surtax reimburses part of the grant, which would drop to $6,500 (but no lower) when an individual reaches $60,000 of earned income. Why should people making good incomes retain any part of the UBI? Because they will be losing Social Security and Medicare, and they need to be compensated.

Murray acknowledged in his piece that there would be an increase in “net voluntary dropout from the labor force: since they’re given a guaranteed stream of income, but it’s necessary to get others who were previously on welfare back in the labor force. It also provides as a safety net for those who will have their jobs displaced by automation.

“The entire bureaucratic apparatus of government social workers would disappear, but Americans would still possess their historic sympathy and social concern,” Murray wrote. “And the wealth in private hands would be greater than ever before. It is no pipe dream to imagine the restoration, on an unprecedented scale, of a great American tradition of voluntary efforts to meet human needs. It is how Americans, left to themselves, have always responded. Figuratively, and perhaps literally, it is in our DNA.”

The cost of some sort of universal basic income would likely come at around $2.14 trillion, per The Atlantic.

The Case Against Universal Basic Income

Critics of the universal basic income like Sowell and the Manhattan Institute’s Oren Cass argue that universal basic income is unworkable and goes against conservative values.

Cass points out at National Review that it would be impossible to simply replace Medicare and Social Security with the universal basic income, noting that “Medicare already spends more than $11,000 per recipient; Social Security spends $16,000.”

“Murray’s UBI covers only half of what the elderly’s ‘earned’ entitlements paid,” writes Cass. “Anyone left to rely on the UBI would be unable to afford both Medicare-quality insurance and other essentials.”

Therefore, any sort of universal basic income would likely be added on to the welfare state rather than replacing the welfare state, which would only worsen the problem.

Cass also argues that it’s silly to think that they’ll lose jobs to automation, given that the economy has added “80 million net jobs since computers started coming on the scene in the 1960s and more than 25 million since the Internet became mainstream in the 1990s,” meaning that even as new technology has developed and replaced old jobs, new jobs still find a way to spring up in its place.

Also, the notion that universal basic income would end poverty is highly misleading, because what constitutes as poverty is arbitrarily defined by the government.

“Most Americans living below the official poverty line today have central air-conditioning, cable television for multiple TV sets, own at least one motor vehicle, and have many other amenities that most of the human race never had for most of its existence,” writes Sowell. “Most Americans did not have central air-conditioning or cable television as recently as the 1980s. A scholar who spent years studying Latin America has called the poverty line in America the upper middle class in Mexico.”

But most importantly, universal basic income violates basic conservative tenants: it discourages personal responsibility and working–the skills and self-worth that come with it–and places the government as society’s caretaker rather than individuals, families and communities–the exact opposite of the civil society that is the bedrock of conservatism.

“The track record of divorcing personal rewards from personal contributions hardly justifies more of the same, even when it is in a more sophisticated form,” writes Sowell. “Sophisticated social disaster is still disaster — and we already have too much of that.”

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