The Basic Income Debate

Yesterday, Switzerland rejected basic income for all. I have thought a lot about basic income ever since I read about it on Albert Wenger’s blog. My opinion has evolved a little, but one thing remains the same. If the US were to institute a basic income, we would have to get rid of the entire welfare state.

This would mean getting rid of every employee, office, and organization inside governments that administer the welfare state. It means getting rid of SNAP programs, and it also means getting rid of social security for people that accept basic income. I don’t think that most people in the US are ready to do that. If you think the intolerant violence being thrust on people supporting Donald Trump, wait until we have serious discussions about getting rid of welfare.

The other thing to remember about basic income is it only works when there are very secure borders. When I mean getting rid of the entire welfare state, I mean it. That means programs the government has instituted for aliens too. Only US citizens would get basic income.

Yesterday, Charles Murray a conservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute wrote an article advocating for Basic Income. AEI is a free market think tank. Their president Arthur Brooks wrote a book, The Conservative Heart. I think it does a great job of talking about the dignity of work.

I am empathetic because I see some amazing leaps in technological innovation that will certainly displace lots of jobs. The changes are going to happen so fast, it will be almost impossible to re-train people to thrive in the new economy. Murray writes, “An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study concluded that 9% of American jobs are at risk, Two Oxford scholars estimate that as many as 47% of American jobs are at risk.” Macroeconomists always say it takes at least one generation for true innovation to reach it’s full potential and I think the same thing will happen with things that are being invented today.

I want the technological innovation to happen because it will make our lives better. I don’t want populism to derail the implementation of the innovation. Having a discussion about basic income is going to be very difficult in this highly polarized political environment. America is as divided now as it was during the Civil War.

The job situation in America has become brittle. I know that one job report isn’t a trend, but Americans are dropping out of the workforce and having more and more trouble finding work. Our welfare rolls are at the highest point they ever have been in our history. Things like Obamacare make it much more difficult to move. Government regulation and over reach have invaded every aspect of our lives. America is stagnating and the income loss of the American middle class is a symptom.

I’d like to see us have a basic income debate. But, I think that debate would be better if it wasn’t in the halls of Congress. I think it’s better out in the atmosphere of America.