When I first read the article in The Atlantic the other day about giving an annual income to every American every year as a way to reduce poverty, my first thought was that it was to brush it off as some pie-in-the-sky liberal fantasy that would never happen.
"Socialism!" Republicans would cry. "Benghazi!" they would then say (because why not?).
But the more I thought about the idea of a Universal Basic Income, the more I liked it. Think about it: roughly 15% of Americans live below the poverty line. That's 46 MILLION Americans. And for millions of Americans above the poverty line, we're just one emergency away from serious financial trouble.
As the article stated, the quickest way to get Americans out of poverty is to give them money. But how much do you give everyone? Per The Atlantic:
"Using the dataset from the latest Census poverty report, I determined that if we cut a $2,920 check to every single American—adults, children, and retirees—we could cut official poverty in half. Economists consider this sort of across-the-board payment a “universal basic income.” You can think of it as Social Security for all, not just the elderly."The cost estimate for this program in 2012 would've been just over $900 billion, or just a little more than the stimulus of 2009. In order to silence the outcry from the right that this would increase the debt, this would need to be paid for.
"For starters, we could raises taxes, first on the rich, who would pay more in new taxes than they would receive in basic income, and then on lower-middle class and poor families, who would come out ahead. There is also plenty of room to cut tax expenditures on homeowners, personal retirement accounts, capital gains exclusions at death, and exclusions on annuity investment returns. This submerged welfare state for the affluent costs hundreds of billions of dollars each year. There is also the matter of the $700 billion military budget, which could take some trimming."So it'd be paid for. Now how would it work?
"You get a check from the government every month no matter how much you make or how much you work. Maybe that will convince a few Americans work isn't worth it anymore—but the vast majority who will probably continue to work won't have to worry about losing their check as they move up the income ladder. That security might not just keep people out of poverty. It might let workers demand better wages and working conditions, because they know they always have something to fall back on. In other words, it could level the playing field for the bottom 99 percent."With the advent of new technology in addition to job losses from outsourcing and the Great Recession, a very real threat industrial nations must face is the idea that with each passing year, full employment will become harder and harder to reach. Machines now check us out when we want to buy groceries, check in for flights, buy movie tickets, and they even help build our cars. These are all jobs people used to do and - for better or worse - aren't coming back.
We know from various studies that the lower the rate of poverty, the lower the crime rate, so this program might indirectly reduce the need for more police officers and prisons, saving some our tax dollars. Switzerland is putting this idea up for a vote after collecting over 100k signatures in favor of the plan. And in the past, even that liberal commie Richard Nixon proposed an idea similar to this.
A program like this has its political risks, so the best step might be to implement it on a small scale in a small, liberal state (ahem, Vermont or Hawaii) that could serve as a testing ground for it. But if successful, that state could be a model for a new American program that can both reduce poverty and give all Americans a financial peace of mind.