Universal Basic Income: An Adult Participation Trophy

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook

Recently joined voices with the likes of Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, and others in calling for a national “Universal Basic Income” (UBI). The discussion on UBI is not a new one; in fact, one of the country’s founding fathers Thomas Paine (Author of “Common Sense”) promoted a very rudimentary form of basic income in the 1700s.

“Being a plan for meliorating the conditions of man by creating in every nation, a national fund, to pay to every person, when arriving at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, to enable him or her to begin the world! And also, ten pounds sterling per annum during life to every person now living of the age of fifty years, and to all others when they shall arrive at that age, to enable them to live in old age without wretchedness, and go decently out of the world.” – Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice

The idea of a UBI has increased and decreased in popularity over the last 100+ years and has come and gone in many different countries.

First, let’s figure out what a Universal Basic Income is. While there are many proponents of UBI and many varying ideas on how it can be implement, the premise boils down to a form of social security. A resident or citizen of a particular country of working age is guaranteed an income for basically just being born. It is the ultimate of the participation trophy mentality that I have ever heard.

The UBI is given to everyone, regardless of their income, and many proponents suggest setting the UBI at or slightly above the poverty line in order to virtually eliminate poverty in that particular country. Every single person would receive this minimum income, no matter what their own income might be. So, Bill Gates and wife Melinda would receive the UBI, just like John Smith, an unemployed professional video game player who lives in his parents’ basement. Any income that you make on your own is in addition to the UBI you would receive.

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons (as argued by supporters and opponents) to the idea of a UBI:

PRO’s

  • Proponents of a basic income argue that it could eradicate poverty because everyone will receive a wage that is above the poverty line.
  • A UBI would be much easier to administer than the current welfare program. Everyone gets a check – no questions asked.
  • It could allow individuals to invest in themselves for higher education by using the extra money created by UBI to fund higher education degrees.
  • Some suggest that it will fix the “disincentive to work” welfare system currently in place because when individuals add their own income, they will not lose their basic income, like they do in the current system.
  • Some suggest it could reduce crime by reducing the need for theft or looting, thereby reducing the expenditures of police and court costs.

CON’s

  • Inflation, increased costs, and other operational issues could make it unsustainable.
  • There have not been very many options regarding how to pay for a UBI. Some propose using profits from publically owned enterprises – which opens up a whole other can of worms as to how the government would come to own all these enterprises (AKA: Socialism).
  • Much like the previous point, this sets up the mother of all welfare states.
  • It could positively reinforce laziness because individuals would not have a work incentive as a means to provide food and shelter.
  • Funding would require a tax increase, and there is ambiguity as to if the UBI would be taxable. Some studies done in other countries show a need for 45% income tax rate to pay for the basic income. The estimated rate for the US would be around 39%. Germany found no viable way to fund a basic income.
  • It would lead to a vast increase in immigration as individuals attempt to “cash in” on the free money.

What this all boils down to: a universal basic income is equivalent to a massive scale redistribution of wealth and a little candy coating to Socialism. Many of the current proponents are Silicon Valley tech CEOs who have a distorted perception of the world in which most people live. The costs alone for a UBI program in the United States would dwarf Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, along with many other social programs.

In the current welfare state which expanded greatly under President Obama, we need to invest in ways to encourage Americans who are currently on government assistance out into the job market and help them contribute positively for themselves, for their families, and to society. The worst thing we could do to them is write them a check without an expiration date. Participation trophies are taking away our children’s incentive to work hard, train, and win. Why strive to do your best, when, at the end of the day, everybody gets the same trophy? UBI is an adult participation trophy… Congratulations, you are breathing today, so here’s a check.

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