A Basic Income Guarantee is Never Going to Substitute for the Welfare State


I’m not going to address the macro issue of the Basic Income Guarantee, which is basically a check that everyone gets from the government, here. Just the micro one that it can be used as a substitute for welfare.

Current federal social welfare programs in the United States are an expensive, complicated mess. According to Michael Tanner, the federal government spent more than $668 billion on over one hundred and twenty-six anti-poverty programs in 2012. When you add in the $284 billion spent by state and local governments, that amounts to $20,610 for every poor person in America.

Wouldn’t it be better just to write the poor a check?

Each one of those anti-poverty programs comes with its own bureaucracy and its own Byzantine set of rules. If you want to shrink the size and scope of government, eliminating those departments and replacing them with a program so simple it could virtually be administered by a computer seems like a good place to start. Eliminating bloated bureaucracies means more money in the hands of the poor and lower costs to the taxpayer. Win/Win.

It might indeed be better, but it’s not going to happen. The welfare state is premised on the inability of the receivers to manage their own affairs. That’s the whole premise of ObamaCare.

The issue has never been mere poverty. It’s the premise that the underclass is oppressed by some combination of elite supremacism and their own ineptitude. They’re not meant to be anything except wards of the state.

So it’s a trade off that is never going to be made. And the unfortunate truth is that a lot of the beneficiaries are not capable of managing a budget. Even a basic monthly one. The benefits they receive are structured so that they have some trouble wasting them. Food stamps are meant to go to food. Medical benefits are paid by the government. Etc…

Generations of welfare have destroyed budgeting skills.


  • valeriekeefe

    Ah, “the can’t win, capitalism is irredeemably corrput as evidenced by those 40 years of irredeemably corrupt capitalism, before the last 40, where wages and productivity were joined at the hip,” argument. Always a seductive one for people who don’t want to expend any effort or in any way accept any of the premises of an idea they find antihetical (which is supremely ironic for the Marxists in the room). It was southern white supremacists that killed this thing the last time around (passed the House and Nixon was going to sign it).

    At any rate, I am concerned with the amelioration of exploitation, poverty, and the use of coercion, especially that which is not subject to public review, to control the lives of the unpropertied, and I am far more convinced of the state’s ability guarantee these things compared to mutual aid, for precisely the same reason that I like the federal government to raise money to combat youth homelessness instead of the Salvation Army.

    At any rate, it’s odd that appeals to inevitability and implacability are only proffered when a project that would make the poor better off is introduced. The rest of the time, you’re more than prepared to call for people to stand behind their principles and promote reforms, even incremental reforms on their merits. Ah well, such is the life of feckless apologists.