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Basic Income Guarantee

November 24, 2013

In these times when budget discussions in Washington seem to always revolve around how to cut programs designed to alleviate poverty by meeting specific needs such as housing, health care  and food, perhaps the time has come to address all such anti-poverty programs in a more comprehensive fashion. One such proposal which has been around for years but never really gained much momentum in this country is the idea of a Basic Income Guarantee. One form this could take would be to pay each adult a set amount of money each month to meet basic needs, regardless of employment status or wealth.

Currently, Switzerland is in the process of setting a national referendum to vote on a guaranteed monthly income of $2800 per adult. The amount distributed to each person would obviously be a big bone of contention in any such policy discussion, but the main point is that it would radically reduce the level of poverty prevalent in this country. Much of the necessary money could be made available by using the funds currently used in a piecemeal fashion to inadequately address problems such as hunger (food stamps), housing subsidies. unemployment compensation, etc. The specific amount would be enough to meet basic needs without taking away the incentive for those able to work and earn more and live at a higher standard of living or save for the future.

One big advantage that this method would have over such programs currently in place, like the earned income tax credit, as well as other credits currently available that come in the form of an income tax refund once per year, is that the funds are spread out throughout the year, rather than just one lump sum. Savings could be made from scaling back or even eliminating some of the individual programs addressing specific needs for certain people without addressing others. The current hodgepodge of programs could be reduced dramatically, and more needs could be met for more people at the same time. Taxes could also be raised based on the higher incomes of some than others, but the money would still be there in case of a sudden change in personal circumstances.

A further advantage to such a policy would be that needs currently not being met by social safety net programs could be met with a guaranteed basic income. This nation ranks far behind others in terms of paid parental leave, for instance. There are other forms of “work” which have traditionally been undervalued by our society. Remember the dust up that occurred during the 2012 presidential election when someone stated that Ann Romney hadn’t worked a day in her life, besides raising her children? Stay-at- home parents raising children, as well as people taking care of elderly parents no longer able to care for themselves have long had to do so without their work being given any economic terms of paying the household bills.

Higher education, further job training, and transitioning between jobs could also be handled more smoothly for many if the cushion provided by this sort of basic income existed for each person. Workers’ rights would, I suspect, be much better respected by bosses when they didn’t hold such a life-and-death grip over their employees as often exists now, especially during a recession. Perhaps more people would choose to work less or not at all, but that would not mean that there would no longer be jobs that needed to be done. It would, however, mean that the pay for jobs would have to make them worthwhile for those performing those duties. More respect for those doing the jobs would probably be given by those receiving their services knowing that the workers do face starvation or homelessness if they aren’t thus employed  That is currently not the case for many who live from paycheck to paycheck struggling to keep their families from becoming homeless, starving or freezing to death. People should not have to face tyranny at work anymore than they should from their government.

Removing many of the restrictions currently placed on members of our society receiving assistance from the myriad of programs currently available to alleviate poverty would most likely dramatically reduce the number of people in poverty. Homelessness and hunger would definitely be reduced. How many people who are technically eligible to receive some form of government assistance do not do so, either because of the stigma attached to receiving the assistance or because they are not aware that it is available to them? How many homeless would remain so if they had money for rent? Receiving the monthly stipend without having to fill out forms and provide constant proof of eligibility would save enormous amounts of time and effort both on the part of recipients and the army of civil servants required to administer the programs.

There is no guarantee now that anyone among us will not become destitute at a moments’ notice. Being able to provide for all our needs under any possible circumstance or confluence of events is a goal for many that is unattainable. Providing a basic level of subsistence income to each individual adult is not something that is impossible in the US in this day and age. Much of the funding required to provide it already exists or could be made available by a more equal distribution of income. Other money could easily be allocated from wasteful or bloated programs that subsidize already profitable industries. Money wasted in meaningless wars, both military and otherwise, could be reallocated to better use in meeting our needs this way.  More taxes may be necessary overall, but the burden needn’t be inordinately borne by anyone. Each of us would have the safety net available should it become required due to unforeseen circumstances.

For decades, battles have waged over the extent to which we should be providing for the welfare of our fellow citizens. The approach taken up till now has resembled somewhat that of filling in potholes as they develop in a street rather than repaving the entire road so that it will all be improved and last longer than the temporary fixes provided by filling in the potholes. The basic income guarantee would undoubtedly be abused by some, as has every other system we have devised throughout history to lift people from poverty, but it would be far more humane than bickering endlessly over tinkering with the periphery of policies that we already know do not meet the needs of millions of our people. Adding or subtracting  small sums for each person does not fundamentally improve the end result of these programs. Some people may have to do without the excesses they have become accustomed to and feel to be their due in order that others may survive, but I consider that to be far more fair than the current state of affairs.

Allowing certain members of our society to starve, become homeless or live their lives in desperate poverty so that others may maintain a standard of living far higher than they require or than is sustainable by society as a whole is morally repugnant to me. Total economic equality may be unrealistic even as a goal, but the idea of a basic guaranteed income that meets the minimum needs for each of us is not only one which is attainable in the near future, but one which we should be striving for. The budget battles going on right now are a mere distraction from making the fundamental changes required for reaching the kind of society we should be trying to create.


Suggested Further Readings:

About Basic Income

What Is the Basic Income Guarantee?

Basic Income Guarantee Versus the Corporate Media

Giving All Americans a Basic Income Would End Poverty

Swiss to Vote on Guaranteed $2800 Monthly Income for All Adults

The Need for Basic Income

An Efficiency Argument for the Basic Income Guarantee

American Earned Guaranteed Income

Switzerland Shows U.S. How to Handle CEO’s

Will Switzerland Vote to Limit CEO Pay?

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  1. bobsoper permalink

    Shouldn’t this sentence “More respect for those doing the jobs would probably be given by those receiving their services knowing that the workers do face starvation or homelessness if they aren’t thus employed ” read “workers DON’T,,,”
    Also the sentence isn’t punctuated at the end.

    Great article!


  2. dj j permalink

    Like that could ever happen here in the U.S. They call Obama a socialist for passing a corporate insurance giveaway called Obamacare.


  3. Not to mention the fact that our economy would be soaring if the masses had money to spend on goods and services rather than the few. A point rarely mentioned by the economic “experts”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great piece, Rick. I agree with you wholeheartedly. One comment I will make however is that the Lion’s Share of the “abuse” comes from those at the Upper Echelons of the income ladder fleecing farm subsidies, oil subsidies, etc. NOT from SNAP or “welfare” fraud.
    Ridding ourselves of corporate welfare and using those funds towards a guaranteed income for all would be an excellent first step.
    Love the idea and the article.


  5. Reblogged this on eugenevdebs3.


  6. Reblogged this on Journalism as Art and commented:
    Allowing certain members of our society to starve, become homeless or live their lives in desperate poverty so that others may maintain a standard of living far higher than they require or than is sustainable by society as a whole is morally repugnant to me.


  7. What I have been calling “the provision of the necessities” since the 1980’s is what you are describing here under the “universal basic income” moniker. I established in “Popular Capitalism” that the provision is not only a valuable tool in ending poverty, it is a requirement for continuing a political economy or “power system”. I also prove that the provision is fiscally sustainable, even under a system without the coercive revenue collection by means of taxes.


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