Free money for everyone!
With weak job growth, rising poverty, and the rich continuing to devour nearly all economic growth, it’s an idea that is gaining more credence. Arguments for a universal basic income (UBI) — in which everyone without exception would receive an equal stipend — have flourished in policy-centric areas of the internet, including The Week. Advocates of UBI see it as a blunter, more effective means of reducing poverty and shrinking the inequality gap.
But even if UBI proponents are right on the merits, Tyler Cowen argues that the politics of the issue are not favorable.
Under most plausible assumptions about the Basic Income level, most people would not be recipients, nor would they expect to be potential net gainers from the program. And in general voters put much more importance on common sense notions of “desert” than do economists. So I think the “why send money to people who aren’t working?” intuition will crowd out the “I want to think of myself as someone who helps other people” feeling. [Marginal Revolution]
Let’s set aside Cowen’s erroneous assertion that UBI would benefit only a certain few — the whole idea is that everyone would be included. He does have a point that UBI is politically implausible. Conservatives, in particular, typically propose policies that would slash social insurance while sharply cutting taxes on the rich. And even fairly liberal Democrats are uncomfortable with programs that straight-up transfer cash unless it goes to retired people; recall that it was President Clinton who “reformed” traditional welfare into a program that helps almost no poor people.