Is Universal Basic Income Christian?
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Pope Francis recently suggested universal basic income (UBI) as a solution to difficulties faced by many around the world, especially as a result of COVID-19. But would it work, and is giving people free money for nothing a Christian thing to do?
Is UBI Christian?
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - On April 12, Pope Francis suggested a universal basic income (UBI) for the world's poor and vulnerable. The statement was made in his Easter letter to leaders of different social movements around the globe.
Pope Francis wrote: "I know that you have been excluded from the benefits of globalization... You do not enjoy the superficial pleasures that anesthetize so many consciences, yet you always suffer from the harm they produce. The ills that afflict everyone hit you twice as hard... This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out. It would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights."
The call for UBI isn't new. It is an old concept which has been tested with success, but only on a small scale. The idea behind UBI is that every person should receive a regular payment that is intended to cover the cost of basic necessities. Food, clothing, healthcare, housing and such. It is based on the idea that these things are basic needs and therefore human rights. They should be provided to all people, regardless of all considerations, even if they do not work.
Some argue this is at odds with the instructions from Paul to the Thessalonians in 3:10 of his second letter. "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." (2 Thess 3:10) However, here is the Pope himself apparently disagreeing with Paul.
The exegesis or apologetic here is that Paul's comments should be narrowly interpreted to the situation he was addressing. Specifically the Christian community was divided with some people refusing to work and instead interfering in the business of others while living off the abundance and goodwill of the community. Some of these people based their laziness of the belief that Christ's return was literally imminent. After all, if Christ is returning tomorrow, does it make sense to plant crops and do the dishes?
But even if the scripture is interpreted broadly, does that mean we as Christians ought to withhold food and other needs from people?
When Pope Francis wrote his commentary, he specifically referred to workers who are simply paid too little, or whose work was too varied to provide security. However, the Pope has also given generously to the homeless and many others, who for one reason or another perform no work. The value of a human life is intrinsic. This is why we defend the unborn. Your value is not tied to your productivity. And it is difficult to imagine how we can boost the productivity of a person destitute and insecure by adding hunger.
But even if we agree UBI is Christian and should be given to all people, or at least the most vulnerable, then how can the money be gathered? Should the government use its expansive power to take from those who work to give to those who do not?
Ideally, such proposals could be charitably funded with good people coming forward to give to such causes. But realistically, there's nothing preventing that from happening now, yet it does not. So it is logical to conclude this is not a realistic possibility. This leaves the world's various governments to use their powers to tax and spend to implement such a program. One moral justification for the program is that it would be available for all people, even those who are wealthy because (while unlikely) they could find themselves destitute as well. And governments are best suited for implementing universal programs. This is why they exist in the first place. As long as government does not abuse its authority to diminish human freedom, then we should continue to render unto Caesar.
Of course, there are other critiques of UBI, such as it is a band-aid solution that does nothing to solve the root causes of inequality and man's greedy, sinful nature. Yet, even if it is imperfect, it is arguably more moral than abiding the existence of absolute poverty and suffering caused by greed and structural social inequality.
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