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I Oppose A Universal Basic Income

A regular Cafe Hayek patron asked, in a message over Facebook, my opinion of a universal basic income (UBI) – that is, a minimum annual income that the government guarantees to every citizen.  My correspondent correctly notes that this idea has the support of some prominent libertarians, many of whom I respect deeply.

I hope to write in more detail on this issue later, but here, very quickly, let me register my stance: I oppose any universal basic income.  I do so principally because I oppose the confiscation of private property regardless of the purpose, the motive, or the identity of the confiscator(s).

I’m aware that some libertarian support for the UBI is premised on the belief that it will lead to less such confiscation overall.  That’s an outcome that I would applaud.  And I agree that, as a purely prudential matter, a reasonable case can be made for a UBI.  Given a choice between two evils, I prefer the lesser to the greater.  But I do not believe that as a practical matter a UBI would make society freer or more prosperous.  I believe that it would not substitute for a greater evil but, instead, be an additional evil piled atop the evils that already plague us.

UPDATE: In the comments, David Henderson offers this contribution:

Many of the advocates don’t talk about what size UBI they favor. One who does give a number, $10K per adult, is Matt Zwolinski. I show in my Independent Review piece that one that size would raise federal spending by 30% and taxes by almost 50 percent.


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