Guaranteed Basic Income: What happens when we give every American a free paycheck, for life? The answer may surprise you!
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Imagine getting a check from the government, entirely for free. You do no work, perform no service, you simply get a check every month from the government which you can spend however you choose. How would this affect society? It's a question we may soon answer as the Guaranteed Basic Income becomes a topic of conversation in America.
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - The idea that every person is entitled to enough basic fare to keep them alive is an ancient belief. It's a powerfully Catholic notion that each person deserves enough to feed themselves, no matter what. The Apostle Paul argued that "If a man will not work, he shall not eat," (Thess 3:10) but in some schools of thought this was not a blanket rule, but one that was specific for the community he was writing to, to address their unique problems.
We know that charity is at the heart of Catholic social teaching and that it is a noble virtue. But what will it do to our society? Do we risk everyone becoming layabouts?
Guaranteed Basic Income dates back to the time of Abu Bakr, the successor to Mohammed, who ensured that every Muslim citizen was given enough money to sustain their basic needs for the year, paid out of the Caliphate's treasury. Early Christians it is believed operated in much the same way. Throughout history, figured from Thomas Paine to Napoleon Bonaparte, to the economist Milton Friedman have all advocated for a guaranteed basic income to sustain people.
There are both conservative and liberal cases in favor.
The liberal case is that it eliminates poverty. By providing people with the money they need to survive, and allowing that money to be spent with no strings attached, will give people flexibility to lift themselves from poverty. For example, a poor person may need a car more than a housing subsidy, so by giving them cash, they can purchase the car and thus have transportation for school or work.
Presently in the United States, people are given food stamps and housing subsidies, but they might need cash more than food or housing, to escape the clutches of poverty. It is very expensive to be poor in the United States as poor people face many more fees, surcharges, have higher interest rates and other struggles that aren't shared by the middle and upper classes. Yet, with the poor now outnumbering the middle class population in the USA for the first time in history, something must be done.
The conservative case is simple. A guaranteed basic income eliminates the need for multiple government agencies, as well as the expensive bureaucracies needed to manage them. The government can reduce its size and save money by closing these various agencies and simply mailing everyone a check. Presumably, the savings would be returned to taxpayers in the form of a permanent tax cut.
Such a program could be funded by taxing the wealthiest individuals and corporations. In the United States, over half of the nation's wealth is held by less than 20 people. Billions of dollars are lost annually due to corporate tax dodging and loopholes, all of which is legal, but very expensive. Subsidies and foreign aid, not to mention military spending are widely perceived to be out of control. And spending on welfare could be cut by eliminating the departments associated with such programs. The United States also happens to be the wealthiest and most productive nation in history, with workers at their most productive levels ever. There's more than enough wealth to make sure everyone has enough.
Would recipients of this income become lazy? Not likely. Healthy people always want to work and contribute. Few people would be satisfied with a basic life on a basic income. While the stress would disappear, since nobody who was responsible with money would need to fear homelessness or starvation, people could spend their time on education, job training, or finding better and better jobs. They would be free to pursue a passion in an attempt to make that passion pay off. This is how the guaranteed basic income would facilitate the formation of new businesses. Finally, the added money in circulation would all be spent, thus providing permanent stimulus to the economy.
The minimum wage could also be abolished. Employers could pay wages that are negotiated by employees or through collective bargaining, with the employees able to demand a reasonable wage, since the employer's compensation would naturally compete with the basic income. This would drive wages up overall.
It is a myth that most welfare recipients don't work. In the United States, the majority of working-age welfare recipients do some form of work, even if part time. Some work full-time for minimum wage, but still need welfare to make ends meet. These people qualify because minimum wage is below what people need to subsist.
Other nations, and nearly all of Europe, has some form of a guaranteed basic income, this preventing widespread poverty. There are those who remain poor because of their life's decisions, but that's wholly incumbent upon the individual. A guaranteed basic income removes outside excuses for a person's failure. Even in Europe, where such programs are common and generous, people still strive to work. It is fear-mongering and a lack of understanding of human nature, that compels people to take the notion that their fellow citizens won't work if their basic needs are met.
Such ideas are becoming more popular in the United States and will rise to the forefront of conversation as robots and other new technologies render more and more workers obsolete. Truck drivers, caregivers, restaurant workers, and many more are all looking at chronic unemployment within the next decade or two, as robots enter the workplace en masse.
These displaced workers will need to retrain themselves for new careers in the evolving economy. This can be made possible by a guaranteed basic income. Without such a program, workers would compete for any job they could get, for as little as they needed to survive, and they would constantly be competing with robots. We would return to the industrial revolution in terms of living and working conditions for the poor, and that is not a place we want to be as a society. Such conditions breed crime and strife.
The United States is still farther from a true guaranteed basic income than most other nations, relying instead on means-tested benefits provided with many regulatory strings attached. The current programs are also subject to abuse, and are sometimes used by both citizens and non-citizens illegally. They also contribute to government waste and bloat while doing nothing to encourage people to take responsibility for themselves or to work.
Perhaps as the next few election cycles unfold, Americans will realize there is a better way to reduce poverty and empower citizens while also getting people into school and work so they contribute something in return, instead of just drawing a free living from the already overburdened taxpayer.
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