May 23, 2017

Guaranteed income — what I do and don't support

Call it guaranteed income, universal income or basic income.

Based on what I've seen on Twitter, it's time to make some initial stipulations about types of GI that I will NOT support.

1. If you want to rule out disability payments entirely, or at least say "above X dollars no more," nope, you lost me.

Disability payments are because you can't work period.

I support guaranteed income as a baseline that then allows people to do the work they'd like to do. If you're disabled, your ability to work is limited, period.

As for some people saying, "But disability is so hard to get," that's mixing two different problems. Let's reform the disability system AND adopt GI.

2. If you want to rule out unemployment benefits, again, nope, you lost me. Again, guaranteed income is a baseline, and versions I've seen don't propose replacing work entirely. So, if someone is still working, and then loses a job, they get unemployment bennies.

Now, if you want to get your guaranteed income floor at, say, $2,500 a month instead of $700 a month, then we can talk about eliminating unemployment. But, many GI proposals I've seen, especially more "libertarian" types, don't come close.

3. If you want to eliminate housing vouchers? Again, nope, I'm outta there. Unless the paragraph immediately above is in operation. The housing voucher system needs to be reformed, as Matthew Desmond excellently documented as part of his new book, "Evicted," as I note in my review. But, like with disability, reforming a program is different than eliminating that.

Basically, this is like Obamacare versus single-payer. I don't want a head fake that blocks real change.

Now, we can keep the GI baseline at $700. That's fine. But, we keep some version of all of the other stuff above along with that.

That said, Scott Santens is talking $1,000 a month. That's better, and enough above $700 that we could talk about lessening payments into other systems.

But, a partial co-opting of Social Security as part of this? I'm in favor to the degree that I'm in favor of getting more of SS on general revenue stream rather than the currently regressive FICA tax. BUT ... guaranteed income is going to be a hard enough sell itself without playing with the legendary "third rail" of DC politics.

And, the Alaska Permanent Fund that is often cited as a template for GI? While housing vouchers and disability benefits start at the federal level, unemployment bennies are a state-level matter and, guess what? Alaska has them.

Yet other factors? Giving up disability payments might be, for some libertarian proponents of basic income, a backdoor way of saying OSHA isn't needed, or at least, a less robust version is needed.

The Boston Review also weighs in, supporting the idea, but expressing caveats similar to mine:
Many of today’s basic income proponents are libertarians and view the policy as a means of compensating losers, or as an excuse to repeal wage per hour or collective bargaining laws. Few are concerned about public goods, workers’ and capital owners’ entitlements within the firm, the power of various social groups, the ability of workers to organize collectively, and the question of what constitutes good work, not just jobs.
Bingo. And ...
(M)any have argued that a basic income would make minimum wage and collective bargaining laws less necessary, since workers’ material needs would be met by the state. But cash benefits and reasonable wages are not morally equivalent. 
Those "many" would primarily be those libertarian types. BR continues:
Popular debates have largely ignored these limits of a standalone basic income, an oversight that is not entirely accidental. As a tax-and-transfer program, basic income would be consistent with a wide variety of political-economic systems, including neoliberal capitalism, social democracy, and various forms of socialism, but much of the basic income literature has a libertarian streak.
There's more than enough there for me to do a separate blog post, which I will line up for next week.

And, that is now available here.

And, as the story also notes, "basic income" in America cannot just be for American citizens, otherwise economic exploitation will be even worse than today.

I am with Santens on several key things.

First, guaranteed income will empower employees. So, contra Eduardo Porter and other scoffers, $500 a month is not enough.

Second, it will be less paternalistic than today's programs.

Third, and related to that, whether it's TANF (food stamps) or other programs, Santens is totally right that we need to get away from block-granting stuff to states. Red states, especially, will do all they can to "skim" block grants for their state treasuries.

As for paying for it? To riff on Porter, if we start by cutting our military budget by one-third or more ...



And Dylan Matthews, in a wide-ranging, mostly good sometimes iffy piece, notes other problems.

There's the Charles Murrays of the world, who want to gut the existing safety net even more than liberatarians, for example. Surely, other economic-thinking paleoconservatives agree. And, even allegedly liberal union leader Andy Stern wants to use BI to cut at least parts of that net, and cut Social Security. That said, this is far from the only reason I put "alleged" in front of liberal with him.

Stern has other issues. He, along with Murray (with Murray the reasons are obvious) doesn't want a BI that includes kids.

Overall, Matthews brings a good deal of largely well-placed pessimism. And, part of his solution is well-based on that. That's both for a targeted version of BI within the US safety net perhaps being a better starting point, and a more comprehensive BI in the developing world helping both it and the whole world.

That said, Matthews has his own neoliberal interpretation problems with our current economy and labor system. Does automation raise wages? For computer and robot programmers, sure. For the employees who work with the robots? Maybe. For those replaced by robots? Not at all.

We should have his pessimism about elements of BI, yes. But, they shouldn't be run through his own version of a neolib filter.

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