Economics, Social Justice

The Positive Political Economy of the Basic Income Guarantee

[Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Josh McCabe, a PhD candidate in the department of sociology at the University at Albany and an Adam Smith Fellow at the Mercatus Center. Josh’s dissertation explores the impact of cultural categories of worth on welfare and tax politics. You can learn more about him here.]

Matt Zwolinski has caused quite a stir with his recent post arguing that some sort of basic income guarantee (BIG) might be acceptable or even necessary on classical liberal grounds. Given my background as a sociologist, I can’t contribute much to this philosophical debate on BIG or negative income tax (NIT) policies but I can speak on the political realities and prospects for introducing a BIG/NIT proposal in the United States.

Much of the discussion surrounding BIG/NIT revolves around its political feasibility and what it would look like if some country were to ever implement one. This is why those interested in the topic are keeping a close eye on Switzerland which is currently considering introducing the first universal BIG program in the world. While the Swiss case is interesting, it turns out that we don’t need to guess what some sort of program would look like in the real world. A number of countries already have active BIG/NIT programs. Am I talking about one of the Nordic welfare states? No, it turns out we simple need to look right here in the US and to our friendly northern neighbor.

The reality is that we already have BIG/NIT programs in Canada and the US. The catch is that unlike the Swiss proposal these policies are targeted at particular groups. Both countries guarantee a basic income for the elderly and disabled. In the US (aside from the state level Alaska Permanent Fund), this is done through Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In Canada, this is done through Old-Age Security/Guaranteed Income Supplement (OAS/GIS) for the elderly and various provincial programs such as the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) for the disabled.

Why have policymakers successful introduced BIG/NIT programs for these populations? In both cases, the beneficiaries in questions are not expected to work because of age or incapacity. This is consistent with explanations which focus on the legacy of the Elizabethan Poor Laws in making distinctions between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor based on ability to work. Welfare, according to many, creates dependency, saps the initiative to work, and allows the lazy to live at the expense of the hardworking. This crucial distinction is the reason social assistance programs for families with children in both countries subject beneficiaries to means-tests and invasive moral regulations. Contemporary welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are associated, in the popular mind, with a range of social pathologies.

Scholars like Brian Steensland argue that this cultural legacy largely explains the failure of past BIG/NIT proposals such as President Nixon’s proposed Family Assistance Plan (FAP) in the late 1960s. An NIT program, according to Steensland, would blur the distinction between the “undeserving” poor who are employable but perceived as refusing to work and the “deserving” poor who are working fulltime and still poor and those can’t work because of age or incapacity. This would stigmatize the latter group by forcing them into the same program with the “undeserving” poor under the banner of welfare. The logic is captured nicely by this discussion between Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley.

Although Steensland’s argument is, by far, the best treatment of the topic out there now, I’m not so sure it captures the full story for the simple reason that Canada already has a NIT for poor families that covers all poor and middle income families regardless of work status or employability. It’s here that the US diverges from Canada in that the US lacks a non-categorical NIT program for families. Both countries utilize what is often called “make work pay” tax expenditures in the form of tax credits. This includes in-work tax credits such as the earned income tax credit (EITC) in the US and the working income tax benefit (WITB) in Canada as well as dependent tax credits such as the child tax credit (CTC) in the US and Canadian child tax benefit (CCTB) in Canada. Both policies were introduced in response to the idea that families faced perverse incentives which favored welfare over work. While the EITC, WITB, and CCTB are all refundable, the key difference is that the CTC is only partially refundable in the US. This leads to substantial variation in the distribution of benefits in each country.

MWP Expenditures

This chart excludes TANF and social assistance, both of which are available to unemployed families, because neither is guaranteed. Whereas Canada provides tax credits to families with no income, families in the US can only claim such credits if they have some minimal level of income from work. In other words, Canada has had, de facto, a substantial NIT program that makes no categorical distinctions between those who work and those who don’t for the last twenty years. This has led John Myles and Paul Pierson to label this “Friedman’s revenge” based on Milton Friedman’s early advocacy of a NIT in chapter twelve of Capitalism and Freedom. How can we explain the divergence? The existence of a NIT program for families in Canada cast doubt on Steensland’s explanation for its absence in the US. Given the common institutional origins of the American and Canadian welfare systems, it would be hard to pin this divergence on the US’s poor law legacy which Canada obviously shares as a former colony.

In my next post, I’ll explore the possible alternative explanations for why the US currently lacks an NIT program for families.

  • Fallon

    Straw man argument, Josh. The question is not about political feasibility. Canada or the US state may legislate and impose technologies that bring about BIG. The problem is answering core economic questions– e.g. what really happens when the price system is erased, distorted and aborted on such a massive scale? Besides the destruction of profit/loss feedback that comes with the plunder– a state welfare system requires diverting yet more resources creating a administrative and security state. Socialism, even as modest as a BIG, means tightened border and internal regulation, especially to keep poor immigrants out and rich tax sheep in. Now, just because there is destruction of overall trade and production accounted by market means under BIG does not mean it cannot be made somewhat stable– if the majority wants it. But positive econometric charts cannot capture the economic consequences.

    • “Straw man argument” doesn’t just mean “argument I personally am not interested in.”

      • Fallon

        You speak for yourself here?

    • Josh McCabe

      Fallon, it seems to me that your question is about the consequences of BIG rather than the factors that contribute to the introduction (or non-introduction in this case) of BIG in the first place. Rather than a “straw man argument,” I think it’s a matter of “answering a totally different question” which, as Matt points out, you may or may not be interested in answering.
      That said, I’m not so sure that the political consequences that you mention are likely to occur on a “massive scale” if something like what I propose for the US is introduced in the future. Countries with similar policies to the one I will be proposing actually do quite well on the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) index. This includes New Zealand (#3), Canada (#8), Australia (#10), and the UK (#12). Of course, it is undeniable that such policies have tradeoffs on the margin but that’s a discussion for another day.

      • Fallon

        Ok, I see your point. I could be anticipating here. I am still right. You have to prove that BIG delivers the goods– and it does get to the core of reasoning and epistemology. It makes no sense to moralize and think about ways and means to bring about some particular policy– if one can determine it a bad idea by simple application of economics. This holistic thinking appears inconvenient, I know. With a world to save and all…

        btw, The EFW also does not capture “trade-offs” of the nature I am speaking
        of. Aggregates and statistics can easily conceal the real damage. Just look at the vagueness in your descriptive language. Now, you may say that private property and exchange don’t matter that much– as long it is only muted by x much and so on. But what would this kind of rationalism imply? And why stop at mere BIG? Think of the possibilities!

        • Josh McCabe

          Fallon, I really don’t have prove anything about the consequences of BIG here just as one does not need to prove rent-seeking or colonialism or pizza “delivers the goods” in order to explain how or why rent-seeking or colonialism or pizza might occur. Think Max Weber’s call for “werfrei” science. There’s a very good reason the word “positive” appears in the title of the post. I’m not making a normative argument. I would think that someone who thinks BIG is a terrible idea would want to know under what circumstances it might be introduced just as much as an advocate of BIG. Whether you think this makes any sense is a personal opinion. If not, I guess there’s really no point in commenting, right?

          • Fallon

            Such hostility. Evidence that I am on to something here. I agreed with your original statement, anyway. It is interesting how some policy may be brought to life. Ideology, power, historical opportunity… It’s all good. I granted you that.

            I tend to think I am invoking wertfreiheit in economic criticism. I am using Weber’s friend Mises as a source. That implementation of BIG will come at economic costs-destructive ones- is not a normative judgment. Even if a BIG is the moral high road. Even if all other government activities are cut to the bone to make room for it.

            If at the end of your discussions, and this is now really my personal judgment, you and Matt come out against BIG I will be very surprised. This is what probably pisses you off. i see you comin’ ten thousand miles away. Maybe i’m wrong.

          • Josh McCabe

            No hostility here but you’re still not getting the point. It doesn’t matter whether or not I “come out against BIG” for the purposes of the argument I’ve put forth in the post. Despite this, you still feel the urge to label one me (and Matt for some reason) way or the other in order to play “gotcha” about a totally irrelevant point. There are lots of other threads about the consequences of BIG on this blog. Your comments would be more pertinent there.

          • Fallon

            I conceded your point earlier. However, I notice that several others are also jumping the gun like me in discussing the pros and cons of the policy itself. Are you going to admonish them too? And what label have I applied to you? I am not sure I gave you one. What was it? Remind me.

            Now, the charges at BIG as economic destruction stand. You can wish it away and make it emotional if you want. It does not change anything. The core basis of my charge is the calculation argument as delineated by Mises. There is a possibility that it Mises is indeed wrong: maybe the rationalist-constructivism that underpins justification for BIG trumps the so-called need for profit/loss accounting, private property and exchange, etc.

            This still could pertain directly to your post– since it could be included as yet another obstacle to BIG implementation, reasonable or not, easily ignored or not.

  • j r

    Given the history of Great Society and the absolute disregard that the architects of our current welfare system showed for both labor market incentives and the cultural aspects of poverty, it’s nor surprising that there is widespread apprehension about the prospects of a BIG. Up until very recently I held many of those apprehensions.

    Most notably, I had a belief that the welfare system is extremely dehumanizing and a belief that people are better off working than sitting idle. I still roughly believe these things, but with certain caveats. The welfare system is most certainly dehumanizing, but not because giving people stuff is inherently dehumanizing. The welfare system is dehumanizing because… because it just is. In part it was designed to be and in part no had the incentive to make it any other way. We give lots of money to farmers and they remain one of the best-regarded segments of our society.

    Also, idleness is something to be careful of, but a job is not the antidote to idleness. Lots of people with jobs spend lots of time doing nothing particularly useful. In the coming years, I think we will see more of a clear divergence between meaningful work and simply having a job.

    As for the political economy, it seems fairly straightforward. American politics is inhabited by two large homogeneous, but fairly consistent blocs, the left and the right, and neither side has any reason to support a BIG. The right, despite their rhetoric, has no problem handing out money to people, but they need to be of the preferred demographic (farmers, senior citizens and defense workers all qualify). The left has no problem offering their putative support to they types of people who would most benefit from a BIG, but a simple cash transfers would bypass all the convoluted social engineering schemes that demonstrate how much progressives really care. And progressives tend to care much more about caring than they do about actual results.

    • Sean II

      Two questions the basic income crowd can never escape:

      1) If the income is indeed sufficient to live, it will necessarily cause some people who could work not to – specifically, those with very low marginal productivity and very high time-preference for leisure, otherwise known as today’s “least well off”. Is it really a good idea, in the name of justice or utility or any other moral standard, to deliberately relegate this group of people – already at increased risk for every problem you can think of – to a condition of permanent unemployment?

      2) Are you kidding? Have you ever met these characters? If you give them one UBI check on January 1st, it’ll be gone by Valentine’s Day. If you give them 12 payments on the 1st of each month, they’ll be broke by the 15th. If you try to prevent this by trickling the money out in 52 equal payments, they’ll be at a payday loan store faster than you can say “dental jewelry”. If you specifically bar them from payday lending, well…the now-dormant illegal loanshark industry will thank you kindly for the re-boot. And so on…

      • good_in_theory

        Well, if they’re actually so called “ZMP” (or worse) employees, they’re going to be systematically relegated to a condition of permanent unemployment already, aren’t they?

        • Sean II

          No. A worker with zero or negative marginal revenue product is likely, though not certain, to be unemployed. Better to say that in the long run and as a group, such workers will tend to be unemployed.

          The problem with a guaranteed basic income is, it makes that group even bigger by drawing in a bunch of low marginal revenue product workers who would not otherwise be unemployed.

          Given a bell curve, there must be a lot more LMPs than there are ZMPs or NMPs, meaning…the impact might be quite significant.

          By the way…when you say “so-called” ZMP employees, do you mean to suggest that there is no such thing?

      • Josh McCabe

        Sean, that sounds like a series of stereotypes rather than any real characterization of the poor. You throw around low marginal productivity and high time-preference like those are essentialist characteristics of the poor rather than responses to particular institutional or structural environments. Lots of fundamental attribution error here.

        • Sean II

          Look, I’m not trying to trump you out here, and this is absolutely not some cheap rhetorical question, but how much contact have you had with the long-term poor?

          I’m not talking about the statistical poor, like the Zuccotti park kids who have a net worth of -$150,000, but who will eventually do much better.

          I’m talking about the inter-generation poor, the people in the projects and the trailer parks. Have you met them? Or maybe – because this isn’t a bad substitute – have you met people who work closely with them?

          Because if you haven’t, then you can’t really know how much of my attribution is in error. The problems of poor people might be intrinsic or extrinsic, and very likely of course, they are some mixture of both. But unless you know the poor, it seems foolish to rule out intrinsic causes from a distance…just because the results are more depressing.

          My appraisal includes first-hand observation of the poor, and those who work closely with them. It is not a pretty sight.

          • Josh McCabe

            I was born and raised in Lowell, MA (subject of such inspirational movies as High on Crack Street and The Fighter) and also worked in social services (homeless shelter, substance abuse rehabilitation) for several years in Lowell and nearby Lawrence.
            Moreover, there’s a huge sociological literature on the everyday lives of the poor which contradicts all of the stereotypes you mention above. Not to trump you out either but how familiar with this literature are you?

          • Sean II

            Not very, but quite enough to know such literature is mostly worthless. The blank slate, nurture-takes-all orthodoxy of the last 100 years made sure of that. Nearly the whole of social science now stands in need of a fresh start, to erase years of wishful thinking (motivated reasoning?).

            The sad fact is, all those grad students and all those grants never could explain why High on Crack Street happens in Lowell instead of say, Billerica. And they never stopped pretending not to notice the very parsimonious explanation, staring them right in the face.

            We’re a bit closer now, thanks mostly to the fact that it is FINALLY becoming okay (for science anyway) to say: “Take a look at those poor souls in Lowell. Might there be something within that stops them thriving as they should?”

            None of which is to deny all the nasty business going on without: the occupational licenses, the minimum wages, the taxes, the hideous things those taxes buy, etc.

            Still, it’s not too soon to say that we badly underpriced intrinsic factors for a century, and are due for a costly reckoning now.

          • Josh McCabe

            “Not very, but quite enough to know such literature is mostly worthless.”
            Really dude? That statement is quite enough for me to know that anything you say about the topic is mostly worthless. Shame on you for dismissing an entire literature while remaining in ignorance of it.

          • Sean II

            The real shame, young Joshua, comes not from ignoring the literature, but from ignoring reality.

            You won’t be able to do it forever. In the meantime those stereotypes you want so badly to dismiss are real, they are important, they have causes, they have consequences, and they are still far too little studied and understood. Pity.

          • j r

            You reference reality as if it’s just this easily discernible, common-sense thing that you just have to open your eyes to see.

            When it comes to the reality of the poor, the academic literature certainly has issues, but so does your faux-common sense take on who the poor “really are.”

          • Sean II

            “…as if it’s just this easily discernible, common-sense thing that you just have to open your eyes to see…”

            Sometimes it is, and a well-known intellectual virtue teaches us to at least start by opening our eyes and taking in the prima facie evidence. Rarely should that be the only step, but it is a fine place to begin.

            One thing that hits you right in the face when studying poverty in modern 1st world states is to ask “What if the very poor are different from you and me?”

            The answer is not obvious, but the question surely is. And social science has indeed been very stubborn about pretending that question doesn’t exist. Notice how Josh has it on deep background assumption that the poor are only different in so far as they have less money.

            But when you see them, they are different in so many ways: speech, clothing, habits, tastes, mores, etc. In many cases, JR, the difference is opposite to what a purely environmental theory would predict. Why, for example, do they buy more lottery tickets when they have less to spend? Why do they drink and smoke more, when they are less able to bear the costs? Why, when they come into sudden money, do they fare so poorly? Why do most efforts to help them fail, or end in only very limited success?

            I submit that if you can face all those question and not at least consider “maybe it’s them“, your mind must be tightly closed.

          • genemarsh

            What a performance, Sean II. Bullying, cruel, and 100% right about everything, you crave and create conflict and never give an inch to those with the knowledge and experience to challenge your socio-political improvisations; how you and only you know the score on the poor, based on your eyewitness observations(“it’s not a pretty sight”) of the lazy gold-tooth-wearing lottery-ticket-buying cellphone-fortunate stupid brain-damaged subhuman species for whom-nothing-can-be-done; the good times/the jeffersons/fat albert cartoon ethnographical anaysis you shit out when you extemporize on the lower castes from such a great height; sounding like your on the shakey build to the climax to a raged-out stormfront hall monitor’s class presentation: “exterminate the brutes!”
            Then, as if to realize you’ve gone to far, you catch yourself and rapidly wipe your brow and make a schizy jerk back into left-blaming coz “if it weren’t for occupational licenses and minimum wages we might afford fresh sawdust for their habitrails”.
            Nay, shitfuck, YOU are and cannot pretend you aren;t the same age-old enemy of the poor they’ve always faced. People like you have always been their worst nightmare. Listen to your argument for how ESSENTIALLY ALIEN they are:
            “when you see them, they are different in so many ways: speech, clothing, habits, tastes, mores”.
            Which one of those traits is NOT a surface quality, fucker?
            Hilarious how you challenge Josh “how much contact have you had with the long-term poor?” [you probably get weak-kneed and hear the intro to “welcome to the jungle” when you wait in line at the dmv]. When it turns out he has all the contact your lack, and then asks you your knowledge of the literature of people who actually communicate with, and embed themselves in the lives of “them poors” you write off the entire global body of knowledge about human behaviour as unworthy of serious consideration compared to your less than 6 lifetime hours of accumulated downtime furtively watching ghetto youth at leisure from across the burger king dining room.

            Because you so insistently instruct others in error I hope you don’t have any kids.
            Actually the greatest fate that could befall a luciferian libertarian like you would be to be sterilized by the state.

            because

            “When someone is 55 percent right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone in 60 percent right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75 percent right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100 percent right? Whoever says he’s 100 percent right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.”

            -an old Jew from Galacia

      • j r

        My thoughts:

        1) I don’t like making predictions about the future; like Yogi Berra said, it’s hard. We can, however, talk broadly of possible trends and what those trends might mean. In terms of employment, there are two broad possible trends. The likely one is that productivity will continue to increase and we’ll be in a world where fewer and fewer people will be able to make more and more stuff, thus increasing our ZMP problem. In that future, I don’t see the point in forcing people into jobs. It’s possible, even likely, that some technology shock (positive or negative) will alter the present trajectory, but if that’s the case then the demand for labor will assert itself BIG or not.

        2) Yes, I’ve met these characters. I even grew up among some of them. And the whole notion that you can meaningfully paint an entire segment of the population as mentally or morally deficient is absurd. There are certainly negative pathologies among the poor, just like there are negative pathologies among the rich and the working class. And as Josh McCabe has pointed out, many of the pathologies of the poor arise from the condition of the poor.

        Bottom line for me is that until the dawning of the great libertarian utopia, the government will have to choose some sort of policy regarding the social services, even if that policy is to have no social services. Of the range of possible policies, from nothing to cradle-to-grave welfare state, I just think that BIG, enacted through a simple, possibly conditional cash transfer program, is the least disruptive and most moral means to pursue. Also, considering the status quo, it represents an achievable set of of marginal improvements.

        • Sean II

          “And as Josh McCabe has pointed out, many of the pathologies of the poor arise from the condition of the poor.”

          No. No such thing is known or has been shown. That is merely a working assumption in Josh’s field, and not at all a proven path of causation in real life.

          Indeed, we have lots of evidence against it. The experiment made famous by Trading Places is run thousands of times per year. The test bed is called professional sports, and the results clearly show that those pathologies are NOT cured by even impressive doses of wealth.

          Nurture had a good run, but in the end got its ass kicked by twin studies, bad predictions, and ruinous policies.

          It’s time we started working on the other assumption for a while: “What if poverty is the consequence, and those pathologies are symptoms of another cause.”

          • j r

            The whole notion of nature vs. nurture is spurious. Nature and nurture exist in a continuous circle of causality better simply described as human development. Your idea, that since the progressive blank slate crowd must be wrong, then the nature crowd must be right, is flawed. They can both be wrong.

            If you can’t see the myriad of ways that we have and still are actively stifling human development among the underclasses, then you’re just not paying attention.

            To put it another way, just because the poor find all sorts of ways to harm themselves, doesn’t exclude the possibility that our system does them further harm. For instance, drug abuse is a largely self-inflicted harm, but it is compounded by the drug war. Inability to succeed within the education system may to a large extent be inherited, but it is made worse by the crappy government education monopoly that exists in poor neighborhoods. The unwillingness to work and keep a job is a personality flaw, but it is made worse by various forms of discrimination and a nonsensical regulatory regime.

            The fundamental problem is that both the right and the left want to use poverty as a morality tale. The right wants to believe that poor people are to blame for everything that befalls them to make themselves seem more moral and more hard-working. And the left wants perpetually portray the poor as hapless victims to demonstrate their own moral superiority in caring more.

            As someone who has no allegiance to either side, all of this is quite clear. To me, the question then becomes: how do you make marginal improvements to the current system that lessens the harm currently being done?

          • Sean II

            1) “Your idea, that since the progressive blank slate crowd must be wrong, then the nature crowd must be right, is flawed.”

            That’d be a strange thing to think, if I ever thought it. What I actually believe is that the left (flogging class, environment, etc.) and the right (flogging free will) have BOTH worked hard to stifle discussion about the role of nature in human behavior, and to make life difficult for those who run the blockade. Of course this does NOT mean that nature gets an automatic win on any point. But it certainly should mean we stop locking it out of the room. Please remember…I was responding to Josh in this thread, for he seems a good enough example of the old way – i.e. there’s no evidence he gives nature even a halfway decent look, or considers it as anything more than a pin to set-up, knock-down.

            My big complaint is: at this point, if you talk about poverty without talking about IQ etc., you’re just guilty of malpractice. It doesn’t have to win every argument, but it can no longer responsibly be ignored.

            2) “To put it another way, just because the poor find all sorts of ways to harm themselves, doesn’t exclude the possibility that our system does them further harm.”

            Well of course not. I never said it did. In fact, I mention that every fifth comment or so, often using the same example you just gave, the drug war…along with occupation licensing, the minimum wage, etc.

            My big crusade is: libertarians often come off like were promising big improvements for the bottom 5%. Only give us our reforms, and watch them flourish, right?

            I have my doubts, and I think we should really stop making or implying such promises. We have a strong enough case in that the state never did our friends at the bottom any favors, and a more productive society is bound to throw them even bigger crumbs.

            But let’s not pretend they’re going wake up winners one morning, just because their typically none-too-bright kids finally get to PICK the school where they mostly aren’t learning.

          • j r

            I think that we are largely in agreement. And again, all of this comes down to why I think that the BIG, of all available social safety net mechanisms, is the best one we have available. I neither claim that a BIG is some panacea that will turn every ghetto into the next Park Slope nor do I think that is even desirable.

            Here is where we may have some disagreement:

            My big complaint is: at this point, if you talk about poverty without talking about IQ etc., you’re just guilty of malpractice.

            I roughly agree, but I honestly don’t see what the gains are to focusing on IQ. IQ matters, but lots of things matter, so I’m not sure why, especially as a libertarian, I want to concede that this one factor plays some deterministic role in deciding life outcomes. I’d rather work to level the playing field, let the chips fall where they may, and enact some system that keeps the losers from falling too far below everyone else.

            After all, why should society be structured purely for the benefit of the cognitive elite? Someone with a an IQ of 95 may never graduate from an elite university or work for Googe, McKinsey or Goldman Sachs, but that doesn’t mean they ought to be relegated to a life spent shuffling between housing projects and trailer parks and jails and dead end-make work jobs.

          • Sean II

            1) “I’m not sure why, especially as a libertarian, I want to concede that this one factor plays some deterministic role in deciding life outcomes.”

            Just one reason: because general intelligence is probably the single most important attribute of humans, and the one that makes us human. Being a libertarian just has nothing to do with it.

            2) “After all, why should society be structured purely for the benefit of the cognitive elite?”

            I didn’t say it SHOULD. In fact you’ve got it backwards. The folks who want to treat 85 IQ people as if they are no different from 115 IQ people, are the ones arguing for a society built to the elite.

            Hell, that’s roughly the society we have now – one that ignores IQ differences, and instead seeks to explain life’s losers by saying either they’re lazy (the right) or they’re unlucky/oppressed (the left).

            3) “Someone with a an IQ of 95 may never…but that doesn’t mean they ought to be relegated to a life spent shuffling between housing projects and trailer parks and jails and dead end-make work jobs.”

            Two things here. First, who said anything about OUGHT? Certainly not me. It says a lot about the depths of nature denialism that a guy like me who has the bad taste to bring up IQ differences, is automatically assumed to be someone who WANTS to live in Brave New World. On the contrary, I hate it, and I never stop wishing it wasn’t true.

            Second, not to nitpick your number but simply for the sake of clarity, the 95 IQers are NOT the problem. A person in that range is slightly below average, but still fully capable of a flourishing human life. The folks I’m worried about are the ones below 85.

          • Sean II

            Forget to add: this whole IQ question really is central to the desirability of the UBI.

            The more innate problems like low intelligence, poor impulse control, etc, have to do with causing poverty, the less effective a cash-based welfare program will be for the chronic poor. (I grant you of course, that a UBI would be ideal for helping the temporary poor like college students taking a year off, single moms who want to escape abusive assholes, bankrupt entrepreneurs, etc.)

            Libertarians often look at anti-choice aspects of social policy – all those bans, conditions, in-kind benefits, etc – and assume they were invented out of some pure evil, hand-rubbing statist malice.

            I’m here to tell you: spend some time with the poorest of the poor, and you too will find yourself tempted by the thought that helping them and taking away their choices are one and the same thing.

          • j r

            I think you are reacting to an argument that I’m not making. I don’t think that UBI is a panacea. There will always be some subset of people who, no matter how matter how much goes right for them, will find a way to eff it up. My problem with IQ determinism is this idea that you can identify in advance who will succeed and who will fail.

            Even if you could go to an inner-city elementary school and accurately predict that 60 percent of those kids are destined to end up in poverty, you still wouldn’t be able to accurately predict which 60 percent. So yes, from a legal, moral and economic standpoint, we ought to treat someone with an IQ of 85 the same as we treat someone with an IQ of 115. I’m happy to let the market and the overall randomness of the universe decide outcomes.

            What I want is a structure that freely allows this sorting to take place and maintains a minimum standard of living for those who would otherwise fall completely off the economic ladder. If you’ve got a better mechanism for that than a UBI, I’m all ears.

          • Sean II

            “If you’ve got a better mechanism for that than a UBI, I’m all ears.”

            Well, one possible option is the old school libertarian solution: put it down to private charity.

            Why might that be better? Because a series of private groups competing to help the bottom %5 might find a better way, they might discover the right mix of cash, in-kind benefits, moral conditions, tough love, etc.

            As government programs often do, a UBI comes along and crowds out all that competition. Why should a homeless man take $7 from a church lady who tries to stop him drinking, when he can take $6 from a state that says “drink up, boy!”

            We’re supposed to be concerned with the fate of the WORST off, right? Not just the not-well-off, but the worst off. All I’m saying is…armed with an admittedly powerful instrument like a UBI, the state might very well fuck up that project like it does every other.

          • j r

            First of all let me applaud you for being one of the few people in this conversation actually voicing legit reasons why a a UBI is a bad idea as opposed to getting a foamy about how it’s not libertarian.

            In a different world, I would agree with you. In a more libertarian world, I would agree with your more libertarian solution. However, we don’t live in that world. We live in a word where the poor not only have to overcome their innate hardships, but a whole slew of imposed hardships. There’s a role for private charity, but it’s a classic case of market failure where private charity alone simply won’t be able to generate the necessary level of resources to overcome all of the other crappy things that the government does.

            One of the crappy things that the government does is force people into a dehumanizing bureaucratic hell to get access to basic services. Since I don’t think we are going to eliminate all the crappy things that the government does, I would at least like to get rid of that dehumanizing bureaucracy and replace it with a simple transfer. If I could make it all go away I would, but that’s not going to happen.

            Put another way: If I have to choose between a world in which the government locks people up for all sorts of non-violent offenses, prohibits people from working for wages below an arbitrary price floor, enforces a monopoly of shitty educational choices for poor children, and provides people with a small UBI or a world in which the government locks people up for all sorts of non-violent offenses, prohibits people from working for wages below an arbitrary price, enforces a monopoly of shitty educational choices on poor children, and provides no social safety net, then I choose the former.

            Also, all of those things that we do to subsidize the lifestyles and preferences of the wealthy and the middle class, that ain’t going away either. It seems a bit weird to insist that the poor are the one area where we really have to start enforcing some fiscal discipline.

          • Sean II

            “It seems a bit weird to insist that the poor are the one area where we really have to start enforcing some fiscal discipline.”

            Add that to the list of things I never thought or said. Obviously the order of operations in dismantling the state should start with the pentagon and the drug war and end – way, way down the list – with a close look at medicaid and the like.

            I merely raise the question: would a UBI in fact fail to help the least well off, and become just another form of middle class welfare, with most of the cash going to mid-20s suburban brats who are poor only on paper, as they cleverly scheme to extend the couch-crashing glory of those 5.5 years they wasted on a B.A.

            Funny thing is: we’re safely in academic territory here, because I think we both know that if a UBI didn’t happen in the early 70s, it sure as hell ain’t happening now.

  • martinbrock

    If we’re contemplating a basic income guarantee, why not expect able people to work for it? Why not a basic employment guarantee instead? Central authorities need not organize the labor. Instead of distributing money to the unemployed, the state distributes it to everyone else. People have so much money to spend employing people not otherwise employed and may not spend this money otherwise. People may pool their money to employ the otherwise unemployed within organizations. Some of these organizations produce goods and services for sale and become self-sustaining.

    • Josh McCabe

      Historically, the US has not been politically conducive to jobs programs of any kind (aside from the military if we want to think of it in this way). Margaret Weir’s Politics and Jobs (1993) is the go-to source on this topic. It may be a good idea (Sweden thinks so) but the prospects for introducing something like that in the US are probably pretty slim.

      • martinbrock

        The military, peace corps, job corps and other state programs are jobs programs, but I suppose you’re right. A BIG (other than the ad hoc measures discussed in the post) doesn’t seem to be on the horizon either, and you may rest assured that my efforts to introduce either, across the U.S. politically, begin and end with blog posts.

  • Theresa Klein

    I favor having a large standard deduction on income taxes combined with making it extremely easy to self-employ. Elimination of the minimum wage, occupational licensing and other restrictions on small business or independent operators. Complete deregulation of all economic activity engaged in at an individual level, so the unemployed can freely earn money as babysitters, handymen, maids, taxi drivers, selling random stuff on Ebay – anything.

    • martinbrock

      I favor all of that too, but I’m not sure it’s a solution to unemployment and underemployment, especially if “restriction on small business or independent operators” is defined too narrowly. I suppose most intellectual property is such a restriction for example. So are many other things titled “property”.

  • Jerome Bigge

    “IN OUR HANDS” by Charles Murray is a good book covering this idea. As a replacement for Social Security, welfare, Unemployment Compensation, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Social Security Disability, and The Minimum Wage, it might not be very much more expensive than what we spend now when you total everything up. In any case, anyone curious should obtain a copy of Charles Murray’s book from your public library and read it. He does cover most of the aspects of what a BIG would do.

    • Josh McCabe

      Yes, Murray’s book is very interesting, especially in light of Losing Ground! The problem with his proposal is that the US state structure is not conducive to such radical reform. I still think we could see a sort of BIG program in the US but it will be through a process of incremental changes rather than one “big bang.” I’ll talk about this a bit in one of my future posts.

  • Still theft, still reduces incentive and the willingness to take pay cuts.
    ———————–
    Anarcho Capitalism

    • Define ‘theft’, please.

      • TheBrett

        I find it amusing to see anyone calling themselves an anarchist arguing against something on the grounds that it is theft. “Theft” only exists in a system where there is stuff defined as “yours” and “mine”, with those “rights” being protected by . . . . someone or some institution.

        • CbyN

          Maybe you find it amusing because you’re equating anarchy with chaos or “every man for himself”. That’s not what anarchy is, at least for most anarchists, and certainly not for anarchocapitalists. That government [according to an anarchist] has no legitimate authority is what leads to the idea that any coercive redistribution scheme is theft.

          • TheBrett

            “Redistribution” requires the implicit idea that the original “distribution” is somehow more fundamentally legitimate. It’s not – all property rights are ultimately coercive, with the exception of situations where you and I explicitly make a bargain to agree to respect and limit our own rights in certain areas.

          • CbyN

            I assume in your first sentence you’re referring to the concept of “redistribution is theft”. The question is legitimate authority. I shouldn’t have said “any coercive …”, I should have limited it to government. Anarchists aren’t arguing against coercion per se, they’re arguing against government coercion because they see as no way to legitimatize government authority.

      • lmao!

      • adrianratnapala

        Taking peoples’ stuff without their consent.

        • How do we know what is peoples’ stuff? As in, when the government agents come to collect taxes, how do we know if this tax revenue belongs to us or not? Who decides what belongs to whom?

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      The reduced incentives bothers me but I think it could be done in a way that minimizes this. For instance, it could be designed so that low wage workers would only lose one dollar of benefits for every three dollars of wages. This would give a big incentive to people to actually get a job and improve themselves instead of essentially working for nothing if they lose one dollar for every one gained through employment.

      • Lesser of two evils huh? You’re justifications are no better than anyone else’s. You want this system? Find people who agree and make it. But I guarantee you can’t sustain it without force.

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          It is not a matter of what I want it is a matter of political reality. I don’t want to just dismiss you but you sound a bit petulant. In case you have not noticed, what we have in the modern industrialized nations is a far far cry from libertarianism of any sort. Any move which improves matters and gets us further to our goals is better than being ideologically pure and seeing our societies fall further and further into state-ism.

          • You make an unfounded claim that this new shiny object will “make things better” and resort to insults so that you don’t have to answer to it. I’m sure this strategy works very well for you, and it worked this time too. You aren’t worth any time. Come back when your balls have dropped.
            ———————–
            Anarcho Capitalism

  • Mark Rothschild

    Why do advocates of compulsory wealth redistribution want to
    call themselves libertarians (or imply that they are libertarians)? I am truly puzzled why you don’t just call yourselves progressives or liberals and be done with it?

    The question is not rhetorical, I truly don’t get it.

    I’m sure that you are all nice people etc. etc., (most
    progressives are nice people). No ad hominem implied, I just think that it is more
    than misleading to use the libertarian label in this way.

    It would be more straightforward to self-identify as
    progressives or liberals and contrast you views contra libertarianism rather
    than misappropriating that label.

    A frank exchange of views between progressives and libertarians is sadly rare. This is mostly the case because progressives find it uncomfortable. But this blog is a good venue for such a discussion and I would welcome participating.

    However, if one side (e.g. progressives/liberals) insists on
    mislabeling themselves as libertarians the discussion will inevitably be
    confused and confusing to participants and readers too.

    I’d like to know if others agree, and if not, why not.

    • martinbrock

      Any compulsory respect for an exclusive right to anything other than one’s own person is redistributive, since such rights are artifacts, useful or otherwise, and do not exist in nature (outside of human communities regulated by standards of propriety).

      That statement does not oppose property rights. It describes property rights. Since property rights are redistributive in the first instance, the question for people associating freely is not whether to redistribute but how to redistribute.

      • Mark Rothschild

        Martin, I agree with you that property rights do not originate in nature. (the one exception being self-ownership). I was calling attention to the “redistributive state” and asking why someone who advocates that the state be in the business of wealth redistribution would call themselves libertarian.

        I was not attempting to start a normative discussion about property rights (although I don’t mind doing so),

        • I believe Martinbrock’s point was that, if you want to exclude those who favor some form redistribution from using the label “libertarian”, you’ll have hardly any libertarians left. He argues that compulsory respect for property rights is redistributive (and elsewhere I’ve heard him describe it as authoritarian). So, if you think others should be forced to respect your property rights, then according to your use of the term, you cannot call yourself a libertarian.

          • Mark Rothschild

            Nick, I think that you are implying that when the state
            defends someone’s property rights that some kind of redistribution has taken place. Yes, the State thereby does insert itself into the question of lawful ownership of property, but I would claim that redistribution is something else.

            The State’s role must be to punish those who take the property of others illegally (AKA stealing), or the lives of others. In my view, these are proper roles for the
            State. This punishment is not redistribution;
            it is deterring redistribution by punishing the unlawful taking of someone’s property.

            I’m not sure that anyone can create “compulsory respect for property rights”, since you can’t compel respect. You can create deterrence by the likelihood of
            punishment. So, I don’t think anyone should be forced to respect property rights, rather only be made aware that punishment awaits those why violate property rights.

          • I don’t mean “respect” in the sense of an attitude of approval. But your whole argument assumes the existence of some form of property rights. Do these property rights depend on social arrangements (such as, what rational people generally do or would agree to), or are they independently existing? If they depend on social arrangements, then some societies can arrange their property rights systems such that wealth redistribution, like a BIG, is required. In these societies, to not contribute would be a violation of property rights.

            If they are independently existing (and I’m assuming what you believe in is negative rights of non-interference along with the right of homesteading, voluntary transfer, and rectification of injustice), then you’ll need to provide an argument for their existence rather than simply assuming they exist. Otherwise, people who don’t share your assumptions will have different conclusions about what is or is not legitimate. You could call taxation “theft” and they might call not paying taxes “theft”.

          • Mark Rothschild

            Nick,

            Regarding rights, I don’t think that it is possible to “provide an argument for their existence”.

            Do inmates of a concentration camp have rights? If not, may they claim rights and do they need to justify their claims to a third party?

            Does a drowning man have a right to gasp for air? Does he need to justify his right to breathe?

            Again regarding rights, you state that I’ll “need to provide an argument for their existence rather than simply assuming they exist. Otherwise, people who don’t share your assumptions will have different
            conclusions about what is or is not legitimate.”

            Yes, it is true that some people don’t believe in property
            rights. I am sure that these people “will have different conclusions about what is or is not legitimate.”

            There are plenty of reasons why property rights are the foundation of Western civilization, but these rights only “exist” when they are upheld. They come into “existence” with the claim to them.

            In a society of willing slaves there would be no rights
            because no one has claimed rights.

            To put it perhaps bluntly, I don’t have to justify my right
            to exist. Of course this applies to everyone.

            The other rights are just logical extensions of my right to exist. I can no more prove that I have a right to exist than I can prove that vanilla is superior to rocky road ice cream.

            In my opinion, if you try to justify “rights” you will end
            up sliding down the slippery slope toward utilitarianism. And utilitarianism is and has always been a gateway drug to totalitarianism.

          • “To put it perhaps bluntly, I don’t have to justify my right to exist. Of course this applies to everyone.”

            Sure, you don’t have to justify any of your claims, but I guess I agree with Hitchens: “that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” If you want to convince others that you have a right to own some natural resource (i.e., to exclusively use and control it), such that everyone else is morally obligated to keep their hands off of it, it would help to justify your claims. Otherwise, like I said, people with different assumptions might ignore these supposed obligations.

            “In my opinion, if you try to justify “rights” you will end
            up sliding down the slippery slope toward utilitarianism.”

            I don’t need to slide down any slippery slopes since I’m already there. I think the ultimate good and proper end of all action is happiness and the absence of suffering (for all sentient beings affected) and any side-constraints on individual actions should be instrumental towards its promotion.

            “And utilitarianism is and has always been a gateway drug to totalitarianism.”

            This sentence is ambiguous. Do you mean that the conscious adoption of the general happiness as an ultimate end always leads to the suffering associated with totalitarianism? Or do you mean that if we want to promote the maximum amount of total happiness, we ought to establish totalitarianism?

            If the former, then that is not an argument against utilitarianism in theory, but merely a reason to adopt a decision procedure different from the utilitarian calculus on grounds that this alternative decision procedure has better utilitarian results. If the latter, then that sounds like an argument for the merits of totalitarianism.

          • Fallon

            “I agree with Hitchens: “that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” ”

            This is an assertion without evidence, right? What exempts Hitchens from the rules of his own assertion?

          • Well, the assertion that I made is that I agree with Hitchens. The evidence for this is my mental state of agreement which I cannot show you. As for Hitchen’s assertion, you’re free to dismiss it as well. It seems to me to be intuitively reasonable that someone making a claim has a burden of proof. So the evidence for Hitchen’s claim, with which I agree, would be intuition. If you don’t share that intuition, then so be it.

          • martinbrock

            Nicely said.

          • Fallon

            Thanks Nick. I have never heard someone use intuition as defense of empiricist apriorism. Let it be agreed that there is always a point at which any more regression in justification must lead to self evident, however temporary and acknowledged as such, or metaphysical statements.

            Could you clarify what you mean by intuition in this case? Do you mean getting an answer without conscious reasoning or more as if getting a hunch that is derived from reflecting on past experience?

          • I confess I’ve never heard of “empiricist apriorism”. I thought that empiricism and apriorism were at odds.

            I mean intuition in the sense that Hitchen’s proposition is close to if not in fact a conceptual truth. To see this, let’s consider its negation and see if it is contradictory.

            The claim: “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
            The negation: That which can be asserted without evidence canNOT be dismissed without evidence.
            Or: One cannot dismiss without evidence an assertion made without evidence.

            The “cannot” in this sense is an epistemic norm (one epistemically ought not, or one is not epistemically justified in…). “Evidence” I interpret loosely, including more than just sense information but also the sort of intuitions associated with knowing the law of noncontradiction, that bachelors are unmarried, and basic concepts in epistemology. By “dismiss” I mean reject the way a weak atheist rejects the existence of gods (as opposed to the way a strong atheist affirms the nonexistence of gods).

            So: One epistemically ought not reject without evidence an assertion made without evidence.

            The negation of “to reject” is “to accept or affirm as true”. So, substituting this for “not reject”, we get:

            (P) Without evidence (against the assertion), one epistemically ought to affirm an assertion made without evidence.

            Now, I don’t think (P) is a contradiction of purely logical form, but I think on most interpretations of “epistemic ought”, this sentence is contradictory. If not contradictory, it is highly unintuitive and seems false for any reasonable epistemic standard (again, giving a loose interpretation of “evidence”).

            I confess epistemology is one of the fields of philosophy I know the least about (ironically), so if I’ve made a mess of things, then ignore me.

          • good_in_theory

            Hmm, couldn’t one say that ‘if an epistemic standard permits rejecting anything at all,’ it permits us to only reject assertions against which we hold contrary evidence?

            That is, why prefer, “every assertion is assumed true until evidence suggests otherwise” to “every assertion is assumed false until evidence suggests otherwise”? Also, “neither true nor false” might work.

          • “Hmm, couldn’t one say that ‘if an epistemic standard permits rejecting anything at all,’ it permits us to only reject assertions against which we hold contrary evidence?”

            Yes, I missed that. That would be the weakest standard that preserves consistency of beliefs: “We ought to accept any assertion until we have evidence for the negation of the assertion.” We can call this standard “The Cartoon Theist Standard”.

            An obvious (intuitive, though not logical) problem with it is when there is some assertion A such that we don’t have evidence for A or evidence for ~A. Do we simply accept the one out of these two that we thought of first? Or do we switch off from accepting A to ~A back to A while we conceive of each of these.

            Actually, there might be a logical problem with it after all. If we actually have no evidence either for A or ~A, then according to the Cartoon Theist Standard, we ought to accept both A and ~A. So this doesn’t preserve consistency of beliefs if followed literally.

          • good_in_theory

            This would seem to get one into paraconsistent logic, dialetheism, all that jazz. Not sure how that all would really wind back down to earth though.

          • Mark Rothschild

            Nick,

            There is no moral obligation for anyone to respect my rights. I am not asserting that.

            Placing the “general happiness “over individual rights leads to totalitarianism because human nature is imperfect and history has shown that all institutions become corrupt pretty much as a function of the amount of power they accrue.

            Now, it seems to me that creating the “general
            happiness” would require a lot of power over individuals and therefore lead to a lot of corruption, of which totalitarianism is its political expression.

            In my opinion, the particular “decision procedure” used in
            the utilitarian calculus is not significant because of the forgoing.

            Some of Stalin’s commissars were more humane than others, but the distinctions are not very significant because powerful institutions mold men – men do not mold powerful institutions. But of course men can destroy
            them.

            This “general happiness” process (no matter who is in
            charge) will always lead to abuse of power, corruption, and totalitarianism.

            Now, if you can figure out a way to create “general
            happiness” voluntarily, sign me up.

          • “There is no moral obligation for anyone to respect my rights. I am not asserting that.”

            Okay, so government agents don’t have a moral obligation to refrain from collecting taxes from you and redistributing them however they feel like it? What kind of rights do you believe in that don’t place moral obligations on others. I thought that was the whole point of rights (X has a right to Y if and only if X has moral permission to Y and everyone else has a moral obligation to refrain from interfering with X doing Y).

            “Placing the “general happiness “over individual rights leads to totalitarianism because human nature is imperfect and history has shown that all institutions become corrupt pretty much as a function of the amount of power they accrue.”

            I don’t understand. Why would adopting the general happiness as an ultimate end require a totalitarian government as opposed to a libertarian society? You don’t think libertarianism leads to general happiness? You think there would be more happiness in a totalitarian system?

            Let me ask a simpler question. Do you object to maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering as a worthy goal, or do you object to what you think the means will have to be to achieve it? In other words, do you object to utilitarian MEANS or utilitarian ENDS (or both?).

          • Mark Rothschild

            Nick,

            You’ve asked interesting questions and I try to be as
            specific as I can in answering g them.

            “What kind of rights do you believe in that don’t place
            moral obligations on others?”

            The concept of moral obligation that you refer to seems
            strange to me. I don’t believe that I have any moral obligations except those that I acknowledge freely. I am not aware of any moral obligations that have been “placed on me”, nor would I attempt to “place” moral obligations on anyone else.

            My rights exist because I acknowledge them, not because
            others acknowledge them. My view of rights is that rights are a priori and self-referential. So, following this logic, I have a right to exist and I do not need to refer to any other person to validate this right.

            “Why would adopting the general happiness as an ultimate end require a totalitarian government as opposed to a libertarian society?”

            If the project of creating “general happiness” did not impinge into the domain of individual liberty, then the two could co-exist happily in the same society. The problem is that the project of “general happiness” is unbounded in scope. There is no implicit boundary between “general
            happiness” and individual rights.

            Because the boundary is not implicit this boundary must be demarcated by fallible human beings.

            (BTW, History shows that these human beings will create destruction and misery in proportion to the power they accrue. These consequences are important, but not
            mentioned as a justification for “rights” as such.)

            I don’t know what kind of “general happiness” you are
            advocating, but can I assume that it allows the State to forcibly redistribute property? If so, count me out.

            “You don’t think libertarianism leads to general happiness?“

            I don’t know and I’ve never given it any thought. Why is that an important question? Is the point of life to be happy? This seems to me to be a rather primitive idea.

            “You think there would be more happiness in a totalitarian
            system?”

            I can’t answer this question because I don’t know what is meant by “happiness” in the context. Are you looking at personal subjective happiness or some kind of social welfare metric?

            “do you object to utilitarian MEANS or utilitarian ENDS (or
            both?)”

            I object to the logic of utilitarianism because the “means” and “ends “are both implicit in its logic. As I see it, the means of utilitarianism impinge on individual rights, so I object on that ground. The “ends” or purpose of
            utilitarianism is in itself evil because it is based on the idea that your need for happiness entitles you to my property. This is just a meme for legitimizing avarice.

            BTW, none of the forgoing implies indifference to the suffering of others. Redistribution, when it occurs
            voluntarily (e.g. charity) is a good thing.

          • “I don’t believe that I have any moral obligations except those that I acknowledge freely. I am not aware of any moral obligations that have been “placed on me”, nor would I attempt to “place” moral obligations on anyone else.”

            Okay, so you have a sort of anti-realist view whereby you “create” morality by freely acknowledging some action as right. So, on your view, another person has no reason to not kill you or take your possessions unless he freely acknowledges that it is wrong to do so. There is nothing inconsistent about your view, but you’ll have a hard time convincing others to do anything, since you seem to hold a version of moral relativism.

            “My rights exist because I acknowledge them, not because others acknowledge them. My view of rights is that rights are a priori and self-referential. So, following this logic, I have a right to exist and I do not need to refer to any other person to validate this right.”

            I don’t understand your rights. You acknowledge that you have the right to life, but you don’t think that others need to acknowledge them and you don’t think they place a moral obligation on others? So do you not think others have a moral obligation to refrain from killing you?

            “Is the point of life to be happy? This seems to me to be a rather primitive idea.”

            I think it is the “point” in the sense of the correct or proper end from a consequentialist point of view. Not the “point” in a religious sense of there being a creator who intentionally created life with a purpose. And perhaps it is primitive. I happen to include the well-being of non-humans in my circle of moral consideration, so perhaps that furthers this idea of it being primitive, since it applies to primitive animals as well.

            And rights that are anything but instrumental towards well-being seem like rhetorical devices to me, rather than anything real or morally binding.

            “I can’t answer this question because I don’t know what is meant by “happiness” in the context. Are you looking at personal subjective happiness or some kind of social welfare metric?”

            I’m talking about pleasant and unpleasant mental states that come in degrees of intensity as well as duration. It is subjective in the sense of being processes of minds/brains but objective in the sense of not depending on attitudes or opinions. As in, I believe it is an objective fact whether or not someone is in a pleasant or unpleasant mental state, although it may not be a publically accessible phenomenon (or as publically accessible as it is privately accessible).

            “BTW, none of the forgoing implies indifference to the suffering of others. Redistribution, when it occurs voluntarily (e.g. charity) is a good thing.”

            You’re correct that it doesn’t imply a total indifference to suffering. But it does imply an indifference to suffering to a certain extent, because you believe that rights should not be violated even when the only way to avoid a large amount of suffering is to do so. It’s true that respecting rights and preventing suffering will largely coincide, and when it does, you and i will agree about what to do. But when they don’t coincide is where you and I will diverge on policy matters. I will support those policies that violate your rights but prevent large amounts of suffering, and you will support those policies that uphold rights but permit avoidable suffering.

            But again, according to your moral view, your rights don’t place any obligation on me. So from your point of view, I have no reason to not violate your rights. If I’ve misunderstood and mischaracterized your position, then I apologize.

          • Mark Rothschild

            Nick,

            I’ll explain.

            “So, on your view, another person has no reason to not kill you or take your possessions unless he freely acknowledges that it is wrong to do so?”

            I think there is a problem for me understanding this question by your use of the word “reason”.

            My view is that this other person has no moral “obligation”
            to refrain from trammeling my rights. If he did have an obligation where would this obligation originate? Where is this moral obligation to be found in nature? The fact that we find it in the Bible is interesting and important, but is not dispositive politically.

            I think that the concept of extrinsic moral obligation lies at
            the root of consequentialist/utilitarian ideas. These ideas serve to legitimate collectivism and in my view this
            legitimization is the ultimate source of their popularity.

            But to be fair, I do understand the idea that a decent
            person should be willing to give up some small amount of comfort/happiness/property if it would make a big difference in someone else’s life. I’d call this charity –
            clearly a virtue. My opinion is that problems
            occur when this is elevated to an extrinsic obligation enforced by the state.

            Your post characterized my point of view accurately. I’ve enjoyed the conversation and learned quite a bit. Thanks!

          • “My view is that this other person has no moral “obligation” to refrain from trammeling my rights. If he did have an obligation where would this obligation originate? Where is this moral obligation to be found in nature? The fact that we find it in the Bible is interesting and important, but is not dispositive politically.”

            Here we are in full agreement. I think there are serious metaphysical and epistemological problems with both natural rights and divine rights. I think your anti-realist position avoids these problems, because it is grounded on things we know exist (individuals’ evaluate attitudes).

            “I think that the concept of extrinsic moral obligation lies at the root of consequentialist/utilitarian ideas. These ideas serve to legitimate collectivism and in my view this
            legitimization is the ultimate source of their popularity.”

            Perhaps you’re right about why others prefer a utilitarian view, but I accept it because I believe it is correct (as in, the true moral theory, much like you believe your moral theory is true). I don’t think it necessary legitimizes collectivism, nor is legitimizing collectivism a goal of mine. My goal is maximizing enjoyment and minimizing suffering by any means necessary, be it libertarian or otherwise.

            “But to be fair, I do understand the idea that a decent person should be willing to give up some small amount of comfort/happiness/property if it would make a big difference in someone else’s life. I’d call this charity –
            clearly a virtue.”

            I couldn’t agree more.

        • martinbrock

          Nick understands my intention; however, I accept your point. Earlier in this thread, I discuss a basic employment guarantee (BEG) as opposed to a basic income guarantee. If the United State enacts either of these guarantees, I don’t call the enactment “libertarian”, even if the BEG involves no “redistribution” in the strict sense of the word suggested.

          So why would I call myself a libertarian and yet propose a BEG? First, in my way of thinking, a free community could establish a BEG without violating any libertarian principle. The U.S. enactment of a BEG is not libertarian because the U.S. is not a free community, not because a BEG is fundamentally anti-liberty.

          Second, though I am a radical minarchist (and more nearly an anarchist than most people claiming the distinction) ideally, I also live in the real world. I also discuss intellectual property rights, like software patents, that other people calling themselves “libertarians” advocate, even though libertarians in my faction oppose this IP as anti-liberty.

          Since all sorts of state enactments are anti-liberty, as a practical matter, I favor some of these enactments over others, though I’m not very politically active, so my favor amounts to little more than blog comments.

          States impose all sorts of monopoly rents to benefit their constituents and harm their enemies. These impositions channel resources away from employment opportunity and toward the consumption of constituents and other, more destructive ends.

          This diminution of employment opportunity harms common people. Maybe my libertarian ideal is the best of all possible solutions to this problem, but I can’t know that in reality. I can only accept it as a tenet of faith, and I do. Regardless, the problem exists and harms many people in reality, and my ideal is not about to solve the problem, so other solutions are on the table, even among proper libertarians.

          • Mark Rothschild

            Martin, I accept your point that a voluntary BEG does not violate anyone’s property rights. So, as you mention, if
            a community of people get together and each person voluntarily agrees to provide some share toward a BEG this does not do violence to anyone’s rights.

            Whether this is a good idea or a plausible scenario in the
            real world is another issue.

            I also do agree that intellectual property rights are problematical.

            Sorry, but I did not understand your point about monopoly rents.

          • martinbrock

            The classical monopoly rent is the marginal value of an unimproved parcel of land. Unimproved land has a market value, and this value cannot be attributed to the labor of a proprietor, so the value of the land to the proprietor is entirely a product of his right to exclude others from using the parcel without this consent, i.e. it’s the product of his monopolization of the parcel.

            I don’t oppose these rents in general, and I’m not a Georgist, so I don’t want the rents taxed away from proprietors either, but I sympathize to some extent with progressive consumption tax proposals. These proposals are not about raising tax revenue for the state (or a community’s administrative authorities) in my way of thinking. They’re about requiring proprietors to reinvest monopoly rents rather than consuming them. Ideally, a progressive consumption tax raises no revenue, so it doesn’t take anything away from a proprietor. It only encourages him to invest more and consume less.

            Monopoly rents more generally are too numerous to itemize, but they include patent royalties, entitlement to tax revenue (like Treasury securities and contracts for business with the state), the value of excluding competition from unlicensed professionals, the value of excluding competitors through other regulatory barriers to market entry and so on.

            States are all about rent seeking, i.e. they’re all about proprietors using the exclusive powers of the state to increase the value of their property, without laboring to add value, by excluding competition, either competition for use of the particular resources or competition from other proprietors of similar resources. Rent seeking moves investment to the consumption of a few proprietors by reducing competition, and by reducing investment this way, it reduces the employment opportunity of people excluded from competing.

          • Mark Rothschild

            Thank you for the explanation of monopoly rents.

            But, are taxes essential to address the problem?

          • martinbrock

            Taxes, in the conventional sense of revenue collected from proprietors and spent by a state, are not necessary in my way of thinking, but in free communities, I expect proprietors to have duties other than consuming the yield of their property.

      • Theresa Klein

        How are property rights “redistributive”? I can see how they are “distributive”, but where does the “re” come from?

        Any property derived from self-ownership cannot be “re” distributed to the original owner – the person who created it. “re” means a secondary distribution, away from the prior owner. It can be exchanged away, but trade is not “redistribution”. “Redistribution” implies a lack of compensation.

        • martinbrock

          I answer your question in the post to which you respond. The state of nature precedes artificial states. In nature, individuals and packs dominate territory by virtue of their superior, physical strength. Contests of strength determine transfers of possession.

          Property rights in an artificial state deny this possession of territory through physical strength in favor of a standard like Lockean propriety.

          • Theresa Klein

            Sure, in the state of nature, superior physical strength RE-distributes property from it’s creators.
            So the state of nature is redistributive. The original owner is still the creator though. So the original distribution still lies with the people who produce things. Not the people who seize it through superior force.

          • martinbrock

            Property per se does not exist at all in nature. Natural territoriality is not property. Property redistributes territory from creatures dominating it naturally to human beings or corporations governing it exclusively within constraints respected by a human community.

            Lockean property rights don’t redistribute Lockean property rights. They redistribute other possessions. Possession by Lockean right is not original in any general sense. Other rules may govern possession. The first human being to plow a field is the field’s original owner only if we agree that a field may only be appropriated in this way.

            A herd of cattle grazing a field exclusively for generations does not own the field, because human beings simply choose not to recognize any appropriation as a consequence. We happily kill the cattle and eat them instead.

        • Jay_Z

          Property rights are redistributive in that they alter things from the natural state.

          In the natural state, presumably there are no rules. Some others may try to kill you as an infant, but if you survive, you are free to compete and acquire whatever you can.

          Someone born into a property state is going to be told that instead of being able to acquire whatever he or she can, all property is already owned by others, and he or she is going to be forced to sign a lifetime slave labor contract or be killed on the spot for trespassing.

          Such a society is less distributive, I guess, because less property is going to be changing hands. But it’s morally inferior, since property that should be lost through competition no longer is.

    • Sean II

      I don’t agree, and here’s why not:

      These guys, our hosts, must choose from among a set of reasonably well known labels. I suppose they could invent some new word to describe themselves, but let’s face it – if they did that, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because their web traffic would be zero.

      So they call themselves Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and the modifier puts everyone on notice that these particular libertarians can be expected to differ from other kinds in an easily predictable way.

      So just as we know that Neo-Conservative means “conservative who like wars and thinks welfare state rollback is a childish fantasy”, and just as we know that Objectivist means “libertarian who WILL denounce you as a sell-out in the next five minutes”…so too do we know that Bleeding Heart Libertarian means “libertarian who is reluctant to use coercion but who might sometimes make an exception after some agonizingly thorough chattering and analysis”.

      As for the other part of your question: these guys CAN’T call themselves progressives because that means “people who ignore and/or despise economics”, and they can’t call themselves liberals because (in America) that means “people who are enthusiastic about using coercion to solve social problems.”

      Good enough?

      • Mark Rothschild

        Yes, all good points. The word libertarian is not anyone’s property.

        However, I think that it does no injustice to the owners and
        readers of this website to characterize ideas as progressive when that appears to be the case.

        So, yes I’ll stipulate that bleeding heart libertarian is a valid category of libertarianism, but are you offended if I think that it is a
        compromised libertarianism?

        • Sean II

          Oh no, I would only be offended if you called them “progressives”. For me that is an especially potent term of abuse, describing a type of person for whom I would refuse to perform the Hiemlich maneuver, though they be choking right in front of me.

          I prefer not to hear that one tossed around.

  • jdkolassa

    I’m surprised nobody has talked about a “participation income” yet, or at least I haven’t seen in in this long-running discussion. I think the idea comes from Atkinson ( http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-923X.1996.tb01568.x/abstract ) but in short, it’s explained by the US Basic Income Network as

    “The ultimate form of conditional income guarantee was proposed by Tony Atkinson and is called the Participation Income. This program would provide a subsistence level income guarantee for anyone that meets one of several conditions for “participation” in society including having a paid job, taking care of an infant or a sick relative, doing suitable volunteer work, or meeting any other condition society wants to set. The idea of a participation income is that it would be very much like a Basic Income except that it would not allow people to completely drop out of society as some fear many will do if a BIG is introduced.”

    Is this a reasonable option?

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      It is well worth considering, although it should also be considered that the current welfare system in the USA has work provisions which have been set aside “temporarily” By the current administration. So getting the government to stick to it’s own rules is always problematic.

    • martinbrock

      It’s not far from a Basic Employment Guarantee, so it bothers me less than a BIG. If a BIG effectively guarantees sufficient food, comfortable shelter and broadband internet access, with no strings attached, I’m sorely tempted to drop out myself. You can even skip the clothing. I’m happy enough being naked if the air is warm enough. I expect a large proportion of the population to drop out, so the whole idea seems a non-starter to me. The BIG system would collapse on itself in no time.

      • jdkolassa

        I dunno. I think there are enough people who will, instead of just dropping out, will take this as an opportunity to go out and try something without worrying about the risks of failure. If you had that sort of guarantee in case you went bankrupt, wouldn’t you try it? Without it, you might not. I think there’s enough people like that in America that it would work.

        • martinbrock

          Some people would work for a higher living standard, and others would be entrepreneurial for the creative pleasures, but risks of failure would still exist. Starvation isn’t a risk of failure for most people in the U.S. now. Bankruptcy already prevents creditors from taking the food out of your mouth, as it should.

          Remaining entrepreneurs would find far fewer people willing to work, so output and thus real wages would fall, leading more people to see no point in working. A substantial proportion of the population works for little more than subsistence now, and I expect most of these people to drop out.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        I agree that some sort of incentives have to be placed into the law to encourage work and discourage lifetime indolence. Only then would it be a better replacement for what we already have, even if the costs declined.

    • Mark Rothschild

      Not only is it unreasonable, it is possibly the most evil progressive idea I’ve had the misfortune to encounter. Next step will be re-education for those who don’t understand their responsibility to “participate”.

      This kind of paternalistic social oppression is exactly where redistribution logically leads.

      • martinbrock

        We already have reeducation camps for those who don’t understand their responsibility to participate. They’re called prisons.

      • Fallon

        One might reply that this kind of government intervention is not imposed on society en toto– but in manageable parts. Look at Canada, Denmark, Finland…yada yada yada “We might not get the balance right just yet– but society is a whole and comparative experiment!”

        Social holism. Disgusting.

        I was just reading historian Simon Schama on the classic utilitarians in British India– treating whole regions of peoples as social clay in bringing about the so-called greatest good for the greatest number. India suffered a terrible famine– worse than Ireland’s of just a decade or so before.

        • Mark Rothschild

          British colonial policy on the subcontinent ended up
          fostering communal/sectarian chaos and the result is the dysfunctional Islamo-lunatic state called Pakistan.

      • jdkolassa

        Trying to determine if this is a serious comment or some form of satire…

        • Phil

          As serious as any Alex Jones or Glenn Beck fan can be.

      • jdkolassa

        I mean, here’s the problem with this comment. The participation income just won’t pay people sit on their ass all day. People won’t be thrown in jail for not “participating.” They just won’t get any money. I don’t see how that’s a bad thing.

        • Mark Rothschild

          The problem is that the money is taken from those who don’t “participate” and transferred to those who do. Now, who has a right to that money?

          This question is not trivial to libertarians. No satire was intended.

          BTW, one of the problems that keeps some progressives from understanding this issue is their idea that money is just a product that is manufactured by a branch of the federal government.

    • Josh McCabe

      JDKolassa, I think it is a reasonable option from the standpoint of introducing such a program. TANF already does something like this in that the work requirement is broad enough to include volunteer working, education, training, etc. (BTW, my understanding is that the Obama administration has granted some waivers for states experimenting with work requirement reforms rather than being set aside as another commenter wrote.) I think the universal tax credit in the UK might be the closest thing to the idea of participation income.
      But you are absolutely right that the big fear is that people will simply take the money and “completely drop out of society”. Most explanations for the lack of BIG in the US ignore this factor. You’ve hit the nail on the head – which I’ll explain in the next post.

  • John Blaise Lent

    Josh – For a while now I’ve been researching the idea of using the Living Wage tables as a basic benefit amount for all people in the US.income u der that amount is not taxed. You receive a monthly allotment on a debit card to close the gap between your earnings and that amount. Every dollar above that is taxed the same for everyone (flat tax). Would cost less and be more effective than all of the other social welfare programs we have now.

    I agree that the powers that be will likely require some sort of eligibility criteria. So why not use all the ones we have now? Sudden loss of employment, old age, full time college student, actively seeking employment, disability, enrolled in a workforce development program, and single parenthood should cover the range. Now the trick is, acceptable documentation has to be easy to approve, and the subprograms can’t be run using tax dollars (private not for profit workforce Dev not state or fed) so we can eliminate overhead.

    • Josh McCabe

      New Zealand has something like this with the Minimum Family Tax Credit. I considered studying NZ (and Australia) early in my dissertation research but didn’t end up going through with it. It’s totally worth checking out though. Unfortunately, there’s a few major differences (parliamentary vs presidential; unitary vs federal; etc.) between NZ and the US which would make introducing such a program here problematic in the near future but its definitely a cool idea.

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  • C James Townsend

    I think Zimbabwe is the first to create one. They have a wealth fund.