Eliminate All Social Programs To Save Money
By Phyllis Brown, Albuquerque
The best thing that Donald Trump, or any American president, could do for the country — the one thing that would do the most good and the least harm — would be to completely eliminate all the social safety net programs and replace them with a Universal Basic Income.
It would cost considerably less than the existing system and would offer more. For those who have not heard of the UBI, it is simply a sum of money given monthly (or weekly) to every citizen over the age of 18. Let’s say, for example, that every legal adult citizen in this country, from the poorest to the wealthiest, was certain to receive $600/month. It would completely change the way we function as a society.
Suddenly, the minimum wage employee is making enough to actually live on; the college student has help with his rent; the wealthy person has a little extra to invest or to donate to charity; the single mom has a cushion. Everybody gets something, and, more importantly, everybody gets the same amount.
In 2006 the conservative intellectual Charles Murray wrote a book entitled “In Our Hands,” in which he suggests that a $10,000/year UBI would cost less than the existing safety net by the year 2011 when he estimated that all social programs from food stamps to Social Security would be costing approximately a trillion dollars. And that was then! This is now, and all the programs cost more.
So where are the cost savings? First of all, the money-transfer apparatus that would be needed to generate all those monthly or weekly payments already exists. It’s called Social Security, and it’s been around since FDR. You could call the UBI plan “Social Security for All.” Everybody receives his money by electronic deposit to a bank account. The actual payment process is clean and simple.
Second, no detailed means-testing is required as we currently do for SNAP (food stamps), Section 8 (housing), or WIC (Women, Infants and Children).
Third, eliminating all those hundreds of programs means eliminating the cost of rent for all those government buildings, eliminating thousands of government jobs — an enormous payroll, and eliminating tons of paperwork.
And finally, perhaps the greatest efficiency in the whole idea, is the fact that individuals know what they really need better than even the most well-intentioned social worker.
And how do we pay for it? We are currently paying for hundreds of social programs from job training to subsidized preschool to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The big idea here is that all of those programs would go, leaving the funds to pay for them available to fund the UBI.
In fact, one of the many groups supporting the idea calls it the Basic Income Guarantee — BIG for short. And it is big, huge, considering the impact it is likely to have on all of us. It will help everyone. This is for everybody, not only the poor.
The amount that we have been spending on the poor when converted into the super efficient UBI becomes enough to share with everyone, even the wealthiest among us. An employee who unexpectedly loses a job doesn’t have to apply for unemployment insurance. He already has something to fall back on.
A worker who is injured and becomes disabled doesn’t have to file for worker’s compensation or disability insurance. A single mom who wants to work only part-time could conceivably afford to work part-time if she shares an apartment with another mom.
Those for whom the UBI would represent extra income could save for their children’s college. The possibilities are endless. And because everybody would receive the same $600/month, it would make the greatest difference in the poorest parts of the country.
Now we come to the details. How would we phase it in? Everyone not already receiving Social Security or SS Disability (or receiving less than the $600/mo.) would simply provide his bank account info to the Social Security Administration, and on a given day (a very exciting day for the whole country), the UBI payments would start rolling out and landing happily in bank accounts all over the country and the world (ex-Pats being U.S. citizens, too).
Those already receiving Social Security would continue to receive their accustomed payments for a six-month transition period. After that, all those with total incomes (including SS) over, say, $50,000/year would switch over to the new $600/mo. payment.
Those earning less than $50,000/year would continue to receive their previous amount. In time that generation of seniors would pass on, and everyone would then be receiving the exact same UBI.
Some of us will have legitimate concerns that the UBI would disincentivize work, but rest assured that very few people would be able to live on the UBI alone without supplementing their income with other work. It’s not supposed to be enough to live on. On the contrary, it is the current welfare system that discourages work since people lose benefits — housing, Medicaid, food stamps — as their income rises.
If you are wondering where the UBI idea came from, it has lots of origins. Thomas Paine (in Agrarian Justice, 1795) wanted to get young people started in life: “There shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling . . .”
He also recommended his own version of Social Security, ten pounds a year for every person over 50. Many supporters of the UBI claim that it springs from the Negative Income Tax proposed by Noble Prize winner Milton Friedman in 1962 (Capitalism and Freedom).
In 1971 the Nixon administration actually got a UBI, The Family Assistance Plan, passed in the House of Representatives, but it fell apart in the Senate. The only true UBI that has been around for a while is the Alaska sharing of oil and gas revenue among all its citizens. Finland is trying out a limited UBI beginning this year, but only for its poorest citizens — not universal but it’s a start.