Freedom: Benefits of a Basic Income Guarantee vs. Welfare – Learn Liberty


The US federal government spends well over six hundred billion dollars a year on welfare spread across more than a hundred and twenty different programs. Watch more:

When you add in spending at the state and local level, total welfare spending in the United States amounts to over a trillion dollars a year. That’s over $20,000 for each and every poor person in the United States. Sounds great, right?

But unfortunately, not only has this massive spending not solved the problem of poverty, it’s sometimes made it worse. Here’s a radical idea… Why not scrap the current system, eliminate the hundred and twenty federal programs in their bureaucracies and simply give the money we spent on them, straight to the people were trying to help? There’s a policy that’s been getting a lot of attention lately they would do exactly that. A basic income guarantee or minimum basic income would guarantee each citizen and income sufficient to meet their basic needs. The money would be given regardless of whether recipients are working or not and even regardless of whether they’re willing to work or not. Now that’s a crazy sounding idea.

But whats interesting is that it’s managed to draw support from across the political. But whats interesting is that it’s managed to draw support from across the political But whats interesting is that it’s managed to draw support from across the political spectrum not just from political liberals on the left, but from some conservatives and libertarians on the right. A basic income guarantee would be less paternalistic, less bureaucratic, and more fair than our current welfare state. Here are three reasons why…

First, a basic income is simple. It’s simple to administer since everyone gets the same amount you don’t need a complicated bureaucracy let alone over a hundred and twenty of them, and it’s simple for recipients too. Right now it’s difficult for welfare recipients even to figure out which benefits they’re eligible for. And receiving those benefits requires filling out a lot of different forms and traveling to a number of different offices. With a basic income all people would need to do is cash a check.

Second, a basic income gives people more freedom. Under our current system when the government gives you housing vouchers. or food stamps you have to use those benefits on what the government thinks you need. But what if what you really need is something completely different. Or what if you want to forego present consumption and save your benefits for the future can’t save food stamps in the bank. But you can save cash and you can spend it on whatever you think you need. A basic income gives people the freedom to make their own decisions about how to improve their own lives.

Third, a basic income treats everyone the same. Our current system gives benefits to some people but not to others. That means we spend a lot of resources snooping around the details of people’s private lives to see if they really qualify or not. And that also means that there’s a big incentive for special interest groups to gain the system to their own advantage or to oppress or disenfranchised groups they don’t like.

A simple rule that treats everyone equally, isn’t just more fair, it’s more stable. The supporters of a basic income disagree about a lot of things including how much money the program ought to give, and whether it ought to be an addition to our current welfare system or a replacement for it. But what they all agree on is that a simple basic income scheme would be a dramatic improvement over our current welfare state. Maybe not the best system you can possibly imagine but a realistic and politically viable alternative. So what do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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Cato Unbound debate on Minimum Income:
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