Saturday, August 09, 2014
Basic Income is good because it's basic
Mike Konczal has a post attacking the libertarian support for Basic Income. Paul Krugman approves. Basically, Konczal argues that the mix of programs we have now works just fine.
I think Konczal is wrong, for a one, er, basic reason. Basic Income, unlike the programs we have now, will be politically easy to raise once it's in place.
Redistribution programs (the good ones anyway) are designed to help a lot of people and hurt a few. But this means that the constituency opposing redistribution is much more concentrated and focused than the constituency in support of it. As Mancur Olson might tell you, this makes redistribution a tough sell politically.
But if you have one big, high-profile redistribution program, you can get enough popular support to overcome the concentrated opposition of the rich people footing the bill. As an example, look at the minimum wage, which gets big popular support. The Democrats can go back to the minimum wage again and again as a populist issue.
But that's not true for the whole array of redistribution programs we currently have. If the Democrats want to increase the strength of the safety net as a whole, they have to mount a populist campaign for each one of its components. That's hard to do. So a lot of the components of the safety net get left behind, or killed by Republicans when no one is looking.
Such a fate would never befall a Basic Income. It would be in the spotlight all the time.
In fact, by endorsing Basic Income, libertarians are walking right into a trap. Anti-redistributionists' great fear has always been that the masses will use the power of majority rule to simply vote themselves more money. As things stand, the fragmentation of our redistribution programs makes it easier for the anti-redistributionists to punch holes in the safety net. If the fragmented system were replaced with one universal, high-profile program, the result would be a huge political gift to redistributionists.
Libertarians will eventually realize this, and their tentative support for Basic Income will vanish. But pro-redistribution liberals should not be so quick to dismiss the idea just because it came out of the mouths of their opponents in a moment of confusion.