Poverty Amid Plenty: A 1969 Basic Income Proposal
Previously, I wrote about a 1967 job guarantee proposal put forward by the President's National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty. As that was a fairly popular post, I figured I should share another old 1960s government proposal, this time a proposal for a universal basic income (UBI).
In November of 1969, the President's Commission on Income Maintenance Programs issued a report titled "Poverty Amid Plenty: the American Paradox." The purpose of the report was to assess the current slate of anti-poverty programs and make recommendations for how to make more headway on poverty reduction.
The Poor want to be unpoor.
The report begins by finding that poor people would rather not be poor and finding that having insufficient money is a big impediment to them becoming not poor.
Poverty is a structural problem in the economy.
The report goes on to note that poverty is essentially endemic to our economic system. Many people find themselves poor at one time or another and there is no way the economic system, as constructed, is capable of eliminating poverty because it is not capable of eradicating the economic insecurity that generates so much of it:
Though the report makes no mention of him, this recommendation is almost identical to the Negative Income Tax proposal Milton Friedman put forward.
Providing basic economic stability and well-being is sure to make it easier for poor people to concentrate and put their efforts towards training and education, something they cannot do when they are desperately fixated on day-to-day survival. When we discuss poverty reduction proposals, the way we put education/training in competition with cash transfers makes no sense. The latter greatly enhances the former and so those genuinely interested in effective education and training should also support substantial cash transfers.
Like the Job Guarantee idea that has been kicking around lately, the idea of a Universal Basic Income is not totally foreign and exotic. It has a meaningful pedigree in the history of U.S. policy-making even if it has never been implemented.