A Libertarian Argument for the Basic Income Guarantee
Jason Kuznicki forgot to remind us, but he’s doing his usual bang-up job at Cato Unbound, the latest issue of which features Matt Zwolinski making a pragmatic libertarian case for the basic income guarantee (BIG).
Zwolinski argues that even if the BIG isn’t satisfactory to libertarian purists, it can hardly help but be more satisfactory than the current welfare state, which at the state and federal levels combined spends about $20,000 per person per year, but still leaves 16% of Americans living in poverty.
His main points are that the BIG would require less bureaucracy, would be cheaper, is not as exploitable for political purposes because it is a generally applicable policy (everyone gets it), and would be less invasive and paternalistic.
He concedes the puritan libertarian argument that the state shouldn’t be giving out welfare at all, but, he says,
as Jacob Levy notes, since it does do these things, libertarians have good reason to demand that it does so in a way that is as “more rather than less compatible with Hayek’s rule of law, with freedom from supervision and surveillance by the bureaucracy, with the ability to get on with living their lives rather than having to waste them proving their innocence.”
Liberals will, I think, appreciate his response to the potential that the BIG disincentivises work.
so what? Is it so obviously a flaw in the system if it leads more parents to take time off work to stay home with their children? Or college graduates to take a year off before beginning to work? Or if, among the population as a whole, the balance between work and leisure is slightly shifted toward the latter?
The two response essays take issue with Zwolinski, of course. But I think libertarianism’s only serious hope for being politically influential is to not insist on ideological purity and instead focus on step-wise improvements to the system. So I’m delighted to see his essay. It’s a good example of Jason’s thoughtful editorship at Unbound.