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Sam Harris and Charles Murray discuss Universal Basic Income on “The Waking Up Podcast” episode #73

On episode #73 of “The Waking Up Podcast”, host Sam Harris discusses the potential merits of Universal Basic Income with political science researcher and author Charles Murray.

The conversation begins at 1:52:22.

Harris opens by describing Universal Basic Income (UBI) as “a possible remedy for the increasing role automation is playing in this economy”.

Murray, who wrote a book called “In Our Hands: A Plan To Replace The Welfare State” in 2006, is no stranger to the topic and shared his ideas with Harris in great detail.

“The idea is that you replace the current system with a UBI, and that you leave people alone to make their own decisions about how to use it,” Murray said.

He insisted that the money be deposited every month, electronically, into a known bank account and that this type of income stream gives people moral agency.

Murray went on to say, “I think replacing the Welfare state with UBI is going to be the rare case where you have side effects – not unintended side effects that are terrible – but unintended side effects that have the potential for rejuvenating America’s civic culture.”

Both Harris and Murray agreed that A.I. has the potential to radically transform the job market, unrecognizably, within 20 or 30 years.

Harris, who has expressed his concerns about UBI with previous guests on the podcast, asked, “Are you worried at all about the incentives just not being aligned if you give out UBI? Is there any tweaking of it that makes it more likely to produce the good changes you’re picturing?”

Murray responded by describing his plan.

“There are a couple of really, really important things. One of them is that indeed you do get rid of the other Welfare state services, and that you have a very high point at which the guaranteed income is subject to a surtax. I want to lure people into working so they get to a point where they can’t afford to quit. In my plan, I say it’s $30k of earned income, so until you get $30k of earned income on your own, you keep all of the…let’s say, $12k, and then after that you start to pay a small surtax back. Anything you go out and earn, you keep. So you’ve gotten into the habit of working and if you’ve gotten up to $30k, you are not going to trade a $42k per year lifestyle for a $12k per year lifestyle. But if you have the payback point quicker, I think you increase the likelihood that you have disincentives to work. It needs to be deposited electronically into a known bank account. It needs to be universal because one of the key things about this is that everybody knows that everybody else is getting the money. Once you have that universal knowledge, then a whole variety of interactions can be set in motion that wouldn’t be set in motion without that knowledge.”

Murray also discussed the potential for work disincentives, which is a common criticism of UBI.

“You can fairly easily design it so it’s quite likely to produce good effects. I am not denying it will have work disincentives. There will be work disincentives. But we are already at a point where something more than 20% of working-age males with high school diplomas – and no more – are out of the labor force. We’ve got a problem already and I see a lot of ways in which the moral agency of an income could make the problem less.”

About Dawn Howard

Dawn Howard has written 7 articles.

She has been a writer and researcher with Basic Income News since February, 2016.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.


  • i am very excited by this trend of thought i see great possibilities going forward.

  • Samuel Adams

    I’m concerned at the rather rosy view that Messrs. Harris and Murray hold regarding human nature. The sure and certain knowledge that money will materialize out of thin air and into their account as a result of the actions of our elected leaders who have already shown their incompetence…will not lead to any positive effects of a “moral agency”. Our leaders have already shown their weakness at the entreaties of people who demand government assistance to resolve the consequences of their poor decision’s or unfortunate outcomes.

    But the non sequitur at the foundation of all of this…is that one can’t appeal to “moral agency” on behalf of the recipients of a UBI by basing it on the corrupt nature of a government redistributing people’s “excess” money willy-nilly however they please.

    While I defer to their learned opinions and the hypothetical outcomes they discuss, our government has shown a marked ability to promise one benefit now coupled with the payment of it’s debts later. And…later never comes. All government programs are born without an expiration date…and a preponderance to grow to gigantic proportions. So it would be with the immoral policy of UBI.

  • Ricardo Marin

    Samuel Adams.

    Is good to know that you always had a roof over your head and food on the table.

    Yo call this policy inmoral, actually, what you think is inmoral. UBI is just a way to guarantee that people don’t go homeless, even if the income is just enough to pay rent it would be great, you can work just to pay for food, clothing and other basic expenses and get to the end of the month. And everyone should get, rich or poor, employed and unemployed.

    UBI is never inmoral, is fair to society and it does not contradict free markets.

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