Those who support limited government and free markets should support fighting poverty by giving more money to the poor.
What’s the best way to solve poverty? Democrats suggest spending more on welfare. Republicans suggest creating more jobs. Marxists suggest burning the entire system to the ground and replacing it with “fully automated luxury gay space communism.”
But what if solving poverty was as simple as giving poor people more money?
That’s the idea behind basic income, also known as universal basic income (UBI) or guaranteed minimum income (GMI), which proposes offering all citizens a lump sum to help cover their basic living expenses such as food, utilities, and rent.
The modus operandi of this proposal would be that people, especially those living under the poverty line, would be able to have their basic needs covered while also earning additional money through employment, thus allowing them to better gain economic mobility.
Basic income has been proposed for a long time, but is recently being tested by states such as Hawaii and countries such as Finland. In fact, Canada once implemented basic income on a small scale in Ontario with surprising results.
While having the government give people money may sound counter-intuitive to conservatives and libertarians, basic income is not incompatible with their belief in limited government and free markets. In fact, they would benefit most by proposing and supporting it.
Here are four reasons why conservatives and libertarians should support basic income:
#1: Supported by Prominent Conservatives and Libertarians.
“What? You want the government to give people money? That’s socialism! What kind of pinko commie would support that?!”
Would you believe Milton Friedman, the Nobel prize-winning conservative economist who served as an economic adviser to Republican President Richard Nixon?
Far from being a “pinko commie”, Friedman was a staunch free market capitalist who criticized the welfare state for impeding the economic mobility of the poor, yet he also doubted that private charity alone would be sufficient enough to alleviate poverty.
As such, in his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom, he offered his proposal for a basic income through a “negative income tax”, which would issue tax credits to those who fell below the threshold of tax liability.
He wrote: “The advantages of this arrangement are clear. It is directed specifically at the problem of poverty. It gives help in the form most useful to the individual, namely, cash. It is general and could be substituted for the host of special measures now in effect. It makes explicit the cost borne by society. It operates outside the market.”
Would you also believe that F.A. Hayek, another Nobel prize-winning conservative economist, also advocated for basic income, and in his most famous book, the Road to Serfdom, no less?
He wrote: “The assurance of a certain minimum income for everyone, or a sort of floor below which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself, appears not only to be wholly legitimate protection against a risk common to all, but a necessary part of the Great Society in which the individual no longer has specific claims on the members of the particular small group into which he was born.”
And would you believe that the very first president to propose a basic income was Republican Richard Nixon? In fact, he received bipartisan support for his proposal, and he would have implemented it had he not been forced to resign due to Watergate.
Many prominent figures, both left and right, from Thomas Paine to Martin Luther King, Jr., advocated for some form of basic income. The very concept itself stems as far back as ancient Greece, thus predating both socialism and capitalism, and thus making it compatible with both economic systems.
In fact, the father of Capitalism himself, Adam Smith, in his book, Wealth of Nations, insisted that the working poor be provided the bare minimum as to help lift themselves out of poverty, arguing that, “no society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”
But perhaps you’re not easily swayed by argument from authority. Perhaps you remain rigid in your belief that the poor need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps through hard work. This would be a noble sentiment if it were not for one major problem.
#2: Help Aid Workers Displaced by Automation and AI.
In recent years, technology has advanced to the point where robots are now performing jobs once done by humans, from driving cars and delivering packages, to serving as burger flippers, baristas, and even security guards.
As technology continues to advance, more and more jobs will be performed through automation. While many workers fear this will lead to their jobs being “taken” by robots, the reality is that this has already happened.
The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that hundreds of thousands of jobs have already been lost through automation, with at least three jobs being replaced for every one robot added to the labor market between 1990 and 2007.
These job losses are only expected to continue in coming years. We’re already starting to see automation impact driving and trucking jobs thanks to self-driving cars. Goldman Sachs predicts that drivers will be losing jobs at a rate of 25,000 a month, or 300,000 a year.
Oxford University estimates that at least 47 percent of jobs will disappear in the next 25 years. Another study predicts that America will be hit worse by job automation, with 40 percent of jobs being lost in the next fifteen years alone.
Assume that this is only a problem for blue collar workers? Think your white collar office job is safe? Two words: artificial intelligence.
While low-skilled jobs are at risk of being replaced by automation, high-skilled jobs could also be lost through artificial intelligence, with many estimates suggesting that up to 47 percent of jobs could be at risk.
Does this mean every single job will be taken over by a robot or computer? Unlikely. But there can be no doubt that many workers will potentially see their jobs displaced through new technology within the near future.
And until these displaced workers find new jobs elsewhere, most of them will have to rely on unemployment benefits, or, in a worst case scenario, will be forced onto welfare.
Rather than subject these workers to the welfare state, they could benefit more from basic income. Even tech billionaire Elon Musk suggests this as a potential alternative: “I think that there’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation. I’m not sure what else one would do.”
Speaking of the welfare state:
#3: Less Costly And Bureaucratic Than The Welfare State.
Both conservatives and libertarians agree that the welfare state has done little to lift poor people out of poverty despite spending more on anti-poverty programs.
The federal government spends an overall trillion dollars a year on these programs, which amounts approximately to $17,000 per person and over $50,000 for a family of three.
Since the War on Poverty began in 1965, the government has spent nearly $16 trillion through the welfare state, more than twice all spending on all military conflicts since the American Revolution.
And yet despite all of this spending to combat poverty, overall poverty rateshave remained stagnant since then. In fact, poverty rates were on the decline before the War on Poverty began. So if anything, the welfare state has prevented poverty from decreasing.
Aside from being costly, the welfare state has also proven to be bureaucratic, consisting of more than 200 federal and state programs, which, according to Forbes, includes, “23 low income health programs, 27 low income housing programs, 30 employment and training programs, 34 social services programs, at least 13 food and nutrition programs, and 24 low income child care programs, among others.”
Why does our government require so many departments to administer so many benefits and programs? Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper simply to cut a check for every poor person? The answer to that question, surprisingly enough, is yes.
The Census Bureau, as reported by Forbes, “estimates that our current welfare spending totals four times what would be necessary just to give all of the poor the cash to bring them up to the poverty line, eliminating all poverty in America.”
Let me repeat that: we spend four times more on trying to end poverty than it would actually cost to pay poor people enough to actually lift themselves out of poverty.
In fact, libertarian writer Charles Murray once estimated that providing all unincarcerated Americans over the age of 21 with a monthly check for $13,000 ($3,000 of which would fund their healthcare) would not only be sufficient enough to provide for their basic needs and help raise the poorest among them above the poverty line, but would also be less expensive than our current welfare state, which includes agricultural and corporate subsidies.
So, yes, if we were to abolish all forms of welfare, both social and corporate, including Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, we would not only be able to eliminate burdensome government bureaucracy, but also use that money to fund a cheaper alternative.
Such a major cut to big government spending and bureaucracy would be reason alone for fiscal conservatives to put their money where their mouths are and support basic income. But there is one greater reason:
#4: Attracts Young People Who’d Otherwise Support Socialism.
It’s no surprise that kids these days vote Democrat. What is a surprise is that this wasn’t always the case.
Back in 1984, the youth vote helped Ronald Reagan win re-election, with 61 percent of young people voting for him. In fact, so many young people once affiliated with Reagan and his party that “Young Republicans” were considered a cultural phenomenon.
Unfortunately, the young demographic that once voted in droves to put the Gipper back into office has since turned away from the Grand Old Party to chase after “Hope and Change.”
Only 1 out of 5 millennials lean Republican. Even those who do identify as politically “conservative” are distancing themselves from the GOP, especially now under Trump, with nearly a quarter of millennials who once identified as Republicans now identifying as Democrat.
Conversely, the past few elections have proven that their loyalty lies with the Democratic Party. Not only did the youth vote overwhelmingly help Obama win both election and re-election, but more young people voted for socialist Bernie Sanders than for Trump and Hillary combined!
As such, aside from identifying as politically liberal, more young people also identify economically as socialist, with more than half of all millennialshaving a favorable view of socialism.
(Of course, their case for socialism isn’t exactly helped by the fact that few millennials can accurately define socialism, and that they tend to outgrow their socialist beliefs as soon as they start making more money.)
As for the reason why millennials favor socialism over capitalism, while it would be tempting to scapegoat their college education (or rather, their indoctrination within their leftist safe spaces), the real culprit seems more likely to be their bleak financial situation.
The sad economic reality for millennials is that they earn 20 percent less than previous generations. So when they’re forced to work twice as hard to earn the same standard of living as their parents and grandparents, the siren song of socialism sounds all the more alluring to them.
If conservatives and libertarians, especially those in the GOP, want to win over the youth vote, they have to appeal to their economic needs. Unfortunately, the GOP has been failing to do exactly that, which is why they’ve been hemorrhaging young voters.
Conservatives and libertarians currently have two choices: they can either sit back and watch as young voters are carried away by the tune of pied pipers like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, or they can win over the youth vote by offering them a reasonable alternative to socialism. Basic income is that alternative.