Should the United States offer citizens a guaranteed income, regardless of work?
This coming weekend, Switzerland will become one of the first countries to vote on establishing a guaranteed, minimum, per capita income regardless of whether or not a person is employed. The popular initiative calls for a guaranteed income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,518.56) per Swiss adult.
In the United States, a proposal like this would likely be met with either disbelieving laughs or shouts of "socialism". But what is the logic behind the vote? Should Americans think twice before laughing off this kind of proposal?
What if the United States were to do the same thing? Should the government give people money whether they are working hard or doing squat? Most importantly, what would the repercussions be?
We at GET.com have listed both the pros and cons of establishing guaranteed income in the United States.
6 Reasons Why The US Should Give Citizens Free Money:
Technology Will Eventually Make The Human Workforce Obsolete
The primary argument of Switzerland's popular initiative for a guaranteed income is that, in the coming decades, technology will replace almost all aspects of human labor.
From drones and driverless cars putting delivery workers, truckers and bus, taxi and limo drivers out of a job, to complex algorithms making it possible to do away with accountants, bankers and increasingly even engineers and software developers, technology has already replaced humans in much of the workforce, and this trend is on an upswing.
Even agriculture, which currently employs the majority of the world's population, is rapidly becoming mechanized. McDonalds, a major employer of low-income individuals, is talking about cutting employee costs altogether by automating its restaurants.
A guaranteed income would allow people to enjoy life long after technology makes their careers obsolete.
People Can Pursue Their Passion Rather Than An Income
The need to survive causes many people to follow market demand rather than their hearts. In the short-term this leads to high-production in some industries. Over the long term, the losses to mankind in terms of unimplemented ideas, undeveloped skills and lack of wellbeing are huge, though difficult to accurately estimate.
Extreme Poverty Would Be Eradicated
The US has one of the world's highest rates of homelessness. The State of Homelessness in America 2016 report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness concluded that 564,708 US residents experienced homelessness on a single night in 2015.
By providing Americans with an income that guarantees them reasonable accommodation, basic groceries and health insurance, the ugliest faces of poverty would disappear from US streets.
Crime Would Probably Decrease
Although high-profile crime like fraud and embezzlement would go unaffected, providing a basic income to everyone would likely cause petty theft, muggings and burglary to decrease. People who enjoy a good standard of living are generally less likely to get involved in crime.
Business Would Boom
An influx of cash into American pocketbooks would have direct and profound effects on both their local economies, and the US economy as a whole. Knowing that at least part their income is guaranteed would also encourage Americans to take out credit towards purchases or new business ventures.
Welfare Would Become Obsolete
It's worth knowing that in Switzerland, $2,518.56 per capita is equivalent to the amount an unemployed person living on welfare benefits would receive. In other words, it won't buy you much there, but it will cover your basic expenses for a reasonably comfortable life.
All Swiss citizens are already entitled to welfare benefits, but nearly all choose to work because they want more than just a basic living and days spent lounging by the lake. In fact, the alpine country has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world.
But welfare in Switzerland has at least as much of a stigma attached to it as welfare in the US. A "yes" vote on the weekend would eradicate welfare (and its accompanying stigmas) completely, since everyone, not just the unemployed, would receive the guaranteed benefit.
Welfare benefits in the US aren't quite high enough for Americans to maintain a good living standard on in most parts of the country. A guaranteed income built on the argument that human being have the right to a pleasant life even if they cease to fit into the traditional workplace would (arguably) have to be higher than current welfare benefits.
The good news is that welfare would become irrelevant, since everyone would enjoy the same minimum benefit. Those who do choose to work hard would enjoy their income plus the minimum benefit, and thus would be rewarded for their efforts.
4 Downsides Of Guaranteed Income:
Taxes May Go Up
There are various arguments about how a guaranteed income could be financed, one being that the government would impose higher charges on the private sector for its services (legal services, political services, etc.) which make efficient business possible. Looking forward to an age where technology almost completely replaces the need for human labor, this is the kind of solution that would make the most sense.
But as we've seen so far, an increase in government spending usually hits hardest right at the bottom, with small and medium business taxes and personal income taxes going up to accommodate it. There's a good chance that a guaranteed income could benefit low income earners. However, those with a fairly high income may find increased taxes costing them more than the benefit they receive from the guaranteed income.
Productivity May Go Down
Humans tend to be creatures of comfort. While Americans are, as a rule, ambitious, removing the fear of "living under a bridge" may cause certain parts of the population to make less of an effort to be productive.
However, taking the Swiss proposal where the guaranteed benefit covers only a basic, pleasant living standard, it's fair to say that many people will want to achieve more.
Prices May Go Up
With the increased spending power which would follow the implementation of a guaranteed income, the cost of rents, goods and services in the United States may go up. However, prices would probably stabilize after adjusting to higher incomes.
It's A Magnet For Migration
The US is already one of the most desirable destinations for prospective immigrants the world over, and establishing a guaranteed minimum income would likely multiply its attractiveness many times over.
Since a low guaranteed income won't make the US more attractive to highly qualified, highly paid professionals, those who would be drawn by the benefit would largely be low-skill, low-income immigrants.
We've already witnessed this phenomenon in Europe, where an almost endless stream of low-skill migrants have flooded countries which offer generous social benefits. In most cases, the influx has stressed government budgets and even led to reductions in social benefits for citizens.
There is a need to address the future definition of work, and the role employment plays in how people receive their basic needs. The vote in Switzerland has thrown the future role of human beings in the workplace, along with the political and practical questions which that role poses, into the spotlight.
However, we are still a ways away from a completely human-free workforce. In the meantime, society continues to run by the rules that have run it for millennia (work = a living). While we are all interested in the outcome of the upcoming vote in Switzerland, it's fair to say that a guaranteed income would be very difficult to implement in the US.
What do you think? We'd love to have you join the debate right here on GET.com.