UBI on senate stage for universal good

The idea of universal basic income has been around for a long time, with experiments on its feasibility and impact on productivity taking place in Finland, Kenya and elsewhere. Though it’s often seen as a form of socialism by Americans, it reentered the political stage recently with former democratic candidate Andrew Yang and Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Ed Markey all proposing to pay American citizens a set sum each month regardless of their employment status. 

Despite the fact that some have deemed such a plan overly socialist, it would have a very positive impact on the quality of life of the average American citizen while shrinking the wealth inequality in our nation.

The government has already proved its ability to afford a variety of expensive relief programs, aside from the stimulus check. Ongoing ones, like food stamps, Social Security and unemployment benefits, already cost billions of dollars every year, and a universal basic income could either partially or entirely replace these programs.

Another supposed flaw of a universal basic income is that it would cause American productivity to decrease. Critics like Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden say that if citizens receive an annual wage, they will stop working. In an interview on the podcast “Pod Save America,” Biden said, “Getting an annual wage, you sit home and do nothing.” In reality, this is untrue. 

In the first place, universal basic income would not pay a liveable wage. With proposed amounts between $1,000 to $2,000, the average American would be unable to stop working without making drastic lifestyle alterations. 

As for those who are already unemployed, this would dramatically raise their standard of living, making them better-equipped to find a job. Apart from speculation over the impact of such a program on employment, there are concrete examples of the effects one can turn to. 

In Alaska, citizens receive a payment every year from the Alaska Permanent Fund, which varies by year and, in 2019, amounted to $1,606. Economists investigated the fund’s impact on employment, and found that there was none–citizens worked equally with or without the payment.

As for the current plans on the details of how to implement a universal basic income, there is one main contender.

The current plan proposed by Harris, Sanders and Markey is called the Monthly Economic Crisis Support Act, and would last for three months after the COVID-19 public health crisis ends. Additionally, it would work to bridge wealth inequality, at least in a limited capacity. The payment itself would be adjusted based on the recipient’s income so that those who make an annual income in the hundreds of thousands would receive less money.

Despite some who believe a universal basic income would better serve those in dire poverty, in truth it would take more than regular cash infusions to fully combat this issue, which has many facets. By having a payment cutoff in the hundreds of thousands, UBI aims to solve problems for a larger demographic than just rural citizens or the truly impoverished, like those in areas with notoriously high rent where an annual income of $100k isn’t liveable.

Though the plan currently in the Senate would be a temporary one, it has the potential to prove the efficacy of a universal basic income, and may pave the way for a permanent universal basic income in the near future.