This past presidential cycle, libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson suggested to BI News that he was “open” to the universal basic income. Johnson’s 2012 running mate Judge Jim Gray recently laid out a proposal for broad reform and simplification of the tax code, as well as providing a guaranteed annual stipend of $15,000. The stipend would be gradually taxed away by 50 cents for each dollar. Those making $30,000 and above would not receive the stipend.
Gray said that his policy would effectively address poverty and is consistent with “liberty” and “compassion.” At the same time, it would remove the poverty traps that people in poverty face.
“Unlike today’s welfare and social security systems, this system always has incentives to work and earn the extra dollar,” Gray said.
The full interview can be found below.
What inspired this idea for the monthly stipend?
I don’t recall specifically. But I have always believed that institutions should regularly be revisited with an eye toward increasing their social incentives. Our tax system is terribly complex and in many ways harmful. If it could be reformed and simplified, that would be a wonderful occasion to address all welfare issues and, along the way, address our homeless problems as well.
Where would the funding come from to pay for the $15,000 stipend?
Abolish all other welfare programs, and all the bureaucracies that go along with them. That should leave plenty of money to support this stipend.
Would there be any targeted programs that would remain, or would they be entirely replaced with the stipend system? For example, medical programs, or programs for the disabled.
The stipend would have to be weighted to address people with truly special needs. In addition, I would also employ a voucher system to facilitate people purchasing health insurance of the private market, based upon a sliding scale for need.
Can you explain the relationship between your proposal and expanding liberty?
Welfare systems are extremely intrusive, and in many ways inequitable. This system would be implemented voluntarily, which is consistent with Liberty, and would be far less judgmental and intrusive – all of which is fully consistent with Liberty.
You said we should have this safety net because “that is who we are.” What did you mean by that?
I believe we Americans are compassionate people. If given a choice to provide for those in need, Americans would choose to assist – as long as they believed this was a workable system, and everyone understood this is not an “entitlement,” but simply compassionate.
How will the private sector respond to this stipend program? What new opportunities or businesses may arise that are not possible now?
Really good questions! I believe the private sector will fully support it, for reasons provided above. And this system would also provide opportunities for people to become involved in the arts, public volunteerism and experimentation with other business opportunities, because it would provide them a back-up safety net to hedge against failure.
Do you think the $15k would encourage laziness? How would people respond to not being forced to work?
We will always have incentives to laziness. But, unlike today’s welfare and social security systems, this system always has incentives to work and earn the extra dollar. Our present systems punish working because recipients lose more money by working than they gain. And it also encourages attempts to “game the system.”
Update 3/27: Clarified the stipend will be taxed away up to $30,000.
Article originally appeared on the Libertarian Republic by Brett Linley
At the FreedomFest convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, Gary Johnson took a stance puzzling to many libertarians. Per the Basic Income Earth Network, Johnson conveyed that he would be “open” to the idea of Universal Basic Income.
To many fiscal conservatives, UBI seems like a blanket handout to engorge the welfare state. However, Governor Johnson claims a libertarian justification for the system. “Like many libertarians, Johnson said he liked the idea of the UBI because of its potential to save money in bureaucratic costs, freeing up more money to give people directly.”
In fact, Johnson is not the lone free market defender of UBI. Other prominent libertarian voices have spoken up to defend the idea in the past.
Milton Friedman advocated for the Negative Income Tax, acknowledged as a close cousin to UBI. Libertarianism.org published a piece by Matt Zwolinski in 2013 about the concept’s libertarian merits.
Some will automatically deride Universal Basic Income as socialism, and dismiss it immediately. However, when structured correctly, UBI could actually become a positive force for liberty. All libertarians should give an honest look at the policy before passing judgment.
How Universal Basic Income Promotes Liberty
Most libertarians can agree that the welfare state, as it stands, is a mess. With that in mind, the issue becomes what we can do to make it less convoluted. UBI provides a unique opportunity to tackle this issue.
The only way that such a system would be workable, or even desirable, is if we scrap all existing welfare programs. The government would have to phase out programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and food stamps with everything else. In their place, we’d receive a streamlined process that would provide new, efficient economic incentives.
It is also no small consideration that the federal bureaucracy would substantially recede. All of the complex agencies tasked with administering various programs would become one. It is certainly easier to imagine monitoring potential waste and abuse in one program than a dozen.
At first glance, it may be hard to believe that handing out checks provides efficient incentives. The important economic question to keep in mind, however, is “compared to what?”
As much as libertarians would like to see all welfare programs abolished and replaced with nothing, politicians and voters will never support leaving so many objectively worse off. While current welfare programs actively encourage people not to work, UBI would remove these disincentives.
How Universal Basic Income Gets People to Work
Under our current welfare system, people can be booted off welfare once they reach a certain income level. Upon losing their welfare checks, people can actually end up as net losers. The system in place incentivizes people to stay unemployed so they can maintain their current standard of living.
Under UBI, people would be able to pursue employment without fear of becoming worse off. As American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray advocated in the Wall Street Journal, the benefits would decrease slowly as income rises in an ideal system. However, a certain immovable standard would be necessary in face of Social Security’s abolition. People still will need that source of retirement income.
Certainly, some people will abuse UBI and use it to live off the fat of the government. What’s important to recognize is that people already do this under the current system. Many people value their welfare wages plus their free time over the wages made from working. In the latter case, as aforementioned, working can make them net losers who no longer have any free time.
When it comes to considering whether UBI will make this problem worse, it appears unlikely. While some may dropout of the workforce, others may join. This can be an opportunity to help the most economically disadvantaged and bring about a respectable society.
Johnson’s Advocacy of Universal Basic Income is Good for America
People often deride libertarians for failing to take interest in the less fortunate. While the market truly is the tide that lifts all ships, some boats have holes through no fault of their own. Given the governmental structure we find ourselves in, instead of the one we wish we had, few options are available.
No monarchs exist to lay down libertarian law, and certain political realities must be accepted to fix the broken welfare state. Johnson realizes that even if he becomes president, he will not be able to throw millions of welfare recipients into the economy Obama has created without a life raft.
What Johnson can do is propose a system that can attract bipartisan support while making America more free. Not many such proposals exist, but UBI is one of them.
Maintaining and strengthening the protections for America’s most vulnerable satisfies Democrats. Cutting down bureaucracy and getting people to work can draw Republicans. Johnson understands that when applied correctly, UBI can improve lives. With the proper consideration, that’s something libertarians should support.
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With the US libertarian presidential candidate pushing double-digits in the polls for the first time in history, many are starting to take former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson’s policy ideas seriously. While signing books at the libertarian Freedom Fest conference, Johnson said he was “open” to the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI).
Like many libertarians, Johnson said he liked the idea of the UBI because of its potential to save money in bureaucratic costs, freeing up more money to give people directly. During the exchange, we discussed how directly giving a basic income would increase the value of each dollar spent for the recipient, as opposed to in-kind services, such as food stamps, which restrict purchases.
At the same time, I asked Johnson about his position on the carbon tax and using these funds to fund the basic income. He once again said he was “open” to the idea.
“There are a lot of smart libertarians that support the carbon tax, so I don’t discount the idea,” Johnson said.
Johnson was attending Freedom Fest in Las Vegas to discuss term limits and answer questions about his candidacy with his running mate, former Massachusetts governor William Weld. He is currently polling around 13 percent against Donald Trump, Jill Stein, and Hillary Clinton.
Photo source: Instagram