Have you ever wished you could spend more time with your kids? Take more time to get the house in order? Or just relax a bit without worrying where the ends were going to meet? Well, you don't need to win the lottery. Or, at least, you won't if basic income becomes the law of the land instead of a thought experiment.
Is Basic Income Going to Take Off?
Let's take a sidestep for a moment to talk about homelessness. When you look at the problem objectively, the issue is there are people who do not have a place to live. So what's the solution? Well, the simplest solution is to just give homeless people somewhere to live. Once that happens, bam, they're no longer homeless.
This strategy goes against the grain for many people who feel that simply providing a solution to the problem won't teach people anything. However, as Utah has seen, simply giving the homeless a place to live is a simple way to fix the problem. Not only that but just giving these people a place to live is actually cost-effective. Because there's less money spent on law enforcement, there are fewer emergency room visits, and homeless people have an address and phone number they can put on job applications. This strategy allows them to get up, dust themselves off, and actually start taking control of their lives.
How is Universal Basic Income a Strategy?
What does that have to do with basic income? Well, as a strategy, universal basic income faces many of the same resistance from people that giving homes to the homeless does. There's this assumption that any program that just gives handouts creates dependence on the government, and that no one will get better if they're just given help.
The idea is sound, though, and we've seen it work with the recent Covid-19 stimulus checks. Say that, instead of offering food stamps, or other forms of aid, the U.S. government simply paid every person over the age of 21 a basic income. Say $10,000 a year. That's a lot of money going out, but it's important to remember that this income is taxed. So, a portion of that is coming back to the government. Additionally, that money is going into the economy. People are going to use that money to pay rent, buy food, get health insurance, pay down debt, and do all those necessary things that adults do with their money. Additionally, while it's a big boost to those living in poverty, that $10,000 isn't going to be enough to live on for most people. So people are still going to work.
Universal Basic Income Allows People to Have Power
The difference is that, with a basic income, people might explore options they couldn't under the current system. They might go back to school to get a degree, only taking out a few loans instead of acquiring crushing debt. Someone might choose to become an entrepreneur, which would have been far too big a risk when they had no other income. A worker might demand better treatment at their job, or they'll find another employer because they can actually take the time to find another job without getting evicted.
Basic income puts power in the hands of people. They decide how they're going to use their resources. Does that mean some people will squander it? Probably. Some people may save that money, squirreling it away in a retirement account. But whatever someone does with it, it's their piece of the pie. If the government scales back other spending and decides to just cut everyone a check, then it really is staying out of its citizens' lives. It's why the idea has been floated by political conservatives, according to the Atlantic.
Will basic income work? There isn't enough data to know for certain. However, there are enough cities, states, and nations flirting with the idea that we may soon have some facts to justify giving it a try.