What If the Government Guaranteed You an Income?
By David R. Wheeler / filmsforaction.org
Apr 29, 2014

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 ·
2
Trending Today
"The Myth of Time" - Martin Luther King Jr.
3 min · 12,899 views today · Excerpt from MLK Jr.'s last sermon, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution". Delivered at The National Cathedral on March 31, 1968 (4 days prior to his...
Surviving Capitalist Depression
Michael Emero · 6,462 views today · We live in a toxic society filled with toxic people. Even the ones with the best hearts- including ourselves- have been raised in ignorance, with disinformation. Our examples...
Real Underground Kingdom That Has Existed for Millions of Years Went Unnoticed, Until Recently...
Kid Krunk · 6,462 views today · 28 Stunning Photos Of The World’s Largest Cave
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 6,354 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 3,387 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Hans Rosling Brilliantly Explains Complexity of Population and Resource Issues Using Simple Tools
3 min · 2,227 views today · Let me show you the world, says Swedish academic Han Rosling as he demonstrates the dynamics of population growth, child mortality and carbon dioxide emissions. The challenge...
How Wolves Change Rivers
4 min · 1,988 views today · When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable "trophic cascade" occurred. What is a...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 1,899 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
True Justice Should Have Compassion in It
Thich Nhat Hanh · 1,891 views today · I believe that true justice should have compassion in it. When someone does something harmful, destructive, the destruction is done not only to the person who is the victim...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,817 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...
The Price of Certainty
7 min · 1,179 views today · It’s alarming to see how polarized politics have become in the United States. The wider the gulf grows, the more people seem to be certain that the other side is wrong...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 890 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 778 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...
How to Fire Your Boss: A Worker's Guide to Direct action
IWW · 650 views today · The indignity of working-for-a-living is well-known to anyone who ever has. Democracy, the great principle on which our society is supposedly founded, is thrown out the window...
Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch
Mark Greene · 638 views today · Homophobic prohibitions against male touch are hurting straight men as well.
Meet the Earthship
7 min · 397 views today · Outside of Taos, New Mexico, you'll find a community of people living in off-grid homes made of garbage. The homes are called Earthships and were invented by Michael Reynolds...
The Importance of Empathy
3 min · 380 views today · With an increasingly polarized and divided world, we need empathy more than ever before. Too often we are talking at each other, unable to listen and jumping to entirely wrong...
HUMAN (2015)
382 min · 367 views today · What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?  Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist...
Growing Huge Amounts of Food on 1/2 an Acre - Urban Abundance
5 min · 337 views today · In the small town of Oxford, Kane and Fiona Hogan have transformed their urban 1/2-acre property into abundant veggie gardens. Their business Urban Gardener aims to build...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 330 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
What If the Government Guaranteed You an Income?