A Note On A Guaranteed Minimum Income

by Don Boudreaux on March 13, 2014

in Other People's Money, Seen and Unseen

Unlike some libertarians – such as Milton Friedman and Charles Murray – I oppose any government-guaranteed minimum income. I have several objections to such a policy, but time will not permit me now even to outline, much less discuss, my objections.  But I want here to register one objection that I don’t recall seeing elsewhere: such an income-guarantee by government will further fuel the argument that government is a uniquely important and foundational source of our rights and our prosperity – and, therefore, government is uniquely entitled to regulate our behavior.

Consider Charles Murray’s proposal that all government welfare payments in the U.S. be replaced by a guaranteed annual payment of $10,000 to every American adult.  That policy might well be better than what we currently have, but I fear that the chances are high that we would soon hear – not long after its implementation – cries such as “You are hypocritical to object to government policy X because government is the root source of your income.  Because government guarantees each of us an annual income of at least $10,000, our prosperity and well-being and civil peace spring from this policy.  As such none of us has any right, or strong grounds on which to stand, to engage in civil disobedience or even to oppose government regulation.”

Such arguments are, of course, heard now.  (“Government pays a large chunk of our medical bills, so it has a right to regulate our diets!”)  My fear is that an explicit government guaranteed minimum income – especially one given to all Americans – would make such arguments seem to be even more plausible and to apply more widely.  If so, that could be tragic.

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