Can a Free Country Guarantee a Minimum Income?

Batten down the hatches and lash yourself to the mizzen mast: I may be having my opinion changed about something. Jeff Carter makes the case for guaranteeing a minimum income:

From the classical liberal/libertarian perspective, a basic income guarantee is far better than the current welfare system we have in place now.  If you are a classical liberal, you ought to support a basic income guarantee given the dismantling of every single aspect of the government bureaucracy administering any kind of transfer payment or benefit tied to our welfare state.

That means eliminating SNAP, agencies like ACORN, government housing, medical and any other state or federal agency tied to the welfare state.

If you totaled it up, that’s a lot of jobs (and govt pensions) and a huge swath of the bureaucracy.  One estimate I read said America spent roughly a trillion dollars each year on the welfare system.

Currently, the US has an earned income tax credit.  But, that only applies to people who actually work. Under a basic income guarantee, it would be scrapped.  The basic income guarantee could apply to everyone that is a US citizen.

Ok, that makes some sense and has some good points, especially when you couple it with this video from (hand over heart) Milton Friedman (Bonus: video also gives you a chance to watch William F. Buckley talk English):

It’s unquestionable that a society as prosperous as ours can provide for the needs of its poorest citizens who can’t provide for themselves. Once we’ve agreed on that, though, the remaining questions are 1) who, exactly, will qualify for assistance, and 2) how will society deliver that assistance to them.

A guaranteed minimum income seems like an improvement over our current tangle of bureaucratic wastefulness and fraud. But any program can sound good on paper. Eventually, that paper is going to run into political reality.

If the beast that we call “government” had any inherent personality traits, a prominent one would be an insatiable desire to use tax money to purchase loyalty. People who are living on a government-guaranteed minimum income will become, in effect, employees of the government. Employees who will be highly motivated to organize and make a full-time job out of petitioning the government to increase their pay. And lots of people who weren’t interested in any other kind of job would become interested in that job.

When that happens, we’re right back where we are now: huge, and continually growing, sums of money being extracted by government from people who are working and given to government clients whose number one priority is to grow the government.

And this doesn’t even begin to address the issue that large numbers of poor people are poor because they are really bad at handling money, so transfer payments don’t do anything to address the root causes of their poverty, no matter how those payments are delivered.

I can be talked into agreeing that our government should provide a basic level of income to all citizens, as opposed to my more libertarian leanings that say poverty should be addressed by charitable institutions and non-governmental organizations. Still, the problem is that government is run by politicians, and anything that is run by politicians will eventually be used for political ends.

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