What If the Government Guaranteed You an Income?
By David R. Wheeler / filmsforaction.org

First, the bad news: Even if the economy improves, middle-class career paths will continue to disappear as globalization and technological innovation render more jobs obsolete.

Now, the good news: The fear, stress and humiliation caused by unemployment (and underemployment) can be alleviated with a simple solution.

And now, the even-better news: This simple solution is starting to find backers on both sides of the political spectrum.

A monthly cash payment to every American, no questions asked, would solve several of our most daunting challenges. It's called a basic income, and it's cheaper and much more effective than our current malfunctioning safety net, which costs nearly $1 trillion per year.

The idea of a basic income, sometimes called a guaranteed minimum income or a negative income tax, has been discussed for decades by notable economists like Milton Friedman. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the idea had bipartisan backing before losing steam. Recently, in the face of a sputtering economy, a weak job market and rising income inequality, it has been gathering supporters at an ever-quickening pace.

In fact, just last month, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich called a basic income guarantee "almost inevitable."

The concept of a basic income is not entirely abstract. Several countries, such as Brazil, have achieved notable success with their programs, lifting many people out of poverty. In countries like India, nongovernmental organizations are experimenting with pilot programs in specific areas, with promising results so far.

The United States is already experimenting with a variation of basic income, even though most people don't realize it. Alaska has a small version, called a Permanent Fund Dividend, which is incredibly popular and made the state one of the most economically equal places in America. Importantly, Alaskans don't consider it "redistribution," but rather "joint ownership."

The benefits of a basic income on a national scale would be wide-ranging. First, there's the lift to the overall economy if everyone has money to spend. Next, there are the obvious psychological benefits of knowing you can always afford food and shelter. Then there's the societal stability factor: If people's basic economic needs are being met—no matter what the unpredictable job market is doing—we don't have to worry about the potential for civil unrest as a result of mass unemployment.

Economist Gar Alperovitz told me that a guaranteed minimum income would not only defuse the political crisis posed by worsening long-term unemployment, but would also open up the possibility of a reduction in the length of the work week.

Due partly to technological innovation, we already have a situation where less work is spread among more people, and this phenomenon will increase in the future. With a basic income, this development is nothing to fear.

"Once people have the freedom to elect to work less, their capacity to engage in the work of rebuilding community and democracy can increase far beyond what is possible in today's precariously overworked society," Alperovitz said.

At the moment, the idea of a guaranteed minimum income might be more popular with liberals than conservatives. But lately, conservative thinkers have become more outspoken in their support of the concept.

Philosopher Matt Zwolinski has made a libertarian case for a basic income. "Conservatives care about limiting the power of government and increasing personal responsibility. ... Compared to our current welfare state, a basic income does both. Instead of a vast bureaucracy of over 120 different antipoverty programs at the federal level, you've got a program so simple it could be administered by a piece of software."

Furthermore, he said, instead of subjecting the poor to a host of invasive, paternalistic and degrading requirements designed to make sure they're behaving in ways the government approves of, a basic income gives them cash, and asks them to take responsibility for spending that money to improve their own condition.

Of course, all government programs have imperfections, and the basic income idea has an obvious one: There will still be people incapable of functioning in daily life—people who will spend their money before paying for basic necessities. What should be done about these "moochers"?

My answer is that housing shelters and soup kitchens could continue to exist, helping people who cannot be helped in any other way. But the cost of these programs is just a tiny fraction of the overall safety net, and in cities with strong religious and philanthropic support, they would not need to be financed by the government at all. No one needs to sleep on the street.

Another objection: What if people want to work more, not less? No problem. Want multiple jobs? Go right ahead and take them. As advocates of a basic income point out, nothing would keep people from working and earning as much as they want.

The global economy will experience big and small changes in the coming decades. We must do something to avoid a future of high unemployment and misery. A guaranteed minimal income is a way to start.

David R. Wheeler lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where he is a freelance writer and a journalism professor at Asbury University. Follow him on Twitter @David_R_Wheeler

3.7 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
F*ck That: A Guided Meditation for the Realities of Today's World
2 min · 12,042 views today · Just acknowledge that all that sh*t is f*cking b*llshit — you're here now, in this place, with your inner stillness. Take in a deep breath ... now breathe out. Just feel the...
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 6,433 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Free Trade Explained In An Excellent Comic
Michael Goodwin, Illustrated by Dan E. Burr · 6,270 views today · The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) are the latest in a long line...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 6,248 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Who I'm Voting For...
3 min · 6,039 views today · Prince Ea announces who he's voting for. It's probably not who you think.
Open Up - Have the Difficult But Important Conversations With Loved Ones
5 min · 3,524 views today · “The biggest casualty of humanity is the lack of communication, it’s the thing that breaks most relationships. It just feels so much better to talk and get it out.” There is...
25 Mind-Twisting Optical Illusion Paintings by Rob Gonsalves
Dovas · 1,926 views today · The beautiful and mind-bending illusions in Canadian artist Robert Gonsalves’ paintings have a fun way of twisting your perception and causing you to question what in his...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,828 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,480 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Democracy in the Digital Era
Birgitta Jonsdottir · 1,461 views today · Our current democratic models are crumbling and outdated. We need to make something more real and meaningful. Activist and politician Birgitta Jónsdóttir points to how it might...
Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change (2015)
11 min · 1,379 views today · Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping...
#Hypernormalisation - Why Heathrow Plan Is Proof We Exist in a Catastrophic Fantasyland
Matthew Adams · 1,270 views today · The British government recently gave the green light for Heathrow airport’s third runway. It was heralded by its supporters as a vital boost for jobs and growth – and proof...
'Maritime Graveyard': 2016 Deadliest Year Ever for Refugees Crossing Mediterranean
Deirdre Fulton · 1,225 views today · "From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiraled to one in 88," says UNHCR spokesman
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 1,108 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
The Empire Vs. The People - Police Attack and Arrest Peaceful Protestors at the Dakota Access Pipeline
6 min · 906 views today · On October 22, just before dawn, hundreds of people, including many families, gathered and prepared to march toward the Dakota Access pipeline construction site near Standing...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 729 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Ode to Lesvos
5 min · 645 views today · An inspiring story of a few remarkable heroes on the Island of Lesvos who helped almost half a million refugees in 2015 has been documented in a new short film called Ode to...
The Burden of the New Story
Adebayo Akomolafe · 488 views today · The 'new story' - that longed for milieu when all is right with the world and things are set straight - seems to be taking its sweet time coming. Why?
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 436 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 429 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
What If the Government Guaranteed You an Income?