Leonid Bershidsky: “Obama and Bezos could make basic income work”
Jeff Bezos. Picture credit to: Evening Standard
Leonid Bershidsky, in this article, posted on the 18th of July, says that the best way to enact basic income is to “persuade tech billionaires to fund universal pay plans”. Motivated by Obama’s latest speech on Mandela’s (posthumous) 100th birthday, he suggests Obama should try have their attention – and money – to finance a basic income. Bershidsky is also convinced that a basic income cannot be financed through more taxes on the wealthy, which would only, according to him, “have a negative effect on growth and innovation”. There are those, however, who object this purpose of growth for its own sake, and propose other directions for society, such as degrowth.
Bershidsky affirms that others may be able to fund a basic income, such as Norway, but that is inconceivable in the United States. In the simplest of ways, he determines the cost of basic income as 327 million people times 500 US$/month, which equals around 2 trillion US$ per year. This kind of reasoning has been done many times before, but it lacks mathematical sense, as Scott Santens has already pointed out. Santens, on a more generous assumption for a basic income in the US, has suggested a gross cost of 3,3 trillion US$ per year. However, and most importantly, that is gross cost, not net cost. Net costs, according to him, can be zero, or even negative, if several reforms occur in welfare and the tax system, such as the elimination of welfare programs (turned obsolete due to their own means-tested nature), the abolition of invisible welfare benefits (those which benefit high earners), reforms in social security (turning pensions and disability benefits into supplements, as basic income is phased in), application of a carbon tax, a financial transaction tax, implementation of seigniorage reform, introduction of VAT (value-added tax) and LVT (land-value tax). To this could be added all the savings possible with the reduction or abolition of poverty, in health care, education and social security.
More information at:
Leonid Bershidsky, “Obama and Bezos Could Make Basic Income Work”, Bloomberg Opinion, July 18th 2018
Scott Santens, “How to Reform Welfare and Taxes to Provide Every American Citizen with a Basic Income”, Medium, June 5th 2017