Beyond the Basics: Essential Questions about Universal Basic Income

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Beyond the Basics Cover.png

Beyond the Basics: Essential Questions about Universal Basic Income


Universal Basic Income (UBI) may be one of the most important policy proposals of the 21st century. Put simply, it is the idea that every person should be able to pay for the basic necessities of life, like food and shelter, and the best way to help them do that is to just give them cash. 

Liberals like UBI because it promises to end poverty and help workers leave unhealthy working conditions. Conservatives like it because adopting it would probably require eliminating the bureaucracy of current welfare programs. Libertarians like it because it is far less paternalistic than alternatives. 

But not everyone loves it. Critics call it hopelessly expensive and fear it will destroy incentives to work. 

Basic income is an idea with hundreds of years of history but it has never been tested at scale for a long enough time...until now.

In this volume I share my personal notes and summaries, culled from dozens and dozens of sources, on the key questions, facts, and theories about this controversial topic. Topics include

1. What is universal basic income? What are it's features? What are the main variations?

2. History of basic income:  We explore the philosophical origins, from Catholic teaching on distributism to Adam Smith and John Locke to Thomas Paine. We look at experiments through time, from Canada's "Mincome" to Richard Nixon's failed proposal in the U.S., to current experiments in Finland, The Netherlands, and Kenya. We look at why the prospect of technological unemployment (losing jobs to automation) has put the idea back on the policy agenda. 

3. The arguments for basic income, including:

  • The premise that everyone should be able to meet the basic needs of life
  • The prospect of a world without work
  • The promise of shrinking the size of government bureaucracy
  • It helps people who have had trouble finding work
  • It helps workers secure better pay
  • It is a more effective way to grow GDP
  • It is a more effective way to do international aid
  • It reduces the unjustly high marginal tax rates experienced by the poor

4. The arguments against basic income,  including:  

  • It is far too expensive to be realistic
  • It will destroy incentives to work
  • Recipients would waste money on drugs and alcohol
  • It redistributes income upward
  • It's not politically feasible
  • and others

5. Other alternatives to the UBI (and their pros and cons), including the Negative income tax, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, Subsidized wages, and Asset dividends

6. What it would take to make UBI a reality including, how to pay for it, how to develop the political will to pass it, and how it would need to be designed to work. 


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I will email a link to Beyond the Basics once it is complete in Mid-January.