Just give them the money (the argument for basic income)

I know this has been discussed before on this board, but I was reading this CNN article in favor of a basic living income and thought it might make a good discussion. Here are some of the highlights from the article:

So, for this discussion I’d like to focus on the last part of this to avoid getting bogged down in the costs and how we’d pay for it. For the purposes of this discussion let’s all just assume we can pay for it and not on how we’d do that. Is this a good idea? Would it work? Would it help? How much would it help, in the end? My own knee jerk reaction is to oppose something like this (mainly on the grounds that we won’t be discussing in this thread), but I want to TRY and look at this with as open a mind as I can. Seemingly other countries do this or are looking into it, so how does it work there?

‘Just giving money’ simply creates a population that relies on that income - and an industry that will game the system

A partial solution is a government program, perhaps similar to the CCC, that pays a sub-standard wage, but always provides employment.


The biggest question I have is what would be done with/about knuckleheads who will still manage to be destitute despite getting this basic income?

I mean, my inclination is to tell them tough luck; you blew your basic income on stupid stuff, and it’s too bad that your house is cold in the winter now, or that your kids have holey shoes. Maybe that massive TV you bought will keep your house warm.

That is why money should be provided only as sub standard wages for employment.


I’m not sure I really understand sometimes the “stupidity exemption” to sympathy. If someone is literally too much of a knucklehead to understand keeping to a budget with a reasonable income, I think my response would be “Well, shit, this poor person; how can we help them to understand?” rather than “Tough luck, too bad your house is freezing and you can’t take care of your kids!”

Make it a negative income tax, where the benefit is reduced as earnings go up, at a ratio of $1 of benefit for 50 cents of income. That way, employment (and getting a better job, more hours, etc) will result in more take-home pay, and the incentive for work is retained.

Couple it with universal health care, and no one need die from blowing their money. And, naturally, pay it out in biweekly or monthly installments, not a lump some at the first of the year.

The OP starts by mentioning a city that’s already doing this. So the obvious question is, how’s it working out there? We can ponder and debate and guess all day, but what do the data actually say?

A key point – and why “gaming the system” becomes a non sequitur – is that the basic income would be available to all without qualification. An unemployed person finding a job that pays $2000 would keep the whole $2000 (minus any payroll tax) without loss of benefits. This avoids the undesirable disincentive to work that comes with most welfare systems.

A variation that might be better would be not to provide basic cash income, but instead to provide free housing, free childcare, and free food (or food stamps).

Obviously taxes to cover this would be huge, so debating this at SDMB will lead to much silliness. Some will argue that such a program would be “affordable” only if a matching set of cuts are made elsewhere in government budgets. :smiley:

Clearly people would rely on the system, to some extent. But how would you game a system where you give everyone exactly the same amount of money?

You don’t have to pretend to be poor, pretend to be unemployed, pretend to look for a job, you simply get your check, just like everybody else.

That’s the trick with trying to separate the deserving from the undeserving, it’s a lot of work, and lots of people will try to fool you.

it’s a Native American reservation

Alaska does this in some form from revenue from it’s oil sales.

Cherokee NC has a casino, and I do wonder if that is part of the deal that some of that money would go to this program.

It would seem to work if there is a source of income for a area.

If you read the whole article that’s exactly where the money is coming from. I don’t know how sustainable it is, but that’s where it comes from.

Yup, I was going to say the same thing in response to Chronos query. IIRC, residents (who, from memory have been residents for like 5 years) get an annual check for something like $2k from the oil companies operating in Alaska.

I would support this as long as one does not forfeit the income by working a job.
In other words, let’s say the basic income is $20,000 a year. Now let’s say you get a job in fast food paying $23,000 a year. You should get your $20k **and **$23k for $43k.
You shouldn’t get $23k *instead *of $20k. That destroys a lot of work incentive, particularly if the work is unpleasant or laborious.

Well, assuming we have the money per the OP (that’s a huge assumption IMHO), we may as well try it and see if it works. Of course, there are opportunity costs.

One issue that I do see is that that basic income is going to go a lot further in some places than others. $1500 might kick someone above the poverty line, but not by a lot.

For what that’s worth,

True, but Alaska badly needs people and has plentiful resources.

Well, I doubt even the US could afford to give everyone $20k a year (I know we aren’t talking about costs, but that would be like $8 trillion dollars, unless I dropped a zero somewhere), but yes…if you said it would be (like in the article) $3,000.00 per year per person then everyone would get that, regardless of what they made, and they could do what they like with the money.

One unintentional effect of such a program would be that many people would migrate to low-cost areas - i.e., away from expensive San Francisco towards rural California, etc., to make their guaranteed income go further. This might be a good thing.


I’m not sure how you would game the system, but I know there are lot’s of folks out there making a career out of it today.

Work is of value. A salary system that is available to everyone provides both income and dignity. This was done in Switzerland when I was there years ago. If you did not have money you went to the government employment office and they gave you a job. That establishes a small income base without means testing or charity.

The amount should be a sub-standard wage. Living wages and opportunity are the provided by the private sector. The government should only provide a base of security.


Not indicative or representative, because while the system still exists within a general framework isn’t that system, then that framework generates pressures and influence that distort the end result in either direction - e.g. loads of people moving in to take advantage of “Free Money City”, businesses gaming the system by abusing the relative advantages of both, etc…

I’m not stating “it’s what’s happening”, but that’s the kind of thing that would completely distort any evidentiary value of one town (or State even) implementing basic income.

As for the notion : I’m all for it, and have been for it going on 20 years now.

The conclusions of the famous Seattle Income Maintenance/Denver Income Maintenance Project (known as SIME/DIME) were that it causes people to work less, go to school (for non-work training) more, and has a deleterious effect on marriage.

The difference between a program like the OP’s and casino/oil revenue distribution is that it is an income transfer from those who earn the money.

Is this meant to be instead of other welfare programs, or in addition to them?