I’ve started a new 17-part series, called Mandatory Participation on Trial, on my blog. Part 1 just came out April 13. Sixteen more will come out once per week for the next 16 weeks. It counterattacks critics of UBI by grouping all systems without any form of guaranteed income into a mandatory-participation model, and by criticizing that model. I think you’ll be interested and so will most people who visit this site.
Two polls conducted in 2021 both found that a substantial majority of Americans now support Universal Basic Income (UBI) or some form of Guaranteed Income. One survey, conducted by Data for Progress, found that 55% of Americans support UBI while 39% oppose it. Another survey, by Skynova, found 67% of Americans support UBI while 20% oppose it.
Compare these findings to a poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports back in 2011. Rasmussen found that only 11% of Americans supported a Basic Income and 82% opposed it.
If we take these polls at face-value, they indicate support for UBI has increased by 6 times, and opposition to it has declined by 3/4ths. If so, the ratio has risen from 8-to-1 against to 3-to-1 in favor.
But of course, no one takes polls at face-value. The headline phrase, “polls indicate” (which I used in the headline), is a bit of an exaggeration, because it assumes a very simplistic, face-value reading of the two most extreme polls. Not even pollsters take poll results at face-value. Polling is a highly imperfect attempt to find out what people think. A good deal of the misunderstanding about polls comes not from the pollsters trying to get people to believe their findings, but from readers wanting to believe polls are more reliable than they are.
Given recent changes in the political dialogue in the United States and the world, it is unsurprising that U.S. support for UBI has increased, but to go from more than 8-to-1 opposed to as much as 3-to-1 is probably an exaggeration.
Some of the difference between polls can be attributed to differences in how the questions are worded.
The 2011 Rasmussen Report poll asked, “Another proposal has been made for the federal government to provide every single American with a basic income grant. The idea would be to provide enough money for everyone to enjoy a modest living regardless of whether or not they choose to work. Do you favor or oppose having the federal government provide every single American with a basic income grant?”
The 2021 Data for Progress poll asked “A guaranteed income is a policy that would provide monthly payments of around $500-$1,000 to individuals, regardless of their employment status and with no strings attached. Would you support or oppose implementing a guaranteed income in the U.S.?”
The 2021 Skynova poll report does not include the exact wording of the question. Their report simply reads, “Respondent Support of Universal Basic Income.”
The Rasmussen survey was worded more negatively than the Data for Progress survey. It didn’t mention a specific amount, and implied it would be rather high. The Data for Progress survey mentioned a specific—and rather modest—amount. Although all three polls seem to focus on a genuine UBI (rather than some other form of guaranteed income), they use three different names for it, “Basic Income Grant,” “Guaranteed Income,” and “Universal Basic Income.” How this wording might affect the results is hard to guess.
Other reasons poll results differ include the methods they use to contact a representative sample of people and the biases of the people conducting the survey alsot. Right-of-center pollsters tend to find results a little closer to what right-of-center people want to be true, and left-of-center pollsters tend to find results a little closer to what left-of-center people want to be true. Rasmussen tends to be right-leaning. Data for Progress and Skynova are more left leading.
Yet, it’s hard to imagine that the differences between the various pollsters’ techniques could account for the stark change from 2011 to 2021. Even though they are highly imperfect, it is likely that the difference between 2011 and 2021 reflects a major shift in U.S. public opinion. In 2011, UBI and other forms of Guaranteed Income had been absent from mainstream political discussion for 30 years. Today, UBI is increasingly a part of mainstream discussion as people with very different perspectives have come together in support of the idea.
The more modest of the two 2021 surveys (Data for Progress) still found substantial majority support for UBI: 55-39. Even if this finding is correct, it does not mean that UBI is on the verge of introduction. Majority opinion fluctuates widely, and the U.S. system has many barriers to enacting the majority’s will. The laws are more closely correlated to opinions of the donor class than to the opinion of voters. Although many mayors across the country have endorsed UBI, only a few members of Congress have gone on record for it so far. UBI still faces an uphill struggle.
Yet, UBI is on the table. People are taking the idea seriously. Support is growing. There is no telling how far that will go.
-Karl Widerquist, first draft Dallas Airport October 2021, final draft Anis Café, Doha, Qatar, October 26, 2021
出现这样的情况，部分是因为 UBI 影响的复杂性，部分是因为伦理上的分歧，UBI 不适合用类似于疫苗是否安全有效的简单的底线问题去决策。在医学意义上，UBI既安全又有效。 UBI 将提高净受益人的收入，而无需让他们承担任何工作义务或证明他们有需要，并且不会使他们患上荨麻疹或出现任何其他医疗并发症。关于 UBI 的主要分歧不在于未知数，而在于其众所周知的影响的伦理价值：无论低收入人群是否工作，政府提高低收入人群收入的政策是对还是错？人们根据他们对这个道德问题的回答，以一种或另一种方式下定决心（做决策）都是合理的。
UBI 是否可以显著提高净受益人的收入（无论他们是否工作）这一问题几乎没有任何实证调查，因为有压倒性的证据证明其能，且几乎没有异议；分歧在于是否应该这样做。对 UBI 影响的实证研究几乎无法解决基本的道德分歧。我们可以问一个问题，X 美元的 UBI 是否可持续，但对于 X 的大多数相关水平，这个问题是毫无疑问的，并且答案只会对支持 X 美元 UBI 的人群具有决定性。 UBI 的反对者和怀疑者基本上并不是因为认为提议的水平是不可持续的，否则政治辩论中的人都会是UBI的支持者，只是对金额的高低有分歧而已。
 This article summarizes and draws heavily on the book, A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments for Researchers, Policymakers, and Citizens, Karl Widerquist, Palgrave Macmillan 2018. I summarized that book very differently in the article, “The Devil’s in the Caveats: A Brief Discussion of the Difficulties of Basic Income Experiments,” Karl Widerquist, CESifo Forum 19 (3), September 2018, 30-35.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article is a draft of the first chapter of the book I’m working on: Universal Basic Income: Essential Knowledge. It can also be thought of as a reply to Bitch Bastardly’s guest article from last week. Comments welcome: Karl@widerquist.com.
Every minute of every day, you use something you don’t own to meet your needs without asking anyone’s permission and without paying anyone for the privilege. You do this every time you take a breath. You can’t do that without an atmosphere. You don’t own the atmosphere, but you’ve never had to get a job to earn the money to buy the right to use the atmosphere to keep yourself alive. You simply used it as if the free use of a common resource was the most natural thing in the world.
I bet you’d be pretty angry if the government made a new rule dividing atmosphere into private property without giving you a share large enough to meet your needs. I don’ think it would make you feel better if they gave you the opportunity to get a job to earn the money to buy the right to breathe in your area, and thereby keep yourself alive. I think you’d recognize that if you had that much need for a job, you’d be willing to accept very low wages. I don’t think it would make you feel much better if lifetime subscriptions to breathe were affordable, and if, after working for years, saving your money, investing it wisely, you have the chance to become one of the small portion of people who own piece of the atmosphere before retirement age or the even smaller portion of people who own enough of the atmosphere that other people will pay them to breathe.
If the government tried to privatize the atmosphere, I think you’d say something like this. My ancestors and I have used the atmosphere freely for millions of years. We’re evolved to depend on it. If you take away our independent access to it, you make us dependent on whatever group of people owns it. If there’s some benefit in dividing the atmosphere into private property, either everyone should get a share, or those who don’t get shares should be compensated unconditionally for their loss with an income, and that compensation should be at least large enough to buy a lifetime subscription to the right to breathe.
If you’d be that angry about needing some else’s permission to use the atmosphere to meet your need to breathe, why aren’t you angry that you need some else’s permission to use all the other resources you need to meet all your other needs?
I think you should be. Our ancestors used the land and other resources of the Earth freely for millions of years, just as you and I use the atmosphere now. Every one of us is evolved to depend on it. No group of people “naturally” owns it. A few generations ago, governments took away the independent access our ancestors enjoyed. They created a system in which the resources we all need are owned by a few without giving the rest of us any compensation. By doing that, they made us dependent on the people who own the Earth’s resources.
The vast majority of us who don’t own a large enough share of natural resources or of the stuff we make out of natural resources to keep ourselves alive and thriving. The vast majority of us aren’t allowed to use any resources but air without the permission of an owner. We can’t build a shelter, hunt, gather, fish, farm, start a cooperative, or start our own business. Except for the wealthy few, we get a job to earn the money to buy the right to do use the resources that were here before anyone and that we’re all evolved to depend on. Wages are such that, only the lucky few get to the point where we’re free to do something other than paid labor before we’re too told to work anyway.
The division of the Earth’s resource into private and public property has many benefits, but if some people get a share and others don’t, the private property system has many cruel side effects, among them poverty, homelessness, alienation, fear, and hopelessness. Because most of us have no alternative to paid labor, we are all willing to accept lower wages, longer work hours, and less appealing working conditions than we otherwise would. In some situations, people are forced to accept dangerous jobs, sexual harassment, and other forms of abuse from employers or spouses, because they need the job or a spouse with money to keep them alive. That need is artificial, created by the way our governments chose to divide the Earth’s resources.
Let’s consider a way to divide resources that isn’t so cruel.
Back in 1918, Bertrand Russell’s suggested “that a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries, should be secured to all, whether they work or not, and that a larger income … should be given to those who are willing to engage in some work which the community recognizes as useful. On this basis we may build further.”
Russell’s proposal is very much what we know today as Universal Basic Income (UBI). Later chapters define it in more detail, but his description gives you a very good idea what it is. UBI is not all there is to social justice, but it removes an exceedingly cruel feature built into our economic system. If we’re going to divide the resource of the Earth unequally, those who own more of the wealth we make out of resources have the responsibility to pay those who have to do with less access to resources.
Although there are many reasons to introduce UBI, I started with this one, not only because I think it’s one of the most important, but also because I think it brings up the central decision that people have to make if we’re going to introduce UBI. Should everyone get an income—even the people who could take jobs but chose not to? I think that question already divides most readers into two groups with pretty firm positions: Yes, because no one should live in poverty or homelessness. No, because every nonwealthy person who can work must work.
UBI, on its own, is a mild reform with far-reaching effects. Later chapters show that it isn’t terribly expensive. On its own, UBI creates a market economy where income doesn’t start at zero. People who don’t take jobs, get less than those who take jobs, but no one has to go without the money they need for food, shelter, or clothing in the same way that no one today has to go without the money they need to breathe.
By offering good salaries and good working conditions, we have enormous ability to give people an incentive to engage in work that the community recognizes as useful. And if we’re not willing to pay enough to get people to freely choose do some particular job, maybe that job doesn’t need to be done all. If we do it this way, we end poverty and homelessness. We end the cruel treatment people at the bottom and relieve the fear of the people in the middle. We invite everyone—rather than frighten everyone—into participating in our economic system. That mild and humane reform finds resistance from the belief that everyone—or more realistically, everyone who isn’t wealthy—must work, and so the issue of whether everyone including those who refuse to take jobs should get the income comes up again and again throughout this book.
The idea of UBI has inspired a growing worldwide movement. Although the concept of a UBI goes back at least as far as the 1790s, the movement for it is stronger as I write these words than it has ever been. The movement grows out of frustration with the ineffectiveness and political vulnerability of conventional approaches to poverty and inequality. The market system also needs many other reforms, but millions of people are coming to believe that one of the most important and fundamental reforms we need right now is UBI.
The central goal of this book is to explain the essentials of UBI: what it is, how it works, the most popular arguments for and against it, how much it costs, how it can be financed, its likely effects, its history, and its possible future. But as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I am a strong supporter of UBI. And so, this book’s secondary goal is to convince readers that UBI is a good, workable idea that should be enacted all around the world, but I will make this argument in a way that explains and addresses both sides of the debate over whether to introduce UBI. Whether you agree with my position on UBI or not, I think you can learn more from a passionate attempt to argue points for it and refute points against it than from a dispassionate list of points on either side.
With this in mind, the book begins with a more thorough explanation of what UBI is.
-Karl Widerquist, begun sometime ago, but completed in Aspen, Colorado, July 29, 2021
Workers aren’t working for the wages we’re offering as much as they used to. Five million fewer Americans are working now than were working in June of 2019. That’s 3.33% of the U.S. labor force—a shortage! Think about what that means: 3.33% fewer pool boys at the spa, 3.33% fewer caddies at the country club, 3.33% fewer ball girls at the tennis club. Just the other day, I had to wait more than 30 minutes for my lobster bisque. Today, I called my service, and they couldn’t schedule anyone to clean my house until the middle of next week! If this keeps up, who’s going to iron my shirts? It’s a crisis.
All this is happening even though most businesses are still offering a very generous $7.25 per hour and, in some cases, even more. At that rate, a single parent only needs to work one-and-a-half jobs to get herself and her child out poverty. Then she’ll only need two more jobs to pay for the childcare she needs for the time she spends at her first job.
Despite this wonderful generosity, some workers have the audacity to suggest employers could end the labor shortage by paying higher wages. Some even suggest improved working conditions. That’s class warfare! We don’t need that radicalism here.
I suggest a simple solution—a small extension of our well established way of doing things—and it will literally eliminate the labor shortage in 5 minutes.
Privatize the atmosphere. The problem with the air we breathe is that nobody owns it! People take it for granted that they can inhale air any time they feel like it as if they have some natural right to breathe. That’s communism! And that never works. Poor people won’t appreciate the air they breathe until they pay for access to it from a corporation, until they know the police will arrest them if they steal the air from its natural owner—the American corporate sector.
This simple solution is in accord with the American way of doing things. We don’t usually give anything to poor people unless they work for it or prove they can’t work. Why are they getting such a valuable thing as breathing rights for free? Because they need it? People need food, shelter, and clothing; we don’t give them access to the resources they need to produce these things for themselves. Only naked savages do that. In civilized countries like ours, people don’t get access to the resources they “need” until they go to a boss and say I will work for you all day to get the money to buy the stuff I need to live.
This free atmosphere policy is unnatural and unamerican.
Imagine what a privatized atmosphere will do for the labor shortage? Once workers who are “looking for a better job offer” lose the right to inhale and exhale without the permission of the owner of the atmosphere, they’ll learn the truth of my motto, no job is a bad job, right quick. Like a good member of the lower class, they’ll do what they’re told and they do it in five minutes. If they don’t do it, they pass out and die. But that’s their choice. That’s what freedom in the free market is all about. People who don’t own resources, choose to work for people who do, or they choose not to use resources. If that means homelessness, hunger, or malnutrition, that’s their choice. This simple solution simply adds another choice: suffocation.
Imagine all the jobs a privately owned atmosphere will create in the banking sector as workers who can’t find a job before they pass out seek loans to buy breathing rights? Years of interest payments and collections will follow, generating banking sector profits that will trickle down to everyone.
The atmosphere’s new corporate owner will really clean up our environment. They’ll use their Supreme-Court-given free-speech rights to make all the campaign contributions it takes to get Congress to pay them money to remove pollutants from the atmosphere they own. And think of all the jobs that will create!
They’ll file suit in federal court to get the police to stop polluters. Right now, the government allows polluters to dump dirty chemicals into the air whenever they want. If the atmosphere was owned—as nature intended—by a wealthy campaign contributor, the government would stop polluters. No one has the right to dump pollution into the atmosphere you breathe unless they pay for that right from a private, for-profit corporation.
When corporations own resources, the consumer is sovereign, so you’ll be free to choose exactly how much pollution would get into your lungs. If the people want cleaner air, all they need to do is use their combined bidding power to make it more profitable to sell them clean air than to sell polluters the right to dirty up the air. If you think global warming is real, you can offer money to the corporation to get them to stop that too. It’ll be an old-fashioned bidding war, you versus the polluters, and may the deeper pocket win—it’s the American way.
And the best thing is that, whoever wins, the atmosphere-owning corporation will make lots of money, and that’s good for everybody, because what will they do with that money? They’ll spend some of it and that will create jobs. They’ll invest the rest and that will create even more jobs!
And what will people do with all the money they make in those jobs? They’ll buy the right to breathe, of course. But when they get home and take a deep breath, they’ll know they earned it, because they bought it from whatever corporation owns the right to tell them it’s OK to breathe. That’s the freedom of the free market. -Bitch Bastardly, June-July 2021
For information about the Indepentarian blog, contact Karl@widerquist.com For information about Bitch Bastardly, just make it up.