by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Under a UBI, the federal government would send each American (including children, in some plans) a monthly check of, say, $800 or $1,000 to cover basic needs. A couple would receive $20,000 per year, regardless of other income earned; a family with children would get more. The bloated welfare state? Streamlined! Poverty? Solved! And all of it supposedly paid for by eliminating safety-net programs that would no longer be necessary.
Columnists are intrigued, “data journalists” excited, “explainers” cloyingly enthused. Technologists, certain that their breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and robotics will leave everyone else unemployed, see a UBI as critical to their utopian future; some are even funding a pilot program. But others think the time for a UBI has already arrived. Finland and Canada are experimenting with UBIs, and Switzerland has just held a national referendum on creating one (it was rejected by more than three to one). Andy Stern — the former head of SEIU, America’s largest private-sector labor union — has just published a book arguing for a UBI here. Charles Murray, a prominent scholar on the right, has also made the case for a UBI. Former labor secretary Robert Reich, plugging Stern’s effort, says, “America has no choice.”
Actually, we do have a choice — one that goes far beyond safety-net details to reach the very heart of state and society. A UBI would pose severe practical challenges. … But even if it could work, it should be rejected on principle. A UBI would redefine the relationship between individuals, families, communities, and the state by giving government the role of provider. It would make work optional and render self-reliance moot. An underclass dependent on government handouts would no longer be one of society’s greatest challenges but instead would be recast as one of its proudest achievements.