A primer on universal basic income

I have been mulling over the subject of universal basic income (UBI) for a month with the idea of sharing my thoughts with you.

While I had hoped to get opinions from friends and contacts regarding the concept, the responses were – universal basic income? What’s that? I’m not familiar with the concept – hardly helpful.

Mark Zuckerberg (gettyimages)

It was mid-June, the Wall Street Journal headline, “Zuckerberg’s Opiate for the Masses,” caught my attention. Who wouldn’t be curious about what Mark Zuckerberg had to offer the masses? After all, he’ a 33-year-old billionaire, who dropped out of Harvard, and started the remarkably successful Facebook.

“We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things,” Zuckerberg said in his commencement address at Harvard.

UBI has been described as a “citizen’s dividend, “paid to every adult whether working or not. Wofford College Emeritus Professor Richard Wallace, claims it is not “paying people not to work.”

Who wouldn’t like three grand a month? “Having the government provide citizens with a universal basic income is the most bankrupt idea since socialism,” wrote Andy Kessler.

“Where to begin?” asks Kessler, “First, the cost of a universal basic income would make free college for everyone look like austerity. The cost of anything the government touches tends to increase faster than inflation – education, health care, housing. But since Uncle Sam is paying, no one seems to care. Anyway, why stop at $3,000 a month? Why not $4,000 a month or $40,000?”

“There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said earlier this year, “I think some kind of universal basic income is going to be necessary.”

 Robert Reich, President Clinton’s labor secretary, agrees. “We will get to a point, all our societies, where technology is displacing so many jobs, not just menial jobs but also professional jobs. We’re going to have to take seriously the notion of a universal basic income.”

Sam Altman, who runs the startup incubator Y Combinator, dabbles in similarly bold meaningless statements,” Kessler notes, quoting Altman. “We think everyone should have enough money to meet their basic needs – no matter what, especially if there are enough resources to make it possible.” Altman admitted, however, that he has no idea “how it should look or how to pay for it.”

“This is a false premise,” writes Kessler, “All through history automation has created more jobs that it destroyed. Washboards and wringers were replaced by washing machines, and more women entered the workforce.”

In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Tim Baldwin appropriately remarked, “The ideas of Messrs. Zuckerberg, Musk and Reich are evidence that educational intelligence and the ability to make money have no correlation with having common sense. There can be no universal basic income to give anybody unless somebody is working to create what is to be given away. Who do they think will do that?”

Robert Sommers, a PhD from Florida, sees the UBI as replacement for all other government programs, including Social Security, food stamps, unemployment insurance and other governmental assistance programs. “The UBI program would provide only enough income to meet each individual’s basic needs,” says Sommers without stating who will determine one’s basic needs. “Most people would still work to earn additional income, as most people aspire to more than just survival.”

Liberals love the idea of a UBI. They view government as the best steward of our well-being, believing it is bests suited take care of us. Socialist-leaning Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have already been touting free college tuition and a single-payer health care coverage, are certain to be promoting a UBI.

President Trump’s campaign message of putting people back to work resonated with voters who want jobs, not handouts. “Paying people not to work means you’ll never get them back into the workforce,” wrote Kessler.

Now you know what UBI is, and why you should be informed. You will be hearing more about it from the left, because they just love to give away taxpayers hard-earned money.


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