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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Libertarians discuss basic income guarantee

The Cato Institute, a Washington think tank with a libertarian perspective, has launched a series of articles to debate the basic income guarantee, an idea that has been championed by a number of libertarian-leaning folks (including Robert Anton Wilson). First up is this piece by Matt Zwolinski. 

Not everyone thinks this is a great idea. Justin Raimondo, in his full-on "libertarian pope" mode, issued a series of Tweets (such as this one) that denounced the idea of having even a discussion, essentially issuing a fatwa against any libertarians who advocate for the idea.

I understand where Justin is coming from; in a larger sense, this is the usual debate between libertarians who want to fight for the vision of the libertarian utopia they carry around in their heads, vs. the folks who recognize that utopia isn't scheduled to arrive anytime soon and that there are things that can be done to move the current system into a more libertarian direction. Justin is apparently beaming his Tweets from a planet that doesn't have an expensive and intrusive welfare bureaucracy; that's not what obtains in the U.S. on Planet Earth. To put it a different way, we're going to have a taxation system that takes away large sums of money from people for the immediate future; what are we going to do with that money? Do we have to use all of it to build bombs and spy on people?

Jesse Walker, meanwhile, has a piece on Reason arguing that the welfare system can be made more like a basic income guarantee system, to make it less intrusive.

Jesse writes, "When libertarians discuss this idea, a great deal of stress gets put on the idea that the grants should replace the existing programs completely and not merely add another payment to the mix. With that proviso, the proposal attracts a lot of libertarian support: The new system would be less paternalistic, less bureaucratic, and possibly (depending on the details) less costly than the old one. But the proviso isn't exactly politically realistic. Replacing the entire welfare state in one fell swoop is a tall order, especially if you want to include popular middle-class entitlements as part of the deal. Zwolinski admits that the scenario is, for the time being at least, 'a bit of speculative fancy.' "

If you are going to have a really adequate basic income guarantee, then it makes no sense to keep the rest of the welfare state. I hope libertarians don't give up on the idea too quickly just because it isn't "politically realistic." Marijuana legalization wasn't "politically realistic" in the U.S. until very recently.

Thanks to John Merritt for help with this blog post.

UPDATE: Merritt notes the issue also is being debated in Germany.


fyreflye said...

The Guaranteed Annual Wage has a long intellectual history in the US. It was a key element in the platform of the Socialist Party USA in the early '60's when Michael Harrington was its leader and US Presidential candidate. Harrington's book The Other America was widely read and discussed and, if memory serves, actual bills to further this idea were introduced into Congress and went nowhere. The widely disseminated notion that poor people are poor because they are too lazy to work hard enough has an equally long history and is so embedded in our folk politics that such a program has no chance of enactment in the foreseeable future.

fuzzbuddy said...

Switzerland is considering the issue: