Depending on who you ask, you’ll get some varied numbers as to how much the United States as a nation spends each year on welfare and other systems of poverty relief. Some sources claim is about $1 trillion, while others say the figure is significantly lower. Regardless of which side you’re inclined to agree with, the numbers are staggering.
Amidst the trials and tribulations that surround the economic situation the United States has found itself in recently, one question has begun to pick up momentum as of late.
What would happen if the United States adopted the system of basic income?
The short answer is that, well, no one knows for sure.
The long answer takes a little more explanation.
According to BasicIncome.org, the term is defined as “an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement.” Boiled down, basic income (also called “unconditional basic income” or “universal basic income” is simply money paid to citizens each month simply for living. Basic income doesn’t differentiate between the rich and the poor, the employed and the unemployed or demographic data; it is simply a check made out in your name each month courtesy of Uncle Sam.
The idea seems completely nonsensical at first glance. Giving out free money to people won’t solve their problems. The pervasive idea that seems to follow welfare and unemployment-aid recipients is that they’re either lazy, addicted to drugs/alcohol or simply gaming the system. The idea goes that giving those people free money would feed their habits, not the mouths of their children. However, studies have shown that this isn’t necessarily true; people do in fact work and attempt to provide for themselves and their families, even when they are on financial benefit programs.
Often, this money comes from taxes on the public and is integrated into a country’s already existing social welfare systems (medicaid, food stamps, etc). This raises the ire of many opposers to the idea of a basic income, as the idea of paying directly into someone else’s pockets tends not to sit well with many people.
Small scale basic income rollouts have been largely successful. Minor pilot programs have been run in impoverished countries around the world, giving unconditional monetary aid to those who needed it the most in Brazil and Kenya. GiveDirectly, a charity started in 2009, provides directly cash deposits to people living in Uganda and Kenya.
No country yet provides a universal basic income to its citizens by any means, though Switzerland has recently tossed around the idea. Because of the large cost, nearly the entirety of the Swiss government has rejected the idea as too expensive and unrealistic.
With limited research and hard experimentation on the subject a basic income rollout in the United States seems entirely unlikely. The radical idea does, however, have the support of many European citizens, where the idea of basic income has been in the news for some time now.
It’s easy to see why the United States might not be the best country to launch a basic income pilot program. The large population and comparatively large unemployment rate don’t bode well for a basic income implementation any time in the near future.
Though the idea is radical and, more than likely entirely unrealistic, it’s worth keeping a close eye on countries like Switzerland as the idea is passed through the government.