Should a Guaranteed Income be the Basic Income Policy for All?

Originally Written for Every Day News On Your Terms Now (dot) com

November 2013

By Margaret Barnes

Nothing can become possible unless it’s first proposed and discussed. That was author and political activist, Thomas Paine’s reasoning in 1797. He advocated for a “basic income” idea way back then that’s resurged today. A utopia of sorts that sounds like a mash up of social security, without the age requirements, and a continuous stimulus package.

Once upon a time the basic income policy, also now known as guaranteed or universal income was presented as a negative income tax. Defined in meaning that if an individual’s income falls below a threshold, (say, $1,500 a month) the government supplements the difference. Now it’s regularly described as a program with a flat rate of monetary provision. No restrictions, just a monthly allotted dollar amount to all.

There certainly are a lot of pros and a handful of potential cons in such a program, but maybe it could be a step in the right direction?

You’d have to be living under a rock to not be aware of our employment issues, minimum wage drama, and the whole complex distribution of wealth thing we’ve got going on.

Recent unemployment statistics sound good. They sound good because they tout numbers like we’re at the lowest unemployment rate now than when the recession began. Don’t be fooled, this is more like a backhanded compliment though because as analyzed by Moody’s Analytics and reported by the Labor Department, 61% of the nation’s growth have been in the low paying industries that account for less than 40% of overall US jobs. Is a full time job split in half to “create” two part time jobs, at like the GAP, actually something to be jazzed about? Now two people are closer to paying bills. You let me know the next time your landlord is excited that you’re closer to paying rent.

Furthermore, the other jobs (decent ones) that have and are being created are over assumed to be jobs that every Tom, Dick, and Mary are qualified for. If a thousand people are unemployed, and 1000 jobs are created, how much does it matter if only 600 have the necessary skills? 400 will still be unemployed with needs to be met, and 400 jobs will still be hiring. In the meantime the present status quo is almost forcing people to bend over backwards for whatever work can be come by, regardless of pay. And boy is there plenty to be said about that pay.

The most troubling aspect of minimum wage is the reality that it’s a price control. It dictates the minimum that a company can pay a worker. It does not dictate the minimum level of work across the board that employers can expect/require of their employees. Plenty of them require way more labor than the amount of pay is justified for, especially considering the overall company profit brought in. Minimum wage is bottom line a barometer for determining how much profit employers make, in comparison to how much they have to spend. The intent of ensuring a fair wage on paper tends to feel a lot different to the actual worker.

There’s a fair amount of chatter that in our wealthy U.S. nation, a basic income could establish an economic security unlike one we’ve seen before. There was a bunch of talk about it initially, 200 plus years ago, a bunch of talk about it in the late 60’s, even by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, a little bit of talk about it in the 70’s and 80’s, and the last couple of years up to the present have seen international discussion, and may go into action if Switzerland has their way, yet for all our U.S. yapping its yet to go anywhere.

We’re suffering a deficit of jobs, like a 3 to 1 ratio of people verses available jobs. Job creation is often complained about broken record style with remarks like, “if the government really wanted to get people off unemployment, they’d create jobs!” It’s getting out of hand because we’re neglect to acknowledge that as America’s largest employer ALREADY, the jobs that the federal government can actually make happen themselves, are government related jobs. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was fantastic in his legacy of once creating millions of jobs in months. He did that by writing governmental checks. We employ way too many people, many of which frankly over paid, and President Obama is working diligently to streamline our currently bloated governmental staff. We can’t afford the government to create more of these jobs. Obama could never be now what Roosevelt was then.

The greatest takeaway from FDR should be his effective reallocation of money. He took from one area of the budget and made the magic happen. Take note because the basic income policy proposes being paid for by that very method. We’re currently paying hundreds of millions of dollars in an assortment of low income benefit programs like welfare, housing credits, and food stamps. Many of which you’re deemed ineligible for if you make over $11,500. Making over than that, even by a dollar, means you’re not in poverty; apparently.

Rules and regulations already dictate that if you make over “poverty level”, you have pay your own bills. So if we gave everyone $1000 a month they’d have an amount making them unqualified for discount programs and subsidies. Did you know that a recent study by the Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes of the Cato Institute, indicates that in 35 states welfare actually pays better (way better!) than minimum wage jobs? Yep. Tax free at that. Is minimum wage income tax free? Nope. Now that’s an incentive not to work if there ever was one. Which is really interesting, because the number one issue with the basic income policy, “that if we give out money, people won’t work.”

Would this basic income, universal income, guaranteed income, what have you, work in its most simplistic format in America? Probably not.

Is the comparable data collected from tested versions of a temporary basic income in various other countries (which there actually is a lot of and positive) enough for the magnitude of an American go ahead now? Probably not.

If this were a starting point crafted well, with solutions to the inevitable onslaught of other questions it suggests; then we just might have something. Something’s gotta give and it can’t just be chop, chop. Till then do we just keep talking and dreaming?