Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Buzz Is Growing 

The buzz is growing - the New York Times Magazine now has an article on unconditional basic income.  Don't miss the poster comments after reading, showing what I would suspect .. a lot more support for the idea in the United States, not just Switzerland, than some might want us to think.  For most of the 129 comments (at the time of this posting) are open-minded and positive.  So, it looks like Americans, among others, may be more independent-minded than the mainstream media would have us think.

A few samples below (pictures added here).  Note, at the article, there is some confusion about the UBI level.  It does have to be, as one poster points out - a liveable amount.  The amount under consideration for Swiss voters is about 28-30,000/year USD against a cost of living that is roughly comparable to the U.S. in various locations.  In the U.S., 10,000 annually would not be a UBI as discussed under the European Initiative guidelines;  i.e. individual, unconditional, and high enough.


I think this idea bears consideration. I find something morally bankrupt about a country (such as the US) that is nearly deliberately uninterested in helping "the least of these" while claiming throughout the world to be a Christian nation.  Kimberly, Chicago, IL


Michael Harrington was the most prominent American proponent of a basic income, several decades ago. He had very persuasive arguments.  global hoosier, goshen, IN


Worth a try! let's do the math to see if we can make this work.  michael rohr, hyde park n.y.

---------------- At the moment the FED is producing ~85.000000000 of new money every month. Thats 250$ per US citizen/Month. Giving this money directly to the people instead of the Banks and corporations would make a nice beginning into the basic income system.

2.) Paying out other social systems like Food Stamps, Health Care, and many other social security programs directly as a basic income (Remember this way we could also save costs for bourrocracy wich can also be transfered to thi basic income)

3.) Reducing costs for military spending, NSA surveillance and getting big coprorations to pay their taxes as anybody else. I think it would be possible to get 800-1000$ per person without having to raise the taxes for the average people.

This will give more freedom to anybody, because with basic income everyone has the capability to fully participate in the free market society. Basic Income is the key to avoid poverty and still get keep the capitalist marketbased economy running.  Piratenparteiler, Germany


What such legislation would mean is people would no longer be subjected to the humiliation of begging in order to have the wherewithal to survive.

Another good idea would be to raise the minimum wage to cover what it costs to live. As things stand now taxpayers allow billionaires like the Waltons to pay their workers so little that they, the tax payers, must pick up the tab and the workers get the blame.

Makes you wonder.  Karen, Maine

--------------------- a great idea. A basic level of support that will provide some level of income to everyone. Now I know the critics will be yelling and screaming about how socialist this is but so . what. What is wrong with guaranteeing everyone at least a minimal income?  greenie, Vermont


Europe has another similar basic income initiative going on at the moment at - in it the member states of the European Union are collecting a million signatures to call on the EU lawmakers to facilitate research and implementation of unconditional basic income. The basic income movement is strong in Europe and the buzz is growing.  luckyisgood, Croatia


I love that the experiment in Dauphin proved that people who are taken off the poverty line don't become lazy, disincentivised louts. There's so much misinformation spread around about the poor and the loudest disseminators are so often the ones who have never experienced it.    Jennifer Stewart, Cape Town


Implementing this may open the way to more creativity and less crime. Like any new social revolution it will go through the pangs of development, resistance, adjustment, etc. But it has tremendous potential for raising the standard of living of those societies which would implement it an it is a social experiment we should try.  Regina Alberty, New York City


We're halfway there already. There are large groups of people -- the elderly and the disabled, for instance -- who receive a guaranteed income without any requirement that they work for it. And then, of course, there's unemployment insurance.

Structural unemployment seems to be growing. You can't demand that people work if there aren't enough jobs to go around. A guaranteed annual income without requirements, Swiss-style, is only fair.

Even with a guaranteed income, there are good reasons why many people will work. First, work gives them something to do. Many people work and work hard even though there's no economic compulsion for them to do so. Second, the guaranteed income may ensure a basic standard of living, but many people will want more than that.

A guaranteed income will also unleash a torrent of altruistic projects. It will free people to work for the good of society without fear of starvation.

A guaranteed income is an idea whose time has come.  Paul Abrahams, Deerfield, Massachusetts


I think this is a fantastic idea. It could be done optionally, meaning that you don't have to claim your minimum income if you don't want to. It would reduce the bureaucracy and I think unleash a massive amount of creative energy since people could do what they wanted instead of worrying about a roof over their heads. Society would be focussed on what matters instead of the endless pursuit for money. Humanity may finally be focussed to work and move in the right direction.  Ram, Samudral


Add a true single-payer, national health system, and we'd really be on to something. I'd happily see the federal government shrink if we could also see a commensurate shrinkage of the corporate middlefolk who rake excessive profits from the healthcare system, the military contracting business, and the publicly subsidized agricultural industry, to name just three groups lining their pockets at the expense of taxpayers.  skeptical, Minnesota


Since the days of the pharaohs every ruling class has considered itself the result of a pure and natural "meritocracy." The Swiss experiment could help end our own capitalist version of this pernicious delusion. The idea that our collective wealth flows in accordance with social merit and effort is, in today's casino capitalism, increasingly hard to maintain.

Take one similar "experiment" in the U.S. We are often told that the housing projects and welfare payments of the 1970s to 1980s were a disaster, resulting in a deadbeat underclass producing nothing of value. In fact, that welfare generation largely produced hip-hop culture in all its varieties, which has become a multi-billion dollar industry and one of America's biggest exports. At about the same time, a new financial class emerged that managed to lose billions of dollars and nearly wreck the world economy.

Yet the latter is rich, powerful, and counted among our hard-working "meritocracy," while the former are held to be an economic burden. As Adam Smith first instructed us, all wealth is a complex social product based on division of labor. Distributing a minimum income might just allow people to produce things people actually value, not just returns for the bondholders and rentiers.  Nelson Alexander, New York


This is an interesting idea, helping people and even re-birthing a sense of community, because if the cutthroat competition necessary to survive in this society were softened, mutual trust and aid would increase. But it doesn't deal with questions underpinning our entire system: Why work? Why accept the five day work week as if etched in stone? The forty (or more) hour work week is for the benefit of the ruling class only. It's arbitrary. Why not work for two days and be off for five? If we all agreed, it would happen easily.  freerange, Upstate


This would be very much like the Fair Tax, which would replace the complex income tax with a sort of national sales tax. It would then become progressive by refunding to every person in America a check that equates to the amount of tax paid by those living at a basic level.

Only as many tax collectors as businesses. It would piggyback on state sales tax collectors, dismantle the IRS, and remove perverse incentives to misallocate wealth. By issuing the check to every person, it would eliminate the means testing bureaucracy as well as incentives to not work in order to get benefits. It would replace payroll tax and likely increase saving.  K Bronson, Louisiana


Alaska has provided its citizens an annual check for decades, the amount varying with fluctuations in dividends from revenues generated from oil production. Also, check out USBIG, an organization that, as part of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), has explored the ethics, politics, economics, and technical feasibility of adopting an unconditional basic scheme, as articulated and advocated by the likes of Philippe Van Parijs and Guy Standing, among others. Also, check out Basic Income Guarantee and Politics: International Experiences and Perspectives on the Viability of Income Guarantee (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), which I edited.  Involved, New York


If corporate welfare were ended, this could be easily funded. Not only are corporations legally dodging the tax man at every turn, their low pay is driving people to government-funded aid. This could actually save all us money.

Poor people spend every penny they get their hands on. All of this money would go right back into the economy.

Do it. Strangle hunger and poverty.  Nancy, Chicago


I have long thought that there should be a government sponsored livable wage for a parent to stay home with pre-school children, provided the parent completes courses in child development, civic engagement, nutrition and such. A society investing in this way in the improved health and happiness of its children is eventually a better society for all.  kanecamp, Midcoast, Maine


Brilliant idea! Cut out the middlemen, reduce costs, and assure basic needs are met. Perhaps we could start with the military and those savings could fund this program. What if there were no military consultants but only employees? And one entity instead of several branches so they all had to get along?  Shannon, Seattle


I'm sure there will be plenty of detractors claiming this constitues "socialism" and is a threat to the fabric of American capitalism but the article makes a good point at the end: the government is already propping up many fully employed workers. It may be time to consider a more efficient way of doing it. In the case of McDonald's it could be done by increasing minimum wage thus resulting in increased costs to consumers or it can be done through the current welfare system creating socialized costs or maybe there is a more efficient system like that mentioned in the article. The more important issue for many conservatives will be admitting that measures like this are necessary, just and humane even when they benefit "those people."  Alex, New York


That added income could make a difference in ways that many people don't think of. i.e. being able to pay for your out of pocket deductibles for colonoscopies, mammograms, dental work, etc. It could mean life saving exams for some folks that others take for granted. It could mean knowing you can pay the utilities or afford fresh vegetables and fruit which in case you had not noticed, is expensive. $10,000 could pay for a year of an in-state college education in some states. You could pay for courses to improve your lot in life. It could mean not worrying about how you are going to pay for gas to get to work as the cost of gas spirals higher and higher but your paycheck stays the same.  marjorie, Atlanta, Georgia


Basic income would be a lot simpler than the tangled bureaucracy of help we have now.

I'd use mine to make sure my house doesn't fall down around me (infrastructure spending), buy organic food (preventive health care), take day trips (entertainment and stress relief), and put a little in savings against the day when I'd need it (sound financial planning). I'd feel free to take a part-time job rather than not take one that would count against me in the search for a 'real' full-time job (best use of talents). I'd have a little extra to give to charity (philanthropy).

Some people would spend on booze and drugs; some people always do, regardless of the source of their money. But most people, freed up to use their energies for the best result, would do just that. The money we'd save in not administering more cumbersome government programs would by itself be worth it.

I write as a former welfare caseworker.  Subito, Corvallis, Oregon


Very interesting article.

Milton Friedman, the economist, was right about this idea.

MBA's need to revisit this key component.  Einstein, America


I am much in favor. Through my own fault, a decade ago I fell through the meager social safety net from a lofty perch as an attorney, and my immediate family suffered. Simply looking for work when one is broke is very time consuming and difficult, and requires a minimum level of available financial resources. Do you pay the mortgage on the house your family is in, or move? How do you pay for moving, gas, food etc.? It would require so little for our wealthy society to provide an extremely basic package of Mincome for the benefit of all citizens when necessary. Why not?  Benjamin Franklin, Texas


If we adopted a living wage instead of a minimum wage, I believe it would put an end to welfare, food stamps, etc. Cate, New York

Responses to Cate:

A living wage will do all of the things you describe, but only for the currently employed.
The point of this solution is that it is a viable replacement (if properly designed) for unemployment, disability, social security, welfare, and fear itself.

OK, that last one is a bit over the top. But think of the freedom we'd have to innovate and take risks. If only we were a civilized society and had each others backs like this.  Complete Solutions, Chicago

The trouble with this idea is that there are a large number of influential people who seriously want to punish the poor. They will take your idea and say "Yes, yes. First end welfare and then decide what is the minimum wage thet people will accept." It is not what you say, I know. But your good words are too easily twisted.  pec, Lafayette, Colorado

Only partly true, Cate. I'm all in favor of a living wage, but that's only helpful if you've got a job.  AT Cleary, New York


As technological advances make the economy more and more productive, this sort of policy may become necessary, just to support effective aggregate demand. Though the idea currently sounds far out, its eventual implementation may be inevitable. If something along these lines does develop, I hope that it can be implemented in the proposed Swiss way, that is, without proof of need or eligibility. Otherwise, the bureaucratic costs, both monetary and moral, will be nightmarish.  Tony, Philadelphia


Minimum income does seem to be the way forward. I can see how this would unleash creativity and a new entrepreneurial spirit wherever it is implemented. Not having means testing would be important so it should go to everyone rich and poor alike. Seeing friends and family move away from the edge thanks to finally qualifying for Social Security has enforced my faith that this would be a very good system for everyone. They haven't stopped working, they just are no longer desperate.  Flatiron, Colorado

I think the moral arguments for a minimum income make a strong enough case on their own. Eliminating poverty should be all it takes to sell the idea.

That said, the innovation a minimum income would promote is a whole other advantage. If I were given, say, $10k a year with no strings attached, then I would (without any hesitation) start my own company.

I love computer graphics on the theoretical side. (The math, the computer science, etc.) If I did not have to worry about putting a roof over my head, I would love to try founding the next Pixar. Of course the odds of me succeeding are slim to none. But this is the beauty of a minimum income: there would surely be several thousand people just like me doing the same thing. One of us is going to succeed.

A minimum income frees people up to take risks and be innovative. It really is a way for society to invest in itself.  Matt, West Lafayette


This all makes so much sense. Unfortunately, rationality is not so popular these days.  Realist, Ohio


But won't almost all of the money paid out go right back into the economy? For all but the wealthy few who do not need more money, most people would spend all of their minimum income on food, shelter, clothing, maybe some travel or luxury goods. If it all goes back into the economy, then it would essentially be self-funded. The money saved on the social welfare programs that the income replaces would be money that would not have to be raised in taxes.  Steve, NYC

------------------------------- just happened to have finished this book:

"Basic Income Guarantee" by Allan Sheahen:

Amount now spent on welfare programs: about $460 Billion, $400 Billion of which would be eliminated by the B.I.G.

Here's a sketch of a proposed budget:

A low B.I.G. of $1,000/month for every adult citizen would cost $1.8 Trillion annually.

This could be paid for by:

1. Eliminating 80% of tax loopholes $820 B
2. Elim. standard dedcution and personal exemption $300 B
3. Savings from eliminated welfare programs $400 B
4. Cutting defense back to year 2000 level $394 B

Total: $1,914 B

I believe we should increase the Basic Income Guarantee to a truly life-sustaining level by further taxing the wealthy.

The Swiss are considering a B.I.G. of $2,500/month and state that is should be kept at a level that meets people's basic needs AND allows them to participate fully in society.

Here are some other possibilities, both from the book, and in the discourse:

1. Tax rich at 1994 levels $30 B, or to 1961 levels: $382 B
2. 20% surcharge on million dollar incomes: $129 B
3. Scrap payroll tax cap: $220 B
4. A financial transaction tax of 0.25 $100 B
5. Raising capital gains tax to 35% : $ 88 B

The top 20% of US Households own 82% of this nation's wealth. Can they afford it?  Janine Rickard, California


With automation, digitization, and roboticization, many, many jobs are not ever coming back. Look at the music industry; 100,000 well payed jobs are gone forever.

The whole point of a modern economy is to produce more with less people working.
Guess what? We are succeeding all too well.

U.S. workers have become much more productive but wages have been suppressed to 1970 wages in constant dollars.

Yes, a basic government income is needed and will only be more needed in the future.

It will help many people get-by who have only part time work (and of course no work) but it will also free up people to be more creative and society as a whole will benefit.

We need to start this conversation now.  SMC, West Tisbury, Massachusetts


*Photo credit/via Spiral, "Unconditional Basic Income."/via Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, "Basic Income, a new human right"/via Barnes and Noble, "Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security"

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