Can Republicans Stomach the Idea of Free Money?

Since I left the Libertarian Party a decade ago, I have reverted to a more pragmatic and utilitarian vision of liberty, more Milton Friedman and less Murray Rothbard. Way back when I was in high school I was impressed with Friedman’s Negative Income Tax. Today, I want to simplify the idea and have a flat tax for The 99% coupled with free money for everyone.

But one of my favorite political pundits, P.J. O’Rourke, says NO. He says that a universal basic income is one of this month’s two worst political ideas. He points out that if his younger self had gotten a thousand dollar a month stipend, he would have remained an insufferable useless hippie.

He has a point. Some people will manage to live unproductive lives on a universal basic income, writing bad poetry, chanting Marxist slogans, crafting bad art, and sporting bad hair.

But people are doing this now, with much bigger government grants. We call them college professors, and fine artists.

P.J. makes a major mistake in applying the UBI idea to his younger self: $1000/month today would be far less than a thousand a month was back when he was an insufferable hippie. We had a rather serious bout of inflation in between then and now. To live as a happy hippie on a kilobuck/month today would require serious frugality, or even a bit of farming and other productive, if non-monetary, work. But under a UBI, unlike welfare, you could supplement your free government check with some legal monetary work without losing your benefits. Yes, you would pay taxes on that work, but the rate would be no more than what doctors and lawyers pay today — and they still show up for work from time to time.

Yes, this money is “unearned.” So are inheritances. I have a question for the Republicans in the audience: should inheritances be banned? I can say from direct experience that some who receive major inheritances do live lives of unproductive socialistic yammering. (I knew a few trustafarians back in my Asheville days.) Should we ban all inheritance to make such people get a job?


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  1. Good blog post. I am not a Republican, but I hope I will be allowed to answer.

    On the surface UBI and inheritances appear to be similar (i.e., both being economic benefits unearned by the receiver), but at a deeper level I believe they are different. This is because UBI is money, whereas inheritances are many times built things (businesses, homes, etc.).

    Not starting someone on UBI is not destructive to society, but forcing families to dismantle businesses and move out of homes to liquidate estates is. It took time and energy to build the estate, and dissolving it wastes that effort.

    Could value locked-up in an estate be put to better use by redistributing it? Perhaps. But there is no guarantee it will be.

    What is known is that the estate is already an established building block in society. Removing too many of these blocks, with no promise of quick replacement in kind or better, could damage society, not unlike the popular party game of Jenga.

  2. A universal income as proposed currently by various voices is a terrible idea. But not because it will incubate hippies. Because it is not contingent on some kind of contribution. It’s the same nightmare we have with public assistance now. Human beings need to contribute to their society. We need to cathect, to invest our energies in something so that we can care about it. A universal income that is not contingent on some kind of contribution of one’s own energy and effort will be the biggest mental health threat to our general population since substance addiction. In fact, it will likely significantly increase addictive behavior in most people.

    Conversely, if anyone not employed to earn money beyond the universal income is required to participate in education, taking community college classes or training in different skill areas, and “pass” or “certify” in order to receive their benefit then universal income could do good for many.

    While we’re at it, I am in favor of universal income starting at age 15 and anyone under 18 only being able to collect theirs if they finish school with grades of C or better. Dropping out would reduce quickly. No parents would collude with or ignore truancy if the family finances would be affected.

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