The Economic Security Project, a group of technologists, investors and activists, are spending $10 million to test whether a universal basic income would work in the United States.
Everyone loves free stuff, especially free money. That’s the premise of a universal basic income. You can read more about the concept of a universal basic income (UBI) here, but the idea is that citizens receive an unconditional cash payment on an individual basis. Basically, everyone gets just enough money to make it by. It doesn’t sound like a bad idea at the surface level, does it? People will be lifted out of poverty. There will be no more homelessness. We will live in a wonderful place where no one goes hungry, cold, or exists without a home.
Except that’s not actually what would happen. There are several problems that will arise if a UBI is implemented.
First problem: where would the money come from? With 250 million people over the age of 18 in this country, the government would have to somehow come up with $250 trillion to fund a universal basic income if each adult gets $1,000 a month. And that’s only funds for one month. Oh, and don’t forget everything else that the government has to pay for, like national defense, foreign relations, and the like. In 2016, the total revenues in the United States were just under $3 trillion. So, to fund a UBI and literally nothing else, we’d have to increase our budget by roughly 100 percent.
Second problem: Even if we somehow come up with the money to fund it, a universal basic income doesn’t create incentives to work. At the bottom of the ladder where people make minimum wage for jobs that they hate, it would be hard to convince them to clock in and work hard when they’ll get money anyway. And this goes back to the first problem: How are we going to fund this damn thing?
Third problem: it’s morally wrong. If a UBI is funded, the money will come from taxpayers. That means the government will take money earned by hardworking people who make over the UBI and give it to those who don’t make enough money, or in other cases, any money at all. Taking money from someone without their consent and giving it to someone else is stealing, whether it’s a thief on the street or our own government.
You might say that the government does that now with taxes, but money that goes toward public services is different. Tax dollars that go toward things like fire or police departments, public transportation and roadways provide people with things they need. Protection from criminals, buses, trains and roads to get people around are necessary to have a functioning society. If the government can raise enough money to fund this program from willing participants, then that’s great, fund a UBI, but what are the chances of that happening?
It sounds great on the surface. Give enough money to people so they can survive and thrive. Stop people from having to work dead-end jobs that they hate just to pay the bills and put food on the table. I want to end poverty in this country just as much as everyone else, but a UBI in America just isn’t feasible. Humans have had to work hard to survive for our entire existence on this planet, and for the foreseeable future, I don’t see that changing. We all must do things that we don’t like to survive, and today, that means staying at that dead-end job that you might not like, at least until you can find something better.
By Lindsey Allen