The Freedom Dividend, one of the pillars of Andre Yang’s campaign for the democratic nomination for the 2020 American presidential election, is a $1,000 UBI for every American. Santen’s article discusses in detail the implications the proposal would have if introduced, and defends it against claims that it would end up increasing inequality or destroying the safety net. In Santen’s words, “The freedom dividend would be the single most progressive policy advance ever signed into law in America history”.
In order to clarify how and why the Freedom Dividend would work as a progressive measure to enhance freedom and as an instrument against poverty and inequality, Santens provides answers to two questions regarding its design:
1) Why to provide people with a choice between existing programs and the Freedom Dividend and not let people keep everything?
People would need to voluntarily opt out from some assistance programs, based on low income, whilst other contribution-based programs would continue to exist on top of the FD (health care remaining a separated issue, not connected with the FD). Santens’ article points out that this is done in order to maximize unconditionality and the incentive to work by avoiding welfare traps.
2) Wouldn’t the funding of the FD through a 10% value added tax –as proposed by Andrew Yang- make it a regressive measure, thus disproportionately disadvantaging the poor?
Even though a tax on consumption is usually considered regressive, as those with lower incomes tend to spend more of it in consumption when compared with those having higher incomes, the VAT-UBI design ends up making it a progressive instrument. That is, those on the lower part of the distribution would end up receiving more than what they lose because of the VAT, which would be rebated by the FD. Santens quotes a distributional analysis by The UBI Center, that concludes “that the bottom 10% (of the income distribution) would see their disposable incomes increased by almost 120% while the top 10% would see their disposable incomes reduced by 4%.”
Moreover, Santens says, the FD would strongly reduce poverty with “74% fewer households would have disposable incomes that fall under the federal poverty line” and impact heavily on inequality, causing a drop of 15% in the American Gini index.
UBI would fill the holes in the existing safety net, a “welfare mess” that leaves many people behind, and which design is far too complex, inhumane and not efficient, as Santens explores in depth in his article.
“Is it progressive to not support the greatest reduction of poverty and inequality — and greatest increase in freedom and dignity — ever proposed in American history, because you insist upon preserving paternalistically neoliberal conditionality?”
More information at:
Santens, Scott, “There is No Policy Proposal More Progressive than Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend”, Medium, July 22th, 2019.