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$10,000 Universal Income Would Reduce Work and Cost Taxpayers Trillions



(p. B4) This month [June 2016], Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute will publish an updated version of his plan to replace welfare as we know it with a dollop of $10,000 in after-tax income for every American above the age of 21.


. . .


Its first hurdle is arithmetic. As Robert Greenstein of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put it, a check of $10,000 to each of 300 million Americans would cost more than $3 trillion a year.

Where would that money come from? It amounts to nearly all the tax revenue collected by the federal government. Nothing in the history of this country suggests Americans are ready to add that kind of burden to their current taxes. Cut it by half to $5,000?


. . .


As Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary and onetime top economic adviser to President Obama, told me, paying a $5,000 universal basic income to the 250 million nonpoor Americans would cost about $1.25 trillion a year. . . .

The popularity of the universal basic income stems from a fanciful diagnosis born in Silicon Valley of the challenges faced by the working class across industrialized nations: one that sees declining employment rates and stagnant wages and concludes that robots are about to take over all the jobs in the world.


. . .


Work, as Lawrence Katz of Harvard once pointed out, is not just what people do for a living. It is a source of status. It organizes people's lives. It offers an opportunity for progress. None of this can be replaced by a check.

A universal basic income has many undesirable features, starting with its non-negligible disincentive to work. Almost a quarter of American households make less than $25,000. It would be hardly surprising if a $10,000 check each for mom and dad sapped their desire to work.


. . .


As Mr. Summers told a gathering last week at the Brookings Institution, "a universal basic income is one of those ideas that the longer you look at it, the less enthusiastic you become."



For the full commentary, see:

Porter, Eduardo. "ECONOMIC SCENE; Plan to End Poverty Is Wide of the Target." The New York Times (Weds., June 1, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 31, 2016, and has the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; A Universal Basic Income Is a Poor Tool to Fight Poverty.")






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