"A basic income is an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement" (Basic Income Earth Network, (BIEN)).
Benefits include, in no particular order:
While many scholars argue that the basic income should be slightly below the minimum income needed to survive, many argue that a basic income must consitute alivable income in a viable post-automation society, on the grounds that that a poverty level income is just that: still poverty. Such subjective guidelines have warranted a multitude of quantifications:
In 1969, the United States President's Commission on Income Maintenance Programs report, Poverty Amid Plenty: The American Paradox detailed a 1969 Basic Income Proposal stated, "the Committee proposes providing a basic income of around $4,700 per adult and around $2,900 per child. So, for a family of four, it would be around $15,200 per year." In 2014 US dollars, this equates to a basic income of $30,430 per adult U.S. citizen, $49,200 for a single parent, and $98,400 for a family of four.
The 2013 Alaska Permanent Fund amount is $900 per eligible citizen. "To be eligible for a PFD, you must have been an Alaska resident for the entire calendar year preceding the date you apply for a dividend and intend to remain an Alaska resident indefinitely at the time you apply for a dividend."
Charles Murray in Guaranteed Income as a Replacement for the Welfare State introduced the figure of $10,000, "as a place to begin discussion," never really intending for it to be taken as a serious final number. "In the United States, a GI of $10,000 per year for all adults aged twenty-one years and older will cost no more than the projected cost of the current system as of 2011. By 2028, it will cost more than a trillion dollars less per year than the projected costs of the current system." Similarly, numbers just at or below the antiquated federal poverty level are generally considered illustrative rather than practical for legislative purposes.
Mark Walker in the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Evolution & Technology describes a plan for a $11,400 BIG paid to everyone ages 18 through 64 through the adoption of a 14% VAT (Value Added Tax). According to Walker, "The vast majority would do better under this proposal even though it includes a large new tax: anyone making between $0 and $80,000 a year would be monetarily better off. About 90% of the population has a net personal income that falls below the cross-over point (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2014). So, the vast majority of the population would be better off financially under the 14% VAT and BIG proposal.
Ed Dolan has calculated that the US could afford a basic income of $5,850 (paid to everyone, including children) if it got rid of most means tested benefits and tax exemptions for the middle classes. If children were excluded, this figure would rise to $7647.
In 2005, the BIG Pilot Project in Namibia began as the result of the proposal that, "A monthly cash grant of not less than N$100 (~13 US$) should be paid to every Namibian." Here we begin to see the concept of local context emerge. Indexing basic income to the real economy is vital to its credibility and viability.
The 2013 Swiss basic income guarantee referendum is for CHF ₣2,500 francs (approximately USD $2,800/mo) which is $33,600 USD per year. Albert Jorimann (president of BIEN Switserland) says about that: "We refer to the collection of signatures effectively of 2500 CHF per adult, which could actually be something more than 2000 euros. However, one must consider the cost of living, which are significantly higher in Switzerland than in the EU. We only have a 4-room apartment costs quickly once in 2500 Fr, not only in the big cities. So I would equate the amount in euros rather with about 1000 euros." Dutch Basic Income Website
In the United States, using the 2014 Federal Poverty Guidelines as a guide, to universally prevent poverty would require a basic income level of $12,000 (also considered an appropriate amount using a ground up analysis) for everyone over the age of 18, along with a partial basic income of $4,000 for everyone under the age of 18. According to /u/2noame, this particular plan would require $2.98 trillion in total revenue ($2.7 trillion for 18+ and $276 billion for 18-) to cover all U.S. citizens, or after the elimination of current government pensions and welfare programs, $1.28 trillion USD.
As of August 2014, Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner (PDF), calculates that adding "another $284 of welfare spending [to existing federal welfare alone] at the state and local level, and you’ve got almost $1 trillion dollars of government spending on welfare - over $20,000 for every poor person in the United States (Zwolinski, Matt. The Pragmatic Libertarian Case for a Basic Income Guarantee).
The Socialist Alternative 2014 party platform includes, "A minimum guaranteed weekly income of $600/week (~$28,800/yr)for the unemployed, disabled, stay-at-home parents, the elderly, and others unable to work."
Any meaningful basic income figure must respond to changes in livable incomes for the locale in which it is instituted. It should not be an arbitrarily-decided static number which fails to be revisited and updated over time. One alternative is to set the basic income level as a fixed percentage of median income or GDP/capita. Another idea is to have congress periodically vote on the basic income: each congressman proposes a desired value, and the median proposal is used for the next year. If implemented by the states, state congresses would vote.
Higher levels of basic income than discussed above are possible if taxes are increased correspondingly; for a discussion of how additional revenue could be raised, see the "how would you pay for it" section.
If you want to play with the numbers yourself, /u/JayDurst made a calculator that would allow you to look at different tax rates and the basic income rate that you could afford with it (discussion here).
The "law of rent" says that more money in the hands of the people causes inflation in natural resource leasing costs (rent, resource extraction (mining), wireless communication frequencies, geosynchronous orbits, etc), which could entirely eliminate the original benefit of a basic income for non-land-owners. But if basic income is partially funded with a Georgist land value tax (LVT), those rent increases get returned right back to the basic-income recipients who boosted the value of the land in the first place. A socialist system like this, or a capitalist system in which citizens typically hold diversified land portfolios, can mitigate the harmful effects of rent inflation.
A negative income tax is a proposal to include negative rates of income tax for people earning below a certain level. A level of income would be set at which you pay zero tax; if you earn more than this you pay tax, but if you earn less you would receive payments. Like basic income, this would not have any conditions (e.g. having to work to get the payment) but unlike basic income, the payments are dependent on income. However, a negative income tax can be set up so that it provides the same amount of money as a basic income. This is because a basic income scheme would require higher tax rates than a negative income tax, as it involves paying every citizen. A NIT would have lower tax rates but provide less money, so these two could balance out in such a way that every citizen has the same amount of money that they would with a basic income. There are pros and cons to both approaches: a basic income would involve giving money to people who don't need it, which people might consider unfair even though they are repaying the money through their tax, while a negative income tax could lead to stigmatisation of people who receive payments, as the payments would not be universal. A negative income tax also appeals to those who care more about negative liberty (freedom from others), while unconditional basic income appeals to those care more about positive liberty (freedom to do what you want).
Experiments with unconditional cash benefits around the world have often proven to be one of the most successful ways of reducing poverty, and in the vast majority of cases, the fear that people would waste their money on drugs or alcohol, become lazy, or have more kids were not realized. Experimental studies and wider programs and pilots have taken place in:
Click here for an easy to read summary of these studies
Experimental Summary Papers:
Basic Income Programs and Pilots
Universal Basic Income: A New Tool for Development Policy
Basic income, and the similar proposal of a negative income tax, have a range of supporters from across the political spectrum. Some of these supporters and links to their arguments in favour of basic income are given below. A growing number of today's best thinkers are rapidly joining the long history of leading thinkers in advocating this policy.
Nobel prize winning economists
Paul Krugman, @NYTimeskrugman
F. A. Hayek
Herbert A. Simon ["UBI and the Flat Tax", Boston Review, 2000]
Umair Haque, @umairh (Harvard Business School Economist)
Recent Mentions: "it's a no-brainer" | "the next big social issue" | "but it'll never happen" | if WE don't make it happen.
Recent Mentions: "it's a no-brainer" | "the next big social issue" | "but it'll never happen" | if WE don't make it happen.
Erik Brynjolfsson, @erikbryn (MIT Economist, Author, "Race Against the Machine")
J. K. Galbraith (American economist)
Robert Skidelsky (Skip to the section "Working Less") (Economic historian and professor emeritus of political economy)
Guy Standing (video: Why the Precariat Requires a Basic Income) (British economist)
Daniel Raventos (Spanish economist)
Bertrand Russell (see the last paragraph of chapter IV for a summary)
John Stuart Mill (Chapter I: Of Property § 4) (British philosopher)
Phillipe Van Parijs (Philosopher and left-libertarian economist)
Politicians and Activists
Martin Luther King Jr. (also video)
Robert Reich(Former United States Secretary of Labor)
Charles Murray (Warning: PDF) (Libertarian political scientist)
Hugh Segal (Canadian politcal commentator and former senator)
Charles Eisenstein (video: "A BI gives us the freedom to act on our desire to give")
You can read more about basic income supporters from the past 240 years on the European Unconditional Basic Income website: (UBIE.ORG)
The following brief arguments are taken verbatim from this article, which provides various arguments from different political perspectives.
Property is a social construct legally enforced by the government. If all people are considered equal, then absent any other considerations, each person should have an equal amount of property. So material equality should be the default. In a free market economy with a basic income at or below the highest sustainable rate, those who choose to live off of the basic income are not living off of the work of others. Rather, they are living off of less than their “fair share” of property and allowing the extra to be used by those who choose to work.
The free market is the greatest generator of wealth ever devised. Money is the most effective means of socially producing utility, as it allows each individual to obtain whatever needs and wants they subjectively require. However, one dollar in the hands of a poorer person produces greater utility than a dollar in the hands of a richer person, because the richer person can fulfill more of their more important needs and wants with the rest of their money than the poorer person can. So the transfer of money from a richer person to a poorer person increases overall utility. The government is incompetent at running people’s lives or regulating the economy, but the one thing it can do effectively is mail out checks. A basic income is most effective means of transferring money from the richer to the poorer with the least government interference and the least work disincentive. The natural limit on the amount of the basic income is the point where the work disincentive from the required taxes reduces wealth the point where the basic income would have to be reduced.
Keynesian economics works when implemented correctly. But properly implementing Keynesian economics is politically very difficult. It requires politicians who are willing to spend a lot of money on stimulus when the government appears broke, and then turn around and become deficit hawks when the government is rolling in cash and everyone wants a piece of the pie. A basic income funded primarily from an income tax would become a massive institutionalized entitlement expected by the population whose cost would automatically increase and decrease in direct opposition to the economy. As unemployment rises, the number of net receivers goes up, and as unemployment falls, so will the number of net receivers. Keynes once famously said that the government should pay people to dig holes and fill them back up again. But why waste people’s time? Anyone who sits on the couch and watches TV while living off of a basic income will contribute as much to society as the hole diggers. And anyone who does anything more productive will create a net good for society.
Poverty is not a natural tragedy like cancer or earthquakes. Poverty is a human caused tragedy like slavery or government oppression. Slavery is caused by societal recognition of humans as property. Government oppression is caused by governments punishing people for their beliefs or characteristics, and without due process of law. Poverty is caused by property laws that deny some people access to necessities. These types of tragedies can be ended by recognizing that humans have the right not to be subjected to tortuous conditions imposed by other humans. Humans have a right not to live in slavery. Humans have a right to be free of government oppression. And humans have a right not to live in poverty. A basic income is not a strategy for dealing with poverty; it is the elimination of poverty. The campaign for a basic income is a campaign for the abolition of poverty. It is the abolitionist movement of the 21st century.
Property is a product of creation, not of mere use. “I made this.” confers property rights, “Tag! It’s mine!” does not. Things that exist as a product of your labor must be yours, and for anyone else to appropriate them is to make you their slave. Land and natural resources, however, are not the products of people, but of nature or God. They are gifts to all of humanity. Individual property in land and natural resources may be practical or useful, but it is still theft. Utility might justify this theft, but compensation is still required. As the appropriation was done without consent, the compensation must be in the form that offers the greatest choice of use to the victims. That form is cash. The most efficient arrangement for payment is for the takers to pay the full rental or use value to a single entity which can then divide the proceeds equally among the population. Taxes are the tribute I pay to you for displacing you from land, the basic income is your dividend.
Two hundred thousand years ago humans lived in hunter-gather societies. About 10 thousand years ago, humans began to live in agricultural societies, and then about 300 years ago, humans began to live in industrial societies. Since 30 to 50 years ago, we have lived in a service society. Theoretically, the last economic stage of society is a leisure society, where most people either work in the artistic or scientific fields, or do not work at all. So far, each phase has lasted only a small fraction of the time of the previous phase. If that pattern holds, service societies should last less than two generations, a time period nearing its end. Right now, worker productivity is advancing faster than the need for workers, and robots are inhabiting labs in research hospitals and at DARPA. It is time to prepare for a society in which we simply do not need everyone to work. A basic income will be needed to provide a living for people, and to provide customers for business.
The welfare state may not be the society we would have created, but it has been here for 4 generations, people have come to expect and rely on it, and it would be extremely disruptive to society to get rid of it. But while we may not be able to get rid of the welfare state, we can reform it. The current welfare state necessitates an immense and expensive bureaucracy, it is prohibitively complicated for some of its intended beneficiaries to navigate, it puts bureaucrats in charge of the lives of the poor, it creates perverse incentives for people to avoid work and to remain poor, and it arbitrarily allows some people to fall through the cracks. A basic income would correct all of these problems. A basic income is simple to administer, treats all people equally, retains all rewards for hard work, savings, and entrepreneurship, and trusts the poor to make their own decisions about what to do with their money, taking these decisions out of the hands of paternalistic elitist politicians.
Patriarchy has put the world’s wealth in the hands of men, prevented women from being professionals and entrepreneurs, forced poor women into dead-end second-class labor jobs, and forced all women to become unpaid domestic servants and caretakers of the young, elderly, and disabled of their families. Women have been forced to be financially dependent on fathers or husbands who are often abusive. A basic income would change all of this. A basic income would be a massive transfer of wealth from men to women. Women would be free of financial dependence on any man, and the young, elderly, and disabled would all be fully supported. Women could afford to leave abusive husbands, those who chose to be caretakers would be fully compensated, and no woman would be forced into a dead-end job, and would instead be able to pursue her own financial goals as she saw fit.
While it may have been theoretically possible to acquire property in a just manner soon after humans evolved, none was. Every square inch of inhabited land on earth can trace its title back to someone who acquired the land by force. All land titles on Earth are soaked in blood. And not just land titles. Thanks to past government spending, targeted tax breaks, intellectual property, corporate charters, slavery, and meddling regulations, no property or wealth can be said to have been justly acquired. If we assume that those who have the least are greatest net victims, a basic income would provide the best possible rectification with the least government control, producing the least unjust system of property distribution possible in the real world.
A basic income would correct or ameliorate many inequities and inefficiencies inherent in market capitalism. The wages of unskilled and semi-skilled workers would rise as those who enjoy and are good at such work will no longer have to compete against those who are forced to seek such work out of financial necessity. The wages of highly skilled workers will fall as more people are able to take the time necessary to gain the skills to compete for those jobs, lowering the cost of legal, financial, and health care services. A guaranteed income will soften the blow to workers displaced by advancing technology and the creative destruction of the market. Job seekers will be able to take the time necessary to find work that is the best fit for them, increasing efficiency in the distribution of labor. And entrepreneurship will flourish as those wanting to start their own businesses will have an income to survive on during the long lean times that typically come when building a new enterprise.
First and foremost, the basic income is paid for by direct savings of eliminating the waste, fraud, and abuse of the Welfare State. Charles Murray writes, "After a process that has taken decades, the welfare state has severely degraded the traditions of work, thrift, and neighbourliness which enabled the system to work at the outset. It is now spawning social and economic problems that it is powerless to solve."
By completely ending welfare, "In the United States, a GI (guaranteed income) for all adults aged twenty-one years and older will cost no more than the projected cost of the current system as of 2011. By 2028, [the guaranteed income] will cost a trillion dollars less per year than the projected costs of the current system."
Secondly, the complete elimination of the Minimum Wage and all associated payroll overheard for businesses. The reason for a basic income that is a fully guaranteed, realistic, living income (see 'How much would the basic income be?') indexed to the real economy is so that these cost savings can all be fully realized and redeployed toward empowering innovation (Christensen).
Of course, taxes on high-end consumption and financial transactions are currently two of the leading methods proposed to make up any gap between the savings gained in completely dismantling the current means-tested welfare state, and a sustainable basic income. Means-testing is a breeding ground for fraud and abuse in any program, and welfare is not immune. Some argue that waste, fraud, and abuse is so understated and invisible, that the gap between savings in total welfare eliminationand basic income could be much smaller than presently calculated.
The general idea of fundraising is via taxation. Just as current welfare systems use tax revenue to fund subsidies, the basic income would as well. A simple setup is just a flat tax on income, and/or a flat sales tax. There are a variety of other taxes that could help to fund basic income, depending on the desired secondary effects of the tax. Many European countries use a value added tax (VAT) to positive effect without materially harming consumption. A carbon tax would help to combat global warming as well as providing a new revenue source for basic income. A tax on High Frequency Traders would reduce market "flash crashes" without materially harming market efficiency. A wealth tax could be more effective in reducing inequality than a traditional income tax. A land value tax - taxing the owners of land for its value, excluding any man-made developments on it - would cause very little economic distortion while raising revenue. Many wealthy people earn more from capital gains than income, so raising the level of capital gains tax is likely to produce a lot of revenue. Inheritance tax helps to fight the unfairness of people born to rich parents having a head start in life. And of course, simply raising income tax is always an option.
One other possibility is to include the funding of basic income in monetary policy. In a recession, if interest rates are very low and inflation is not too high, but the economy is not growing, the central bank will essentially print money to help increase demand. This has happened in the current crisis; the Federal Reserve is still adding $80 billion every month to the money supply. So in certain circumstances, the central bank could print money and cover some of the cost of the basic income for the government, meaning that the government will be free to either cut taxes or increase spending to stimulate the economy without adding to its deficit.
Basically, there are all sorts of underused ways to raise revenue for basic income. No one tax would be able to completely pay for it, but a combination of the different taxes discussed above, as well as the savings from dismantling the current welfare bureaucracy, make it more affordable than it appears. There are a number of studies which have proposed more detailed costed proposals for basic income... [find some links to such studies].
Some classic examples of U.S. programs that become obsolete once a simple basic income is implemented:
Governmental assistance programs vary by country. However, Allan Sheahen's proposal for a basic income in the United States includes in its appendix a list of 138 tax loopholes that could be closed to help pay for it, as well as over 100 federal programs that could be eliminated as being unnecessary with basic income. For a list of all federal government funded programs in the United States, see this collection of 1,607 programs dated 2005, many of which could be seen as redundant or unnecessary with basic income and therefore would be eliminated.
There is no current consensus on the possible inflationary impact of a basic income. An ongoing concern from detractors is that inflation would reduce the effectiveness of any BI payment, delivering less net benefit than intended, although no evidence has yet been provided to support this concern. Assuming the BI is funded via taxes, and not monetary policy (printing money), the inflationary impact should be short-term and limited to where supply is sticky.
The quantity theory of money links long-term inflation tightly with the money supply, of which the basic income has no direct impact (assuming the BI is not funded via monetary means). This could suggest that, in the long-term, the BI would have no real impact on inflation.
Alaska Permanent Fund
Alaska has operated what is essentially a miniature Basic Income program that has paid out annually since 1982, where the only restrictions on receivers are residency requirements and various ineligibility rules for criminal actions. Alaska has not experienced higher levels of inflation when compared to the U.S. average since the inception of the program.
Basic income may impact inflation via a rise in compensation costs for businesses. If the labour force shrinks after the introduction of a basic income businesses may have to bid up compensation in order to attract and retain workers, or make capital investments in order to automate work previously done by people.
An increase in aggregate demand as a result of the basic income could impact short-term prices of goods and services where the supply is sticky as a result of spending patterns (XLS Warning) of lower income households. Since lower income households tend to spend the majority of their income a large portion of the Basic Income going to low income households would be spent. However, since the Basic Income is designed to replace most current government transfers, the increase in demand may be muted.
For more discussion, here are some threads from this subreddit talking about basic income's effect on prices:
The main reason why it helps to give basic income to the rich as well as the poor is that it completely removes the problem of the unemployment/poverty trap (see the list of benefits above) where removing benefits from people as they start earning more money means they don't increase their disposable income. Another benefit of this is that if everyone receives the payment, cutting the basic income will reduce everyone's income; there will be less pressure from the rich to cut benefits if they would also lose out from the benefits being cut. Giving money to everyone also greatly reduces administration costs and simplifies the scheme, as you don't have to check everyone's income to determine who gets the money. Finally, anyone who could be considered rich would be paying more in taxes than they were getting from their basic income, so in net terms the rich are still paying while the poor benefit.
Most discussions about basic income and the cost of living (for example this one) favour making no adjustments. With a basic income people will be more able to move to cheaper areas, as they don't have to worry about having a job immediately when they get there. Adjusting for the cost of living would greatly increase the administration required for basic income (how do you determine where people are living, or the exact amount that you should adjust the basic income by?), which negates one of the main benefits of it. Of course, local governments would be free to introduce additional welfare that would lower the cost of living for the poor, but this would be separate from any national basic income scheme.
Definitely not. Have another look at the list of supporters, for one thing – I doubt Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek would support something that could be accurately described as communism! Let's look more closely at the definition of communism from Wikipedia. This states that "Communism (from Latin communis – common, universal) is a revolutionary socialist movement to create a classless, moneyless and stateless social order structured upon common ownership of the means of production". Basic income is not revolutionary (in that it doesn't need a revolution to happen), does not require the eradication of classes, does not require the eradication of the state, and doesn't require common ownership of the means of production. It is in no way communist.
See this page for more details
A good place to start would be to join one of the many advocacy groups around the world, or join a city-level meetup group.
It's also very simple to contact your local politician or local newspaper to press the case for Basic Income or an article on the subject.
You can also advocate for Basic Income online by using the #BasicIncome hashtag and sharing updates from these social media accounts.
It's been shown that ideas spread most effectively from family members and friends, so start talking about Basic Income to everyone you know!
Credit: This FAQ was created by the Basic Income Reddit Wiki community.