Now Seems Like a Pretty Good Time to Try UBI, Doesn’t It?
In recent months, I’ve found myself growing increasingly interested in the concept of universal basic income (UBI). Even before Andrew Yang’s presidential run helped bring the idea further into the mainstream, I had come across articles and books devoted to the topic. More recently, I just read and reviewed Rutger Bregman’s 2017 book Utopia for Realists, which only served to reignite my mild obsession. I bring all of this up because, the more I think about it, the more I realize that UBI is needed, like, yesterday. With federal unemployement benefits winding down, additional stimulus checks still not a done deal, and millions of Americans still out of work, am I crazy or does now seem like pretty good time to give it a shot?
I should probably back up and explain the basics of UBI for the uninitiated. As it turns out, it’s pretty simple: give everyone a set stipend each month, no strings attached. This would differ from our current welfare system in that these payments wouldn’t be means-tested nor would funds be restricted to certain items. Thus, each individual could decide whether to use the money for rent, food, vacations, charity contributions, or whatever else they see fit.
So how much cash are we talking here? If you’ll recall, Yang’s Freedom Dividend suggested a monthly payment of $1,000 for every adult aged 18 or older. To me, this sounds like a pretty good starting point — although some provision for an additional payment per child might make sense in the short term. If you ask others, they might come up with slightly different numbers, but you have to start somewhere, right?
In my mind, this approach to the current crisis makes infinitely more sense than how it’s been handled so far. For one, it would grant American consumers greater financial stability and, in turn, allow them to actually stimulate the economy. Second, at a time when many small businesses are being forced to close, these supplemental payments could help spur a new crop of entrepreneurs and allow current business owners to hold on a little longer. Yet, perhaps most importantly, it could very well save thousands of out-of-work adults from losing their homes or being evicted from their apartments.
Of course, coming back to reality, there’s pretty much no chance of this happening — at least not yet. After all, it seems Congress is having enough trouble as it is. And while there are things that those of many different political stripes like about UBI, there are also a fair number of arguments against it. Therefore, it seems that the dream of universal basic income will have to remain as much for now. Instead, all we can hope for is that something can be done to help those struggling during this unprecedented economic time.
Also published on Medium.