There is a steady stream of mentions in the media of a concept called Universal Basic Income and a general view that it is “a good thing”.
Definitions of what is actually involved in implementing a UBI or critical analysis of the concept rarely accompany these references to it.
We intend to undertake this missing analysis here.
UBI is variously described as;
- a non-means tested guaranteed “wage” to all citizens of a country to cover basic shelter and food needs, or
- as above but for all residents of a country, or
- as above but globally, i.e. every human
The last option falls apart quite quickly upon analysis, so let’s clear that up first;
Option 3. How would we fund and distribute a global UBI?
There would need to be a global collection method, an agreement between all major economies (as they would presumably be the main net contributors) on the level of income per capita and whether or not there would be sliding scale based on relative cost of living in each location.
Then we would need to solve the problem of distribution, taking particular care not to consolidate power or increase the opportunity for corruption which would prevent the funds reaching the intended recipients.
Put simply, there would need to be some level of world government to siphon off the money and redistribute back to every human alive. This sounds very familiar to the well-documented previously failed experiments in central planning and control. To paraphrase P. J. O’Rourke, “socialism works very well within the boundaries of my house; it’s just failed every time anyone has tried to scale it up beyond that”.
Option 3 is pure Marxism, in other words and should be called out as such at every opportunity.
Option 1 and 2. How would we fund and distribute a national UBI?
This is a more nuanced question. Tim Worstall suggests that a national UBI could have significant personal and national benefits, possibly resulting in a higher standard of living for all. Tim’s analysis relies on a major assumption to fund the UBI, however; it will need replace all other forms of government largesse to the population, so no welfare state, no medicare/medicaid, no state insurances, no tax breaks for business, etc.
Those familiar with the concept of the Overton Window will quickly realise that, although Tim’s analysis might work mathematically and perhaps have a good grounding in economic theory, the blending of what is essentially a proposal for a method of central redistribution to result in a “small government” would require the voting public to accept a range of political ideas with a level of nuance not previously documented. In effect, they are being asked to accept the concept of blending the collectivist preference for a benevolent state with the Libertarian preference for individual freedom and responsibility. It completely challenges the almost genetically-accepted idea that left and right are at opposite ends of a political spectrum.
This isn’t to denigrate the intelligence and subtlety of the average voter, but to simply recognise that they are unlikely to invest the time out from their day to day lives to fully engage with the idea of a UBI that replaces all current state-distributed safety nets. This is likely to be mainly a failing of the communication skills of political class, underpinned by a very solid undercurrent of distrust and loathing from the voting public.
If Tim Worstall’s version of UBI is so very unlikely, are there any other proposed method of implementing it?
The Socialist Party of Ireland suggests that a UBI is only practical if all major industry is taken into state control, which simply proves the axiom that, to a man with a hammer, the entire world looks like a nail.
Socialist Appeal (“the Marxist tendency of the movements of workers and youth in Britain“) are deeply sceptical of the concept unless it is is also accompanied by major tax increases. Obviously, this completely contradicts the economic analysis of Mr. Worstall and, again, refers us back to the hammer/nail analogy.
To answer the original question; “Is Universal Basic Income just Marxism by another name?“, the answer is clearly, “yes, if you ask a Marxist“. The answer will be different if you are discussing it with a proponent of smaller government.
Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question. How about the following;
Is a UBI likely to be ever successfully implemented in a democratic nation?
Not a chance; the definition of and implementation of a UBI has such a myriad of options that each will see in it only what their personal agenda desires. To reach a broad political consensus on what the best and most feasible solution is to implement would require more agreement across the political spectrum than has ever been witnessed before.
Anyone who presents it as an option should be challenged to show how the major political and economic ideologies can have their differences reconciled before being allowed to waste any more of our time suggesting the concept.