This was originally published on Liberal America on April 17, 2017.
Some countries in Europe and a few states here in the U.S. have experimented with universal basic incomes for its citizens. However, could this work across the entire country here?
What Is Universal Basic Income?First off, a universal basic income is similar to Social Security in that everyone gets a fixed amount of money on a regular basis. It can be provided by the government or some other public organization. It is provided unconditionally, whether a person works or not. For people who work, it is given on top of what they already make.
The goal is to let everyone have a chance to attain an adequate quality of life.
Has This Been Tried Anywhere?There have been multiple experiments at basic incomes. In 2009, London did a small experiment of giving homeless people money. They thought that doing so would save them the police expenses, court costs, and other hassles of dealing with the homeless people. After a year-and-a-half, seven of the thirteen people had rooves over their heads!
It was tried here in the United States in a few places in the 1970s.
As Canadian professor Evelyn Forget put it:
“The political right is afraid people will stop working and the left doesn’t trust them to make their own choices.”
Then-President Richard Nixon supported it, but the universal basic income didn’t survive the bureaucratic process. In the experiments, Forget found that young people put off getting married when given a basic income. Also, hospitalizations dropped eight percent. Wouldn’t it be amazing if people who needed it could get assistance without the reams of paperwork and years of bureaucracy?
Finland is trying a similar program with a group of unemployed people. The hope is that it will cut the unemployment rate and reduce poverty. The income is paid even if they find work. Working and self-employment are also encouraged. However, that safety net is wonderful for someone who is unemployed.
Other BenefitsIn addition to the obvious benefits of cutting poverty and unemployment, there are other benefits to a universal basic income as well. It could lead to a more efficient use of natural resources. The citizens will know what resources their country has. Also, this gives citizens an incentive to look at how their taxes are being spent. This can be seen in the oil-rich countries of Africa.
Additionally, this raises the quality of life for the poorer people of the country. The person will also be more empowered being given the money and being able to choose how they spend it.
A universal basic income may also come in handy in the future when many jobs may be eliminated due to advances in technology.
Here is a Ted Talk on the subject: