By Philip Cross, May 12, 2020
The tsunami of temporary government income support programs unleashed to cushion the shutdown of large swathes of the economy has renewed calls to introduce a guaranteed annual income (GAI). Over time, a GAI has garnered support and opposition from both liberals and conservatives. On balance, however, there is more reason to oppose it.
The idea of a GAI dates back to Sir Thomas More’s “Utopia” in 1516. Liberals are attracted by its promises of reduced inequality and protection of vulnerable workers against job-killing technology or the whims of employers. Conservatives like the possible elimination of many government social programs, maybe even the minimum wage. Some defenders of capitalism see GAI as one way to preserve support for free enterprise in the event of massive technological unemployment.
On the other hand, some liberals object to a GAI because they fear it solidifies inequality, creating a permanent underclass that society can ignore because it has been provided with a basic standard of living. Conservative reservations about a GAI reflect misgivings about its impact on character and morality, not to mention the steep tax hikes needed to pay for it…