This is part of a debate series over at 1828, the IEA’s online magazine. You can see the original article here:
One of my favourite quotes on UBI is the Rutger Bregman slogan: “Poverty isn’t a lack of character, it’s a lack of cash”.
Our current benefits system seems to believe the opposite—it blames the poor for their position, forcing them to cut through countless lines of red tape just to get the cash they need to survive. But this constant state nannying is far from fixing the problem—most sources show relatively constant poverty rates of an insane 20%. Wasting all of your energy proving your poverty to the state is both humiliating and directly counterintuitive to what our benefits system should be aimed at doing: getting people out of poverty.
Enter UBI, a policy that aims to tackle this issue from a practical and an ideological standpoint. As a form of welfare, UBI is the purest form of individualistic libertarianism: rather than micromanaging, compartmentalising and dictating the path out of poverty, it puts the cash in the hands of the people that need it and lets them do it themselves. The upcoming trials in Wales will speak for themselves, but studies from Scandinavia to the infamous Speenhamland demonstrate that this simplification and liberalization is far more efficient and effective than standard welfare—some studies have shown that basic income schemes can even save tax money. Suggesting that the poor will waste away this vital stipend rather than investing it in themselves is both deeply derogatory to their character as well as being a plain misunderstanding of the data.
From an ideological standpoint, giving this money to everyone establishes it as a basic right. Yes, many of us are fortunate enough not to need the extra cash, but the fact that we all get it makes UBI a privilege that absolutely does not discriminate; one that we can rely on should we need it, without having to report when and how we use it to a state who has no business knowing. As citizens of our society, then, UBI guarantees everyone a minimum standard of living—no questions asked. Is that not something we should have been aiming for all along?
Photo credit: Nick Pampoukidis on Unsplash.