In Our Hands: Crime and Charles Murray’s Universal Basic Income Scheme
A Skeptic’s Kind Thoughts About UBI
I’m hostile to any sort of government ‘entitlement’ (basically wealth transfer from one segment of society to another), and a UBI is the biggest, baddest entitlement of all. However, Charles Murray in his newly re-released book “In Our Hands: A Plan To Replace The Welfare State” makes a very persuasive case for a UBI. How politically realistic is another matter, but his plan certainly has its logic.
Murray proposes that every citizen over 21 receives a $13,000 annual cash handout. His plan requires a Constitutional amendment that would prohibit any and all wealth transfer payments other than a UBI. $3,000 of the UBI would be mandated to purchase health insurance.
Murray claims that as of 2016 the UBI would be cheaper than the current plethora of welfare programs (roughly $2.5 trillion versus $3 trillion for current programs). However, his biggest ‘welfare’ program is Social Security, which is not supposed to be a welfare program, but a purchased annuity. But I digress into arguments about the nuances of the program.
I hate entitlements because they are morally wrong and a ‘welfare trap’. It is too easy to accept a life of low expectations while sitting on the dole. Worse with the current system, if personal motivation strikes, a person is often faced with a decrease in income for taking work, because benefits will be reduced or eliminated as the result of income from the job.
The UBI would solve the welfare trap problem to a large extent. A UBI would undoubtedly cause an upsurge in the popularity of communes and surfer-dude gangs, where groups of people combine all or a portion of their UBIs, and then smoke dope all day. But it wouldn’t be a welfare trap with a UBI because when motivation strikes, a person could just take a job and keep all of the UBI to himself.
I think one of the largest positive impacts a UBI would have would be on crime. If a crime causes a person to lose his UBI, either when incarcerated or in paying restitution, it would be a huge disincentive to commit a crime.
Consider one of the toughest cases – a minority youngster in an inner city ghetto with a single or no real parent. There is no effective way out of his situation in our current society. His school is bad, his job prospect suck without training, and he can’t afford training. Most of those in his community with money are involved in illicit activities, and his easiest way forward is such illicit activities. A UBI at the end of the rainbow would change all that.
Crime would be a non-starter for him because crime wouldn’t be a way to make money -- it could cost him his UBI. Powerful disincentive. So, he’d choose the straight-and-narrow and just make due until 21.
The UBI would be an incentive to stay in school and learn a trade, or go to college. With a UBI, he’d have the economic power to do so. If our misfortunate son wanted to get into the trades, the expectation of the UBI would give him the borrowing capacity to secure training. Same with college. With a UBI, this young guy would have plenty of opportunities, where now his choices are severely limited.
Similar analyses can be done on many of societies ills, like illegitimate children (you wouldn’t be able to skip out on child support). The downside of the UBI is the dopey hippy commune, but it is voluntary and there is no cost barrier to walk away from it.
Murray’s UBI seems very attractive, given that we seem stuck with welfare Statism in any event. The costs are lower than now, and the extra savings realized by firing a majority of bureaucrats would be as immense as they would be sweet. Large swaths of Washington and State capitals would be reduced to just writing checks and weeding out fraud.
Of course, the plan is too good to ever be implemented. The welfare Statists would never agree to it. Our finest professors would denounce it as a hideous and unfair rip-off of poor people motivated by racism. The worst-case scenario would be to just layer a small, but ever growing, UBI on top of the current entitlements. The chance of something like this getting done in a way that works seems nil.
Charles Murray is one of the few social scientists worthy of the name, and I’d encourage everyone, particularly skeptics like me, to read his book.