Over at Café Hayek, Don Boudreaux has a nice post on a universal basic income. He says that he does “not believe that as a practical matter a UBI would make society freer or more prosperous.” However, he also writes, “I oppose any universal basic income . . . principally because I oppose the confiscation of private property regardless of the purpose, the motive, or the identity of the confiscator(s).”
I think the sort of confiscation of private property involved in funding a UBI is morally justified. You don’t need to be a stone cold utilitarian to believe that rights may be overridden. Suppose you’re on a pier when a railing breaks. You fall into the water. You notice that another person on the pier has a couple of life preservers handy. You shout out, asking her to throw one down to you. She refuses. If you don’t get a life preserver soon, you’ll likely die or suffer hypothermia.
A passerby who confiscates one of her spare life preservers and tosses it your way would be morally justified in doing so. The confiscation comes at little cost to the owner and saves you from a serious harm. But the same rationale applies to taxation for the sake of a UBI. The tax comes at little cost to the rich and can save those in poverty from serious harm. If you share the judgment that the passerby is justified in confiscating the life preserver, then you shouldn’t object to a UBI simply on the grounds that it requires taking the property of some and redistributing it to others in greater need.