On episode #73 of “The Waking Up Podcast”, host Sam Harris discusses the potential merits of Universal Basic Income with political science researcher and author Charles Murray.
The conversation begins at 1:52:22.
Harris opens by describing Universal Basic Income (UBI) as “a possible remedy for the increasing role automation is playing in this economy”.
Murray, who wrote a book called “In Our Hands: A Plan To Replace The Welfare State” in 2006, is no stranger to the topic and shared his ideas with Harris in great detail.
“The idea is that you replace the current system with a UBI, and that you leave people alone to make their own decisions about how to use it,” Murray said.
He insisted that the money be deposited every month, electronically, into a known bank account and that this type of income stream gives people moral agency.
Murray went on to say, “I think replacing the Welfare state with UBI is going to be the rare case where you have side effects – not unintended side effects that are terrible – but unintended side effects that have the potential for rejuvenating America’s civic culture.”
Both Harris and Murray agreed that A.I. has the potential to radically transform the job market, unrecognizably, within 20 or 30 years.
Harris, who has expressed his concerns about UBI with previous guests on the podcast, asked, “Are you worried at all about the incentives just not being aligned if you give out UBI? Is there any tweaking of it that makes it more likely to produce the good changes you’re picturing?”
Murray responded by describing his plan.
“There are a couple of really, really important things. One of them is that indeed you do get rid of the other Welfare state services, and that you have a very high point at which the guaranteed income is subject to a surtax. I want to lure people into working so they get to a point where they can’t afford to quit. In my plan, I say it’s $30k of earned income, so until you get $30k of earned income on your own, you keep all of the…let’s say, $12k, and then after that you start to pay a small surtax back. Anything you go out and earn, you keep. So you’ve gotten into the habit of working and if you’ve gotten up to $30k, you are not going to trade a $42k per year lifestyle for a $12k per year lifestyle. But if you have the payback point quicker, I think you increase the likelihood that you have disincentives to work. It needs to be deposited electronically into a known bank account. It needs to be universal because one of the key things about this is that everybody knows that everybody else is getting the money. Once you have that universal knowledge, then a whole variety of interactions can be set in motion that wouldn’t be set in motion without that knowledge.”
Murray also discussed the potential for work disincentives, which is a common criticism of UBI.
“You can fairly easily design it so it’s quite likely to produce good effects. I am not denying it will have work disincentives. There will be work disincentives. But we are already at a point where something more than 20% of working-age males with high school diplomas – and no more – are out of the labor force. We’ve got a problem already and I see a lot of ways in which the moral agency of an income could make the problem less.”