Interview: Pitfalls of libertarianism without basic income
The basic income is known for cutting across ideological lines. Libertarians, who have had a long history supporting the basic income, are also giving the idea a fresh look as a way to replace the current welfare system.
Many libertarians, though, remain skeptical of whether a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is in line with libertarian ethics, and other libertarians believe it would cause economic damage.
Daniel Eth, a PhD student at UCLA studying computational nanotechnology, argued in Thinking of Utils that strict libertarianism, particularly without UBI, “enables oppressive systems to emerge, even when no one is acting in bad faith and all agreements are consensual.”
Eth joined the UBI Podcast to discuss the problems of libertarianism that does not endorse basic income.
One of the primary issues with strict libertarianism, Eth argued, is that without a social safety net, workers are not truly volunteering for work, because they are agreeing to work simply to survive.
“There is an uneven power dynamic and that contracts are almost inherently exploitative, at least for those that are living hand to mouth,” Eth said.
At least with a basic income system in place, Eth said, the workers could decide to walk away from unreasonable working conditions.
“if a basic income is large enough to satisfy people’s basic needs, it goes a long way to correcting for that (power dynamic),” he said.
One area of agreement between Eth and libertarians is that market-based solutions “tend to be much more effective than the alternative of central planning.”
That is to say, without appropriate taxes to account for things like pollution, then the market outcome will not reflect these costs to society and the environment.
From this framework, Eth said something like a carbon tax would be a “great way to pay” for a basic income because it would account for pollution, but also allow the market to solve.
“The market is almost like an algorithm, like what a computer might use to solve a problem and I think it tends to be better at finding solutions than central planning. But you have to ask it the right question. You have to make sure you are solving the problem you want to solve,” Eth said.