Welfare By Any Other Name

One of the most successful tactics of those who favor ever expanding government is to give their ideas new names, to disguise their true nature and avoid having to defend their past failures. One such "new" idea getting increased attention is Universal Basic Income.

This idea featured prominently in Andrew Yang's 2020 presidential bid. But it didn't go away with his failed campaign. Cities across the country and right here in California have been conducting so-called "trials" (in reality city-sponsored marketing campaigns) to demonstrate the alleged benefits. A member of the state Assembly from our own county has already proposed a statewide plan. And the "stimulus payments" that the federal government sent practically everybody as part of responding to the pandemic are being cited as a precedent – if those were good for the economy, why not keep doing it?

And that's the basic idea of UBI – the government would give everybody money every month. The similarities to traditional welfare programs should be obvious to anybody who looks past the name. The money has to come from somewhere – from taxation or borrowing – and that involves taking it by force from those who earned it. But there are some ways that UBI is even worse than traditional welfare for anyone who cares about the future of liberty and the free market.

Current welfare programs, although they have been making an increasing number of people dependent on government, are still seen by a majority of the population as something for "the needy", not the way that normal people should live. Even though many middle-class and even wealthy people benefit from tax-funded programs (which might also be considered forms of welfare) ranging from government schools to business subsidies, they still mentally draw a line at direct distribution of cash. Many would be embarrassed if they needed to take such payments under existing policies. But if everybody is getting it, within one generation it will become "normal".

Further, by reducing the connection between work and income, UBI will reduce public understanding of how an economy actually works. And money magically appearing in an arbitrary (politically-determined) amount will encourage the idea that goods and services and the prices we pay for them are also arbitrary, and should also be determined by government.

Finally, by making practically everybody dependent on government for a significant portion of their income, UBI will dramatically expand the fraction of the population that cannot, by simple perception of self-interest, even imagine that a different way of doing things could work better. The result will be a population reduced to the status of serfs, who cannot imagine surviving without their feudal lord, and who will be that much less able to resist anything that their lord decides to impose on them.

All this, of course, is why the name "Universal Basic Income" is of such value to its proponents. They don't want you to think of it as expanding welfare. They want you to think of it the way most people have come to think of government schools and Medicare – something that nobody can reasonably argue against because it's the "normal" way that most people now live.

UBI "experiments" (which are not real experiments as they don't test the effects on an entire population, which is supposed to be the key feature of such a plan) have already started in other parts of California. It probably won't be long before politicians in some city in Santa Clara County decide to join in. When that happens, we need to be prepared to expose this idea for what it really is!

Joe Dehn
County Chair
[email protected]