A radical idea: put down the rotten fruit, please [Universal safety net proposal]

I’ve been met with a firestorm of rabid criticism by everyone that I have ever suggested this idea to: it apparently deeply offends the psyche of many, or possibly wounds them at the DNA level. To wit:

Premise: That being a citizen of an immensely wealthy and productive nation such as the United States should in and of itself entitle any such person to a basic level of food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.

I took the US GDP for 2010 and divided it by the number of citizens per the census taken in that year. I then compared the resultant number with what I call the “basic maintenance amount”: the poverty-level income for an individual, plus the $5000 that the Obama administration states is the average per capita amount spent on health care. The result was that everyone in the US can be maintained at the poverty level, plus health care, for 19% of GDP.

I then opined that if we were as one family, we would certainly pay for our basic needs first. Therefore, the body politic should set aside that 19% for everyone. First and foremost. The money could be collected by a simple value added tax. Of course, not everyone would need Basic Maintenance. Surpluses could be invested or stockpiled.

What I was surprised by is that if you added up the savings from the elimination of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other transfer programs, there was an actual savings of about 8% of the federal budget. In other words, simply providing everyone with a safety net and the guarantee of health care rather than the patchwork of existing federal programs saved a considerable amount.

I am somewhat digressing in that I don’t really care about the numbers other than that they showed this was a practical proposal. What I want to know is how everyone feels about the simple statement that being a US citizen should automatically entitle you to a basic standard of living, even if you can’t or don’t lift a finger. Everyone gets food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. period. Does this sound like Utopia or Dystopia to you?


Neither utopia nor dystopia, just a more efficient way to do things.

In any case, it’s a rather standard prescription among economists. Milty Friedman recommended it back in the early 60s in Capitalism and freedom. Paul Krugman is for it. I remember reading about it in an Econ 101 textbook.

What entitlement? And where do you suppose that wealth and productivity comes from? Does it grow on trees, like . . . fruit?

Well … yeah, plus a whole lot more. A chunk of opposition in developed Europe to the austerity measures is because of attacks on exactly the basic human rights people have worked and fought for decades to achieve. Right of centre politicians will try to grab them back under any and all pretexts.

How is it better than a guaranteed minimum income?

Silly question, but I’ll answer it.

The wealth comes from an abundance of resources in an ideally situated land. That land is the collective property of all Americans.

The prosperity comes from America’s abundance of human capital. That human capital is the result of an inheritance to all Americans, i.e., from those that fought and sweated and often died for human rights and values, as well as those who worked their butts off, took great risks, etc.

It’s better than a guaranteed minimum income because medical needs can exceed the average cost of medical care for any given individual at any given time. If you merely paid someone what he would be reasonably expected to spend on health care in an average month, he couldn’t cope with an emergency.

Also, many recipients of payments wouldn’t spend them on basic maintenance, preferring instead to, say, buy drugs with all of it and live on the street. This would rightly be objected to by those who paid for the program.

Don’t start throwing it. Even if you disagree.

This is the internet, you pretty much have to make such requests.

No, it isn’t.

It sounds like a description of life in prison, as (I believe) George Will points out.

They could. But they won’t, any more than the Social Security fund is stockpiled.

I am going to want you to show your work here.


In some science fiction universes the population are issued a dwelling place and a basic food allotment, and their jobs pay for anything over the basic apartment and food allotment. [typically the protagonist in the story lives in a 1 or 2 bedroom flat, and is issued a basic food allowance and the apartment has the equivalent of basic cable and internet on some sort of built in comm/tv/computer]

Sort of like taking Detroit, bulldozing the empty buildings, and concentrating the entire population into something like Old Man River City with an all new more efficient infrastructure to replace the aging and inefficient infrastructure that currently exists in Detroit.

You have to admit, it might actually be nice - have a brand new living space, and a ‘company store’ for the basic living allotment, and everybody registered so that the unemployed have the basic living allotment instead of welfare/unemployment/foodstamps. They just have an ID card and use it to get their allotment at the company store sort of like getting issued a food package at a food bank.

Not radical. We have a thread like this every month or so around here. Just use the search function.

Effectively it is. Actually it is. You didn’t create the land, it was there. You were assigned control it through navigating societal customs and laws, but who has the final say over customs and laws? Society as a whole. Therefor you don’t have possession of the land, only the illusion of temporary control of it. As your control of emanates from society’s control of it, and its intentions.

Even the right agrees. Why else would they feel justified to regulate victimless “crimes” in the privacy of one’s home if not for asserting controlling ownership of that home?

My house didn’t grow where it is.

No, I was endowed by my Creator with certain inalienable rights. And to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Governments may not just grab whatever they want. Their sole purpose is to secure the rights of their citizens. The instant they stop doing that, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish that government.

I think we should pick at least one day a year in the US where we remember that.


Your house moves? Oh you mean it sets on land! You built the land yourself? That’s amazing! How do I build land?

So you agree society defines ownership. Otherwise you will have to provide evidence of this creator and how such will is communicated.

Also the people who said those words owned slaves, people they denied even legal ownership of themselves. How do you reconcile that?

So if the police catch you with Cuban Cigars, they won’t confiscate it?

Oh Cuban Cigars are illegal! Why didn’t you say so. So my control of property is dependent on the will of society. So if society can tell me what to do with even a simple cigar, who really owns things?

Stupid simplistic, claptrap. The people are not a single entity. Rights conflict as interests conflict.

Your fake patriotism is simplistic, and ill conceived. America is my country too, and platitudes have made do things like hump the armed bear traps of allowing banking incompetence that trashed the economy, a trillion dollar war based on lies, a healthcare system that denies access to millions of Americans while being both 3 times as costly, more deadly to Americans.

I like The People. They’re my people, this is my home. What I don’t like is how the right insists on a tiny fraction of a percent shitting on the rest of The People. I want Americans to feel safe from hunger, from medical calamity, from poverty, and from decaying infrastructure, and crime stemming from people feeling hopeless. To feel hope at education, and be given the chance, skills, and opportunities to live up to their potentials. To feel safe in knowing they will have access to food, shelter, and medical care if the worst should happen.

What pisses my off is how The Right tries to wrap their oppression in sound bytes, and platitudes about freedom, from dead slavers. To complain about burning the flag while pissing all over its ideals.
It takes a mind numbing amount of cognitive dissonance to complain about freedom while telling a gay couple they can’t marry because it goes against your religious beliefs.

Your “everyone” pool must have been rather small and select.

It seems like a perfectly sane and sensible idea to me.

I’ll donate an emoticon to your cause: :slight_smile:

However, this would distort the market for basic needs such that it would end up costing more than 19% of GDP because of the laws of supply and demand. Unless we were to also subsidize or directly oversee the building of cheap housing, which I would not be in favor of necessarily. Or institute price controls, but I would not be in favor of that because despite not having a philosophical grounding, capitalism is functionally better at allocating many resources, and limiting what people can earn by selling basic goods would soon put the government in the business of providing them by default, and I don’t want to live in a concrete government bunker.

Also, laws of supply and demand aside, there would be a rigid lack of supply of health care because of the bottleneck of medical training, since we would be trying to increase the amount of medical services we are providing to people and the medical personnel in America are already fully employed. (This problem is shared of course with any universal health care plan.) The government to answer this could more heavily subsidize or be directly involved in medical training, which I would be in favor of.

I don’t think too many people would disagree with the OP in a general sense. The real bugbear is in where you draw the line for “basic level of food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.”

Some people think that we’ve essentially achieved this, with the exception of those who, in their view, have “opted out” of our system by making what they consider poor choices.

Others have the view that everyone’s entitled to that basic standard regardless of your own choices and their consequences- that basically it’s a human right that one’s own stupidity can’t remove.

There are even others who think the basic standard should be higher, and then fall into either of the earlier camps.
The problem as I see it, is that the US is fundamentally not collective-minded enough to pull anything like this off. Our folk tales and myths glorify the individual, and the person who pulls themselves up by their bootstraps.

It’s a little hard to reconcile that stuff with the more collective mindset that is required for a lot of this kind of basic standard stuff to work. The belief of many is that each person has worked for and strived for what they have- why should they be forced to cough up 19% to some jerk who lives in a refrigerator box? Or to some woman too stupid to not have 5 out of wedlock kids, when she has a high school education and a minimum wage job? Or to people who aren’t citizens of this country, regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnicity?

I don’t necessarily agree with all that, but I think you’re barking up the individualist/collectivist fight tree here.

Healthcare costs: That’s why the good Lord invented insurance.

I thought you meant giving people money instead of goods. I see that you mean giving them goods directly.

While some would misuse it, the same can be said of welfare or worker’s comp. Also, on average, each individual is best positioned to make the tradeoffs concerning the mix of goods he wants. Does the State choose which foods the person will eat under the scheme? Which dwelling they will inhabit? Which clothes they will wear?

Or do you mean that the State should issue food stamps, clothing stamps, dwelling stamps and healthcare stamps? Because there’s a fair amount of inefficiency there, considering they’re not fungible and some may require more food and less clothes yet others more dwelling and less food. Maybe that’d be an acceptable inefficiency if it results in minimizing the funds used for improper purposes.