The Universal Basic Income is an idea that has been around for some time.
Before UBI became all the rage among progressives, for example, Sir Thomas More proposed something similar 500 years ago in his Utopia. According to Martin Ezrati of The National Interest and the Center for the Study of American Capital, only one village in England attempted to institute More’s idea and “it didn’t go well.”
Ezrati’s excellent analysis of the human costs of UBI at City Journal explains why contemporary attempts to institute UBI are not going to do any better. First, of course, as Ezrati points out, UBI has attracted a vocal and diverse following: Charles Murray, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson are all fans.
Today’s UBI proposals share certain justifications. Prominent among them is poverty reduction. UBI proponents also claim that the scheme would break the cycle of dependency among the disadvantaged, giving them the time and money to ascend the economic ladder through training and education. Some leading UBI proponents add that the benefit would help bring on a cultural revolution by freeing people from toil to “contemplate the meaning of life,” as Canadian futurist Michael Spencer puts it.
It is difficult to see how dependence on UBI would break the cycle of dependence. As for contemplating the meaning of life, the work of Nicholas Eberstadt indicates that non-working adults often find less edifying ways to pass the time. And having a UBI would probably not turn their sights higher:
Evidence from preliminary UBI trials is not encouraging. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, people receiving unemployment benefits spend more time watching television and sleeping than upgrading their work skills. A study of disability recipients revealed similar patterns, with opioid dependence added into the mix.
The financial burden of UBI would be unsustainable: between $2 trillion to $4 trillion it would cost a year, estimated by the Commerce Department. So why does the UBI concept continue to appeal?
Against all this contrary evidence—history, recent trials, and programs long in place—the UBI dream keeps reappearing. It remains an open question why such bad ideas prove so resilient.
Perhaps it is because, in their sincere desire to help, proponents ignore evidence, history, and the larger economic and social picture. Others may have a political agenda for creating millions of government dependents.
The Silicon Valley billionaires may recall how their youthful drive impelled them to innovate, ultimately displacing older ways and older firms; in the UBI, they may see something that will dull such motivation in today’s youth, making it less likely that what they did to their elders will be done to them. Whatever the motivations UBI advocates press on for a scheme that will erode people’s self-worth and sever the ties between work and income. There must be better and less risky ways to meet today’s social and economic challenges.
I urge you to read the entire article.