Zoltan Istvan is running for governor of California in 2018 and has made headlines for his proposal to develop California lands and use the revenue to form a Universal Basic Income for all California households.
Istvan, who is running as a Libertarian and also ran for president in 2016, recently spoke to the UBI Podcast to discuss his proposal and why he believes it is the surest path to a basic income.
By monetizing federal lands in California, Istvan said he wants to “kill two birds with one stone” by eliminating poverty and pushing economic development in the state. Based on his research, Istvan said each California household could receive over $50,000 annually if the 45 million acres of unused land were developed.
“If we developed land and resources in California, we would be able to afford a basic income,” he said. “I’ve promised to do all of this without raising taxes.”
This plan, he said, would “lift 19 million Californians out of poverty.”
“It doesn’t matter what party you are running for, that is totally unacceptable,” Istvan said.
“With this large of a basic income, the welfare system would naturally go away because they would not have to rely on the state,” Istvan said. He expressed that this form of basic income will also “avoid the traditional opposition from business interests because it would open new development opportunity.”
“Implementing the basic income this way would attract support from both sides,” Istvan said, “because it would develop the economy and help the poor.”
Some of the primary criticisms of this plan are likely to come from environmentalists. But Istvan, who once worked for Wild Aid and National Geographic, said that environmentalists should not be worried, and eliminating poverty should be a high priority for the left.
“We can make all the arguments we want for why preserving the environment is good, but for me feeding people, giving them the right education, these are things that matter more,” Istvan said.
To ensure that the land was preserved, Istvan said the land would be “leased, not sold”, and the land will have to be returned to the state in its previous condition or better. The plan will not involve national parks.
“The environment can be preserved through radical green technologies that are just on our front door,” he said.
If Istvan is elected, he said he would immediately begin pushing this proposal. Once the revenue starts coming in from the development, Istvan said he could begin handing out a partial basic income.
“I want to transform poverty. It is just insane to me as somebody who loves technology and science that in the Twenty First Century we have a system where 40 percent of Californians are at the poverty line,” Istvan said. “This is something that does not just sound wrong to me, it sounds outright insane.”
The basic income is known for cutting across ideological lines. Libertarians, who have had a long history supporting the basic income, are also giving the idea a fresh look as a way to replace the current welfare system.
Many libertarians, though, remain skeptical of whether a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is in line with libertarian ethics, and other libertarians believe it would cause economic damage.
Daniel Eth, a PhD student at UCLA studying computational nanotechnology, argued in Thinking of Utils that strict libertarianism, particularly without UBI, “enables oppressive systems to emerge, even when no one is acting in bad faith and all agreements are consensual.”
Eth joined the UBI Podcast to discuss the problems of libertarianism that does not endorse basic income.
One of the primary issues with strict libertarianism, Eth argued, is that without a social safety net, workers are not truly volunteering for work, because they are agreeing to work simply to survive.
“There is an uneven power dynamic and that contracts are almost inherently exploitative, at least for those that are living hand to mouth,” Eth said.
At least with a basic income system in place, Eth said, the workers could decide to walk away from unreasonable working conditions.
“if a basic income is large enough to satisfy people’s basic needs, it goes a long way to correcting for that (power dynamic),” he said.
One area of agreement between Eth and libertarians is that market-based solutions “tend to be much more effective than the alternative of central planning.”
That is to say, without appropriate taxes to account for things like pollution, then the market outcome will not reflect these costs to society and the environment.
From this framework, Eth said something like a carbon tax would be a “great way to pay” for a basic income because it would account for pollution, but also allow the market to solve.
“The market is almost like an algorithm, like what a computer might use to solve a problem and I think it tends to be better at finding solutions than central planning. But you have to ask it the right question. You have to make sure you are solving the problem you want to solve,” Eth said.
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.
In his first piece for the Niskanen Centre, Edwin G. Dolan presents “three types” of libertarian who might be sympathetic to the idea of a universal basic income (UBI).
Dolan writes, a “UBI is a policy for pragmatic critics of well-intentioned but ineffective government, for classical liberals, and for advocates of personal freedom.”
For libertarian pragmatists, the issue with government – philosophical concerns aside – is that it so often does not get done what it sets out to get done. A UBI would dismantle today’s policies which diminish work incentives. With no benefit reductions, you would pay nothing but income tax which itself is low for those in poverty. UBI could also replace the benefits afforded to middle and upper class households. The result, for Dolan, would be no impact on the federal budget with a general streamlining of the system.
Secondly, Dolan argues classical liberals are more open to the legitimacy of the social safety net than we might imagine. For classical liberals the appeal of a UBI is its administrative efficiency. UBI administered as a universal demogrant is even superior, in the eyes of Dolan’s classical liberal, to Milton Friedman’s negative income tax.
Finally, the appeal for the lifestyle libertarian is the freedom to utilize the UBI as he or she sees fit. The UBI, for Dolan, stands in contrast the “nanny state mentality” of today’s policies, and offers a strong incentive for libertarians to ditch their rigid opposition to the redistribution of wealth.
Retired judge and 2012 Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate Jim Gray proposes in his blog 2 Paragraphs 4 Liberty to replace “things like welfare, minimum wages, etc.” with a monthly stipend for those with no income, similar to a Universal Basic Income, except in Gray’s plan, the stipend would be would gradually withdraw as individual income increased.
He also encourages the implementation of a “graduated flat tax” that would cap out at 25% in the highest tax bracket and eliminate all income tax deductions, suggesting that replacing the current tax system with his proposal would provide the funding source needed for the monthly stipend.
The 2020 BIEN Congress was to be held in Brisbane in Australia from the 28th to the 30th September 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the event has been cancelled. BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more