Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Worst Thing About the "Basic Income Guarantee" Scheme ...

... and may have said this before, and at some point plan to write a pro-con piece on it with Steve Trinward ... is:

What if it "works?"

Jesse Walker does a bit of an historical survey on the idea for next month's Reason:

Andy Stern is a former president of the Service Employees International Union. Charles Murray may be America's most prominent right-wing critic of the welfare state. So when they appeared onstage together in Washington, D.C., last fall to discuss the basic income -- the idea of keeping people out of poverty by giving them regular unconditional cash payments -- the most striking thing about the event was that they kept agreeing with each other. ... This isn't the first time the basic income or an idea like it has edged its way onto the agenda. It isn't even the first time we've seemed to see an ideological convergence. This patchwork of sometimes-overlapping movements with sometimes-overlapping proposals has a history that stretches back centuries.

Very interesting, and well worth reading. But once again, while my ideological opposition to it is pretty simple to explain my main practical problem with it is:

What if it "works?"

And by this, I mean:

Suppose a Basic Income Guarantee / Universal Basic Income gets implemented and the world doesn't come to an end? What if it turns out that it IS actually possible for the state to replace all existing welfare programs with an income guarantee without collapsing? Life goes on. Everyone gets "a check in the mail" every month, some people choose to work for more, others to sit on their asses and watch TV, still others to take off on flights of creative and/or entrepreneurial fancy and see what happens?

If that happens, something else happens too: Forget any substantial, organized, effective resistance to the idea of the welfare state, or for that matter of the state itself. How is that going to happen when everyone -- EVERYONE -- is effectively a government employee, counting on a monthly top-up of the old debit card from his favorite Uncle to keep milk in the fridge and Netflix streaming in to the tube?

It's not that I don't want people to be able to live, or that I think it would be a bad thing if everyone on the planet had a cushion that covered the basics. But getting there by having the state fluff that cushion is basically a dead end for any attempt to limit, reduce or eliminate the state if it works. If it doesn't work, the best thing that could be said for it would be that it was one of those Hegelian "collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions" advances. Which might be good or bad, but I don't think it's worth risking that dead end to find out.

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