Everyone's Talking About Basic Income. Here Are 8 Problems It Could Fix

Guy Standing, Time Magazine

In America, and around the world, there has been a surge of interest in basic income. Under a basic income scheme, a government gives a fixed amount of cash, without strings attached, to every citizen. Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang is campaigning on the promise of a $1,000 basic income for all Americans, India’s opposition Congress Party pledged a basic income for the poor, and Finland recently completed a two-year basic income trial.

Critics dismiss it as unaffordable, that it would be un-American to giving something for nothing, that would be silly to give to the rich as well as to the poor, or that it would reduce work and make people lazy. Such reactions are unfair. There are sensible ways of funding it; the wealthy already obtain a lot of something for nothing (they just call it inheritance); it would be more efficient to pay to everybody and tax back from the wealthy rather than rely on inefficient, expensive means-testing; and the evidence from pilots shows that it would not make us work less.

We should consider basic income from the perspective of what it would do for individuals and society. Let’s start by admitting social policy is in crisis — not unlike the mess it was in during the late 1930s in the U.S. and Western Europe.

Then in 1942, as the U.S. entry into World War II helped turn the tide in favor of the Allies, the British government commissioned a report on post-war social protection that went on to influence thinking on both sides of the Atlantic. Its author, the respected economist William Beveridge, said it was “a time for revolutions, not tinkering,” in which the challenge was to slay “five giants” on the road to social progress: Disease, Idleness, Ignorance, Squalor and Want.

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