When I first became interested in economic policy, I found Milton Friedman’s advocacy of a “negative income tax” appealing. As I recall (and I read about it a long time ago), the idea was that people making more than a set amount–presumably, an amount sufficient to live on–would pay taxes, and those making less would receive a supplement bringing them up to sufficiency.
One virtue of such an approach would be to cut out the costs of the significant bureaucracy devoted to administering complicated systems of public assistance.
As I say, I read this a long time ago, and my recollection of the details is hazy at best. What brought it to mind was reading about a proposal currently under review in New Zealand.
New Zealand’s Labour Party is considering the concept of a basic “citizen’s wage.” Andrew Little, leader of the Labour Party, confirmed this as the result of the potential for higher unemployment in in the coming months and years. “Citizen’s income” is also known as Universal Basic Income (UBI). The idea is that everyone gets a basic amount of money to live off of, like a wage, and benefit systems are gotten rid of.
Switzerland and Finland have introduced similar systems.
I haven’t seen studies comparing the costs of such systems to the patchwork, cumbersome and demeaning welfare programs we currently administer, but I suspect a citizen’s wage would save considerable tax dollars.
Of course, I’m sure the very idea would raise howls of protest from the self-righteous legislators who want to punish people for being poor, and who seem to enjoy telling welfare recipients what they can buy at the grocery…