America could use a universal basic income

Thomas Bantley

America has witnessed dramatic changes to our economic system over the last couple decades. A corrupt government that is run by and for elites has alienated working-class Americans. The rise of globalization and automation has also eliminated many of the well-paying industrial jobs that generations of Americans depended on. A bold solution to address these problems would be a universal basic income.

This basic income would be a social security payment given out to the people of this country without them having to fulfill any specific quality, test, or work requirement. The money would not be means-tested, or made conditional based on whether or not the recipients are eligible based on certain criteria. A common proposal for a basic income, supported by such policy wonks as entrepreneur and 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, is a dividend of $1,000 a month or $12,000 a year for every citizen above 18 years old. Some might ask how the government would pay for this. A program such as UBI could be paid for by raising payroll taxes, creating a value added tax, and taking from the military budget. In addition, much of the cost of the UBI would be paid for by consolidating existing welfare programs.

Some would associate this program with socialism or communism, two political ideologies which have been greatly stigmatized in American society. But the UBI does not nationalize the means of production or attempt to create a classless, stateless, and moneyless society. There also exists a popular perception that if employers pay their workers less, people will not want to work. The issue with this idea is that we are failing to recognize that the UBI is necessary because workers have been paid less to do more for decades. No one is going to stop working to live on the UBI because no one wants to make just $12,000 a year.

By allowing people to have more money to spend on rent, health insurance premiums, copays, deductibles, and food, we could make a serious dent in American poverty. UBI would allow students to spend more time pursuing education, thus increasing their intellectual capital. Having a constant monthly stream of money would allow workers to negotiate for better wages and benefits and give entrepreneurs more financial independence. Basically, the bill would give people the supplemental income to improve their quality of life.

This policy proposal does not exist in a vacuum. As the century moves forward, automation be- comes a more pressing issue for American workers. For example, according to consulting firm Pricewaterhouse Cooper, automation can eliminate 38% of U.S. jobs by the 2030s. Specifically, professions such as truck drivers, finance and insurance agents, and restaurant workers could all be lost due to automation. However, automation can benefit society by increasing efficiency in the economy and the production of goods and services that consumers demand, and universal basic income could be part of the solution.