During periods of hardship, crisis and unpredictability, it is only natural for citizens to become insular in mindset. Some philosophers might point towards psychological egoism. Others will recite the principle of “taking care of yourself before you take care of others”. This is all fine, in theory. It might be difficult to care about the plights of your neighbor when you have crying, hungry children in a dark apartment. So as the construct of Universal Basic Income is being reintroduced to the masses, it may be easy (heck, even natural) to enjoy the immediate individual gains. This is why it is of the utmost importance to take a step back and realize the societal destruction UBI would bring about.
Universal Basic Income is a periodic cash payment given unconditionally to all citizens, no questions asked. In other words, “free” money! We all should know better than that by now. Nothing, including the air we breathe, is free. The money that would be needed to pay everyone would put an enormous strain on the entire country for generations to come. Let us do a little bit of math here, thanks to ubicalculator.com:
The average American income is $63,179
The average American family size is 3.14 persons (we will use a 2 adult, 1 child model)
Under Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend UBI plan, the total deficit spending would amount to $2.8 trillion/year, which is significantly higher than the $2.2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill that was passed.
The United States sheer size is a big deterrent for Universal Basic Income. Sure, Denmark and Canada are experimenting with it (somewhat successfully, as well), but their populations are 5.8 million and 37.6 million respectively. The United States population is more than 7 times those countries combined, making it that much more difficult and costly.
Tax increases across the board would be a definite reality, along with the implementation of new taxes. If you think negatively of Cook County’s Sweetened Beverage Tax or Florida’s Streaming Tax, there would be many other similar taxes put into place to offset the basic income system. Most people will get a $1,200 payout thanks to the COVID stimulus package. In a UBI America, when taxes rise, $1,200 would not be enough for some people. Some citizens and politicians would surely lobby for $1,500, maybe $1,700, maybe $2,000. More protests and government animosity would ensue, thus creating more societal strife in a country chock full of it already.
Some UBI proponents suggest entrepreneurship would increase because people, instead of focusing so much energy working jobs they did not like out of necessity, could focus their time and efforts toward more satisfying endeavors. UBI experiments have shown this to be true, but how many of these more satisfying endeavors would pan out? Our country already has legions of college graduates drowning in debt with degrees that will not keep their heads above water.
Every citizen will never be on equal footing. Some will always have advantageous (or at least perceived advantageous) circumstances over others. As unfortunate as that is in some cases, it is a hard fact of the world we were brought into. Trying to level the playing field and provide a societal safety net for the less fortunate is a noble idea, but providing guaranteed income is not the best way of going about this issue. We would be sending the message to the youth that they do not have to work to provide for themselves. Some of today’s most talented and influential figures came to be because their backs were against the wall. They had to work hard in order to build a better life for themselves and others. Taking this into account, entrepreneurship might decrease in a UBI utopia.
Crime statistics are also thrown about in the argument for a Universal Basic Income system. With guaranteed funds for everyone, it may be true that crime would decrease. However, a large part of our society depends on a certain level of crime in order to make a living. While I am not advocating heinous and illegal activities, or advocating the loss of lives, it is a sad fact that there will always be individuals who indulge in criminal behavior. Thus, the need for police and fire squads, border patrol, correctional officers, detectives, judges, lawyers and any other protector of the law. A country with significantly less crime would mean slashing a big part of the labor force.
This flawed economic construct will only put our country in more dire straits down the line. However, as our population skews younger and more progressive, the influence of socialist zealots such as Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang spread, and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to instill fear and uncertainty, this economic fantasy will snowball into more mainstream prominence. Even worse, it might become our dark reality.