Monday, December 9, 2013

Let's Give Everybody $2,800 a Month

This guy looks a little bit like the actor Liam Neeson.  By the way, I do this with money in the bathtub, pretty much a lot.

This one is from the "Why didn't I think of that?" file.

Next year, people in Switzerland are going to vote on a referendum that, if it passes, will create a law where the government pays every citizen of that country the equivalent of $2,800 a month.  

This is a guaranteed basic income for every adult, regardless of whether they have money in the bank, a job, no job, a criminal record, missing limbs, bad hygiene, personal sexual habits that you don't like, opinions you don't agree with or anything else.  It's just a payment for being alive.

I like this idea.  I like this idea for the United States.

How many people do you know who have a lot to offer, have a lot of creativity, and are stuck in mediocre jobs because they have to pay the bills?  How many people do you know who are stuck on the hamster wheel of having really bad, low-paying, soul-crushing jobs that just barely keep them afloat?  How many people who are even worse off than that?

A basic monthly income for every adult would level the playing field, offering everyone a certain amount of freedom (including freedom from financial stress), dignity, and security.  

Overnight, it would put an end to most poverty.  It would put an end to food stamps, welfare, and most of the Byzantine entitlement system.

It would make our society more egalitarian and fair.   

One of the leaders in the basic income movement is a German artist named Enno Schmidt, and according to the New York Times article linked to above, he refers to the idea as stimmig, a German word that loosely translated means, "coherent and harmonious."  I agree with that assessment.

Q.  Okay Patches, we like the idea, but Switzerland is a small, rich country.  How could a big, poor country like the United States pay for something like this?

A.  Well, one thing to keep in mind is that we don't really have to give everybody $2,800 a month.  If you've ever been to Switzerland, you know that a tuna sandwich costs $40 and the equivalent of a roadside Days Inn costs like $300 a night.  So $2,800 is less money over there than it is here. 

Let's lower our sights a touch.  Let's say we just give everybody enough to keep them above the poverty line - about $12,000 a year.  This article in Slate suggests that after the savings realized from eliminating numerous entitlement programs, the cost still comes out to about $1.2 trillion a year.  

That's a lot of cabbage.  Hmmm.  Where could we find some of that money?

The U.S. spends more on the military than the next six countries combined.

Okay, yes.  The sacred U.S. military budget is nearly $700 billion a year, half a trillion dollars more than our next closest competitor, China, and $600 billion more than Russia, who comes in at #3.  

I'll bet we could manage to squeeze a few dollars out of the military budget, while still finding some way to keep up with the Joneses in the arms race, and defend ourselves from the terrorist hordes massing along our borders.  

Q.  But what about all the shiftless lazy people, Patches?  Won't having a guaranteed monthly income just encourage them to lay around even more?  Should we be condoning this kind of behavior?  

A.  For many years, my own feeling has been that the vast majority of human commercial activity is either a) a waste of time, or b) actively counterproductive, or c) wantonly destructive, cruel, and an affront in the eyes of God.  

So for me, encouraging people to lay around and do nothing doesn't sound like such a bad thing.  

In any case, that probably won't happen.  Human beings are busy creatures.  They're inherently creative and ingenious.  

Ever watch a video of a chimpanzee puzzling out how to put big colorful blocks together so he can climb up and get some bananas?  That's how people are.  Most like to work, to be productive, and to feel they are contributing in some way.  

My hunch is that many people, freed from worry about money, freed from lousy jobs they don't like, and freed from Kafkaesque scheduling problems, will literally explode with new found optimism, inventiveness and energy.    

See Related Article: Another Right-Wing Moron


  1. I am very much a fan of a guaranteed annual income. Canada actually did an experiment in this with a town in Manitoba, back in the '70s, but never compiled any results from it - the economic crisis that had encouraged the experiment ended, so no follow-up was done.

    Going to be interesting to follow what happens in Switzerland. Thanks for the info!

  2. Thanks, Thursday. I can't imagine this has been tried anywhere in the USA. Although, come to think of it, everybody who lives in Alaska gets a small subsidy for doing so.

    I hope it passes in Switzerland. Things start in one small place, often they get adopted in bigger and bigger places.