Andrew Yang is a candidate for President who has made the UBI one of the cornerstones of his campaign platform. As such, I had some more thoughts on the topic.
(I wrote the following mostly while walking my very energetic and disobedient dog.)
I don’t see much of a problem in giving people money from the government without their having jobs.
The crux of the objection seems to be on grounds of both economic policy, ie efficiency, and moral grounds: that it is wrong for people to take money without having earned it
As to the first, I think the argument is a) beside the point because if a welfare state is a requirement of justice then its merits as an economic policy are not relevant. B) I think the economic impact is likely to be small because first of all, to say that there isn’t enough to go around and that as such some people must go hungry for the system to function is tantamount to saying that the system has failed. No system deserves to survive if it can only function through the suffering of some of its own people. Further, these people who receive transfers without labor would still be putting money into the economic engine. They are still consumers. There will be inflation, without doubt. But to say it would be so much that the economy would tank is again tantamount to saying that the economy can only function through the suffering of many of its members. This is reason enough to abandon the theory entirely, if true. But I don’t think it is true.
Next, the argument that is is wrong to take money without labor, and that it is wrong for a government to give money without labor. First, I think this argument is worth interrogation but for the present moment I will concede it. Let us say that it is wrong for a person to take money without labor, and wrong for a state to give it. This is still, I think, a vastly smaller evil than accepting and even profiting from preventable suffering. The latter of those wrongs is clearly worse. And further, this claim concedes a point unnecessarily. There could be state programs that attach these benefits to labor but guarantee that labor as a legal right. This sidesteps this entire objection and is only susceptible to the objection on economic policy, which is subordinate to the objection on grounds of justice anyway. For those unable to work, state support is unequivocally a requirement of justice for those who wish to receive it. For those who wish to work, that can be made a requirement.
For those who do not wish to work: many take it as a grave sin to allow welfare to go to those who could work but do not wish to do so. I confess to feeling some discomfort with that idea as well. But it’s far less discomfort than that of permitting needless suffering. And also far less than the objection to allowing my tax money to go to purchasing and using massive and efficient killing tools, and subsidizing industries and their owners whose workers are reliant on public assistance. Of the evils of these two posited worlds, the evils of the latter are clearly greater than the former. Tolerating some welfare free-riding is nothing by comparison.
It is also a common objection to such ideas that people who receive such emoluments will not work, decimating the workforce. There are at least two objections to this argument. First. It is overly pessimistic about the work ethic of most people. As a corollary, it is also unfair to claim that working people lack the drive to work without survival as a motive, while there is no concern at all re: the people and families whose members have enough money never to lift a finger again. For those “elites” never a word is spoken about the need to ensure that they continue to work despite the presence of a need to do so, a survival motive. Yet for the commons, the non-elites, the poor-are-lazy stereotype lives on in the form of an implicit claim that such people will not work unless they must to survive. It is as unfounded as it is classist. Even when such programs as robust welfare transfers existed, occasions of abuse were uncommon as a whole.
So, such objections are classist and overly pessimistic, and not borne out by available evidence.
Further; the presence of these government transfers would greatly empower the workforce to leverage against business. Companies would be forced to pay more and to make their workplaces into places that people would really want and choose to work in. If we are serious about our system of economics being founded on a profit motive, then we must replace the survival motive with a real profit motive.
Finally, I object on grounds of liberty. Money lifts barriers and thus enhances liberty. If we are concerned to be regarded as a free society, then we must take seriously the reality that the poor are currently suffering from greatly reduced liberty owing to their poverty. A UBI would necessarily enhance liberty dramatically by lifting for many barriers to access to resources and opportunities. If we care to be seen as free nation of free people, then we ought to attend that our people, especially the most vulnerable, are free.