Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A basic income guarantee

Robert Anton Wilson advocated giving everyone in the U.S. a guarantee of a basic income (in "The RICH Economy" in The Illuminati Papers, probably in some other places that don't immediately come to mind.) I've been intrigued by the concept but haven't found a really good discussion of the idea.

So I'm grateful to Michael Johnson for taking up the topic on his blog, in a posting entitled, "Missing Public Discussions: Universal Basic Income." Aside from his own comments on the subject, and from his discussion with the estimable Sue Howard in the comments, credit Michael for discovering a European philosopher, Philippe Van Parijs, who has thought and written extensively on the topic. Michael links to several pieces; my favorite was an essay, "A Basic Income for All," where Van Parijis discusses his ideas. Van Parijis also has written an entire book on the topic, Real Freedom for All, which I intend to track down and read.

A small minority of libertarian folks mostly go along with the libertarian program, but also favor social justice/a safety net/parts of the welfare state. Those folks are variously called "liberaltarians" or "left-libertarians" or "neoclassical liberals" or "classical liberals." I am (more or less) one of those folks. It's a good way to be alienated from just about any recognizable political movements; the "liberals" don't like you because you are too libertarian, while the "libertarians" don't like you because you favor letting the government help poor people. I think a few people at Cato and Reason may be closet liberaltarians; Will Wilkinson, formerly of Cato, came out the closet and was duly eased out of the organization.

Anyway, nobody cares what I think, but here are some thoughts, anyway (1) A basic income guarantee, coupled with a universal health care system, would provide a reasonable safety net. (2) Almost everyone would be better off, except for an army of bureaucrats who would lose their jobs, if all of the various components of the welfare state, such as Social Security, food stamps, temporary assistance for needy families, vouchers for farmers markets (yes, there is such a program) and so on were eliminated, replaced with a basic income guarantee that covered everyone, and (3) Almost everyone also would be better off if Medicaid, Medicare, Army hospitals, Indian hospitals, Federally Qualified Health Care Centers, etc. etc., were all eliminated and similarly replaced by a universal health care that covered everyone and followed one set of rules. I'll add that anyone who insists that such a system must be funded by the government and run by government employees, as it is in Britain, doesn't know enough about the subject to express an informed opinion.

5 comments:

Chris Tucker said...

i see this as a delightful and interesting paradox in RAW's thought. from my understanding of libertarianism, libertarians wouldn't support the idea of a basic income guarantee.

i'm inclined to think there should only be a guaranteed income. have all our needs met and then pursue our various endevours in the spirit of willing participation and innovation. i don't believe that greed or money motivates anyone to do much good yet that even the laziest of us want to contribute to some degree.

adam curtis (whose documentaries are all worth watching especially as they take a fairly critical look at a lot of the ideas that RAW supported) presents the case of the guy who developed the vaccine for polio who was a doctor and could have stood to make a lot of money off a patent, gave it away freely with the logic that he made enough money from his practice...and humanity benefited as a result. nowsadays the idea of "enough money" doesn't exist.

actually i think that's the fundamental shift required in economic thinking: from economies of scarcity, not to economies of abundance but to that of sufficiency. (see lynne twist, the soul of money for more on that)

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You are right that most libertarians would not endorse the concept, but the liberaltarians I mentioned in the blog post, if not a huge group, are a recognizable one. Self-described libertarians are a pretty varied group.

Today's "sufficiency" in many ways is better than what the very rich had 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago.

Chris Tucker said...

I realized after I posted it that the idea of not only a minimum income but also a maximum income might strike some people as going too far (especially perhaps americans). This idea seems worthy to me mostly out of the writings of Howard Zinn especially an article he wrote called "On Rewarding People for Talents and Hard Work" http://www.zcommunications.org/on-rewarding-people-for-talents-and-hard-work-by-howard-zinn-1

a127a74c-46dd-11e1-a538-000bcdcb471e said...

Guaranteed Livable Income was the #1 recommendation of Canada's 1970s Royal Commission on the Status of Women, as stay-at-home moms and unpaid caregivers are penalized the most by our current system. GLI was briefly tested in a small town in Manitoba with positive outcomes that are still being felt decades later, but due to a change in gov't, the numbers are only now being crunched. This website is still maintained by a former head of the Status of Women Action Group created to advocate for the idea: http://www.livableincome.org

a127a74c-46dd-11e1-a538-000bcdcb471e said...

Guaranteed Livable Income was the #1 recommendation of Canada's 1970s Royal Commission on the Status of Women, as stay-at-home moms and unpaid caregivers are penalized the most by our current system. GLI was briefly tested in a small town in Manitoba with positive outcomes that are still being felt decades later, but due to a change in gov't, the numbers are only now being crunched. This website is still maintained by a former head of the Status of Women Action Group created to advocate for the idea: http://www.livableincome.org