More Evidence For My Thesis….

A recent paper published in Nature looked at the effects of cash transfers in a number of pilot programs around the globe. The researchers reported (in typical academic-ese): 

We evaluated the effects of large-scale, government-led cash transfer programmes on all-cause adult and child mortality using individual-level longitudinal mortality datasets from many low- and middle-income countries. We found that cash transfer programmes were associated with significant reductions in mortality among children under five years of age and women. Secondary heterogeneity analyses suggested similar effects for conditional and unconditional programmes, and larger effects for programmes that covered a larger share of the population and provided larger transfer amounts,…Our findings support the use of anti-poverty programmes such as cash transfers, which many countries have introduced or expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, to improve population health.

This research focused on health; other studies have shown dramatic improvements in a variety of social outcomes.

I’ve long obsessed about what an updated social contract might look like, and whether it’s possible to craft a governing structure that both respects individual liberty and provides basic material security. My periodic musings revolve around two issues: whether anyone is truly free who struggles daily just to survive, and whether government safety-net policies can help unify an increasingly fragmented population.

The Greeks were right about that “golden mean” between extremes. The importance of hard work and individual talent shouldn’t be minimized, but neither should it be exaggerated. When the focus is entirely upon the individual, when successes are attributed solely to individual effort, we fail to recognize the social and legal structures that privilege some groups and impede others. 

When we ignore systemic barriers, we feed stereotypes and harden tribal affiliations. That’s why the first priority of a social contract should be to nurture what scholars call “social solidarity,” the ability of diverse citizens to see ourselves as part of an over-arching, inclusive American community.

A workable social contract connects citizens to a larger community in which they have equal membership and from which they receive equal support. The challenge is to achieve a healthy balance—to create a society that genuinely respects individual liberty within a renewed emphasis on the common good, a society that both rewards individual effort and talent, and nurtures the equal expression of those talents irrespective of tribal identity.

As I have frequently argued, policies can either increase or reduce polarization. Policies intended to help less fortunate citizens can be delivered in ways that stoke resentments, or in ways that encourage national cohesion.  Think about widespread public attitudes about welfare programs aimed at poor people, and contrast those attitudes with the overwhelming approval of and support for Social Security and Medicare.

Significant numbers of Americans stubbornly believe laziness and lack of motivation  are major causes of poverty, and that social welfare breeds dependence, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Social Security and Medicare are viewed differently. They’re universal programs; virtually everyone contributes to them and everyone who lives long enough benefits from them. Such programs avoid stigma.

That universal policies unify is an important and often overlooked argument favoring a Universal Basic Income. But pilot programs continue to highlight numerous other positive consequences.

America currently has a patchwork of state and federal programs, with bureaucratic barriers and means testing that operate to exclude most of the working poor. Welfare recipients are routinely stigmatized by moralizing lawmakers pursuing punitive measures aimed at imagined “Welfare Queens.” Meanwhile, current anti-poverty policies haven’t made an appreciable impact on poverty.

A Universal Basic Income is a cash grant sufficient to insure basic sustenance–and unlike welfare, a UBI has no phase-out, no marriage penalties, no people falsifying information.

Support for the concept isn’t limited to progressives. Milton Friedman proposed a “negative income tax,” and F.A. Hayek wrote “There is no reason why in a free society government should not assure to all, protection against severe deprivation in the form of an assured minimum income, or a floor below which nobody need descend.”

In 2016, Samuel Hammond of the libertarian Niskanen Center, described the “ideal” features of a UBI: its unconditional structure avoids creating poverty traps; it sets a minimum income floor, which raises worker bargaining power without wage or price controls; it decouples benefits from a particular workplace or jurisdiction; since it’s cash, it respects a diversity of needs and values; and it simplifies and streamlines bureaucracy, eliminating rent seeking and other sources of inefficiency.

Hammond’s point about worker bargaining power is especially important in today’s work world, with dramatically-diminished unions and the growing “gig economy.”  With a UBI (and single payer health coverage), workers would have freedom to leave abusive employers, unsafe work conditions, and uncompetitive pay scales.

A UBI wouldn’t level the playing field, but it sure would reduce the tilt.

A UBI would also have much the same positive effect on economic growth as a higher minimum wage. When poor people get money, they spend it, increasing demand—and increased demand is what fuels job creation. (If nobody is buying your widgets, you aren’t hiring people to produce more of them.)

Counter-intuitive as it may seem, a significant body of research supports the
importance of a robust social safety net to market economies. As Will Wilkinson of the  Niskanen Center has written, the Left fails to appreciate the important role of markets in producing abundance, and the Right refuses to acknowledge the indispensable role safety nets play in buffering the socially destructive consequences of insecurity.

I have previously written about the salutary effects of a UBI--effects the linked article (and several other studies) have confirmed. I have also suggested budgetary adjustments that could pay for it. 

Of course, it won’t happen.

As we’ve seen in other policy domains, notably health care,  American policymakers don’t care about evidence, no matter how persuasive. (Don’t confuse them with the facts!)

Maybe in my grandchildren’s lifetimes……


  1. Why is it that the struggling middle class is consumed with worry that the working poor might get some financial morsel they don’t deserve without ever questioning the exploitive financial windfalls of the wealthy?

  2. Yep Sheila,

    Going back to the discussions a few threads back, the depth of turpitude runs deep through the political and religious infrastructure in this country.

    You pointed out, and rightfully so, The inequity that constantly repeats itself throughout history is part of the human condition.

    It doesn’t matter if your neighbor has a need, because you don’t particularly like your neighbors race, ethnicity, religion, sex, moral boundaries, social status, and anything else to create a separation between the self-righteous, self-aggrandized hypocrites, and what they perceive as the others!

    The human condition will eat empires, it will annihilate without remorse, All because of a morally delusional perceived superiority to those seen as others.

    Take care of the widows and orphans? Be kind to the foreign resident? Love your neighbor? Love your enemy? There is always an excuse why these things cannot be done! Humans will put themselves in harm’s way, in insecure jeopardy, just to deny their neighbor equality.

    How do you overcome that? Unfortunately, it’s only gotten worse! Evil is good at disguising itself, it’s good at being divisive, Good at evolving and transforming itself into an appealing vision of what they desire concerning their own personal God.

    A God can be whatever one expresses faith in. It can be politics, it can be money, it can be celebrity, it can be narcissism, it can be social status, it can be race, it can be sex, pick your poison! The golden mean actually corresponds quite rightly to the Golden rule, one is Greek philosophy, the other was spoken by Christ! Both are transformative, and both are deemed unnecessary by those who are moral hypocrites.

    It’s a self-righteous bandwagon that humanity loves to jump on to prevent equality and create separation for the sake of a self-perceived right of superiority and a heaping helping of moral turpitude. There is no cure for that, well, there is, but, no one wants that responsibility or to put forth the effort.

  3. I find myself fascinated this morning reading your comments right after reading the NYT’s Timothy Dzeneui’s essay on Joan Didion’s essay about the divisions in American society. The never ending breaking apart of our society as decade after decade new divisive issues arise pitting citizens against each other explains why we cannot ever seem to move forward and improve our own lives.
    Like Joan, I feel dizzy and out of balance these days from the news and my fellow citizen’s response to it.

  4. The current narrative around economics seems to be focused mainly on trickle-down economics, which is exactly what the oligarchy wants. This ideology is rooted in a Calvinistic belief that one must work to earn their keep.

    Instead of this approach, we could consider implementing a Universal Basic Income and Universal Healthcare system for all Americans. This would not only provide a stable source of income for everyone, but also access to healthcare. It would ultimately help to eliminate the animosity between the Middle Class and the Lower Class, as suggested by Laurie in her post.

    Currently, the working poor are faced with high deductible medical plans that end up costing them more money. This is hardly an incentive for them to continue working. It’s clear that the Oppressors are motivated to maintain “free-market-based” economics because it allows them to maintain power over the masses. They are not interested in giving people real freedom and free choices.

    It’s obvious that the Oligarchy does not want to relinquish their power, which is why they are against any changes that would give people more freedom and agency.

  5. The more I learn of history, the more convinced I become that we are making progress. I agree with Dr. King. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
    I am not saying we should be complacent, but neither should we lose hope. We the people have it in our power to keep moving in positive directions.

  6. “A UBI would also have much the same positive effect on economic growth as a higher minimum wage. When poor people get money, they spend it, increasing demand—and increased demand is what fuels job creation. (If nobody is buying your widgets, you aren’t hiring people to produce more of them.)”

    Pardon my language but…HORSE MANURE! This country refuses to increase the much deserved and much needed higher minimum wage for those who are working, some at 2 or 3 jobs. It would also encourage more people to take those available minimum wage jobs rather rely on social programs and food pantries. We are fighting to maintain Social Security, Disability, Medicare (which we continue paying for from those SS checks after paying the tax while working) and retaining our private paid into retirement benefits. Providing decent health care will save the lives of children and adults; we are 50 years behind the time Nixon ended the law preventing health care from becoming a for-profit business to rob the poor and aid the rich. It is the same political party trying to take away what is ours and add to their income by decreasing their taxes. Finding a way to just give everybody free money is not going to help this economy or better relations between people’s differences when millions of us cannot count on the deserved return of our own money as we put what little we have back into the economy just to survive. Figure in the lack of decent education in public schools as the public education budget is drained to support education of children in families with six figure incomes who are being taught that the 10% tithe comes from all levels of income before buying food or medications. There will always be those who slip through the cracks of the system and get undeserved benefits needed and deserved by others; better management of current programs would be a way to begin sorting the wheat from the chaff.

    I am well aware my tax dollars go to help some who are not in need and do not deserve help; but I am more aware of my tax dollars gong to help many who are living in poverty level conditions due to their dire circumstances. At the same time; I see my tax dollars repairing and maintaining infrastructure in higher income areas of this city while the lower income tax payers watch their neighborhoods deteriorate.

    A UBI sounds to me like a “Let them eat cake!” solution.

  7. Copied from today’s blog post – “the Right refuses to acknowledge the indispensable role safety nets play in buffering the socially destructive consequences of insecurity.”

    They absolutely do acknowledge the importance of safety nets and that is why we have Socialism for corporations and Capitalism for workers/employees. Unlike our welfare programs for the poorest among us, our system of corporate subsidies and tax breaks contains no limits on income or assets. Powerful corporations, hedge funds and wealthy individuals keep getting wealthier because they get whatever they want from the politicians that they own.

  8. JoAnn Green. While I usually agree with what you say in your posts, this time I don’t. I don’t see anything in your argument that negates the points Sheila made in regard to the benefits of UBI. It would obviously have to be funded by higher taxes on the wealthy and the closure of many existing tax loopholes. So if we do that and a multimillionaire gets the UBI but pays in far more than that in taxes, I think it’s a win for the rest of us. Am I missing something?

  9. 99% of your blogs are good to excellent. This one is superlative. I take issue with some of your closing words and will elaborate in my next column. You may then choose to respond in one of your forthcoming blogs.
    Readers of this note who do not receive my column may send me a note at requesting a complimentary position on my distribution list.
    How’s that for self-promotion?

  10. This is why they are killing public education. It’s the ultimate class leveler.

  11. “So if we do that and a multimillionaire gets the UBI but pays in far more than that in taxes, I think it’s a win for the rest of us. Am I missing something?”

    Sharon; you have obviously missed the major fact that no millionaire or corporation is currently paying their fair share of taxes but accidentally giving them more money in a UBI is somehow going to be a win for us. Let us concentration on providing solutions to the current economic wrongs before finding a way to give away money to all. I don’t want a UBI; I want to be assured I will continue getting my paid for Social Security, Medicare and retirement benefits and see working people receive a fair level minimum wage.

  12. And, I would add, class is an outcome of the judgmental form of Christianity, the idea that one gets what one deserves. Anti-Christ Christianity is a tool of the exploiters.

  13. WOW! Lots of passion today!

    First, capitalism gives not a single damn for the poor or egalitarianism or fairness or anything else that leads a society away from indentured servitude. The oligarchs that Todd keeps ranting about invented this philosophy and, by God, are sticking to it. And, in their idealistic world, slavery is the optimum labor environment where NO wages or benefits are paid to workers.

    OF COURSE that “philosophy” is short-sighted lunacy, but the cost accountants are prisoners of the bottom line. End of discussion. But what these green eye-shade “slaves of money” miss is that when we all do well, we all do well. A healthy workforce is more productive. Higher productivity yields greater profits. Better wages improves spending on the products and services that also improves profits.

    The point is that the miser class has usurped ANY logic or long-term understanding of the monstrosity they created and taken dead aim at their own feet. Republicans, of course, are the slaves of the miser class who pay their bribes to worsen the situation for everyone except the misers. Sorry to trot it out again, but Karl Marx foresaw this irony and how capitalism, by its own hand, will destroy itself.

    The next question is: “What happens next?”

    I’m glad I’m old.

  14. Since UBI ain’t gonna happen, nor slavery reparations. How ’bout something that that is neither “universal” (giving money to those who don’t need it) nor identity-based? It’s called “baby bonds” and is based strictly on income inequality without consideration of race/ethnicity? The CT plan is a model:

  15. If there’s ever a new minimum wage bill, it must include an annual adjustment tied to inflation. That said, I suspect we may never see another such bill. We need to find a more equitable solution and UBI, again tied to inflation, is the best solution.

  16. As Sheila states (and restates…), the data showing the positive effects of a UBI are overwhelming.

    As far as I have seen, the largest factor for those against a UBI involves the potential that “undeserving” people receive it. As soon as you see the word “deserve” enter the argument, you can fairly be suspicious.

    JoAnn, I love you to death, but you are wrong here. You would benefit greatly from a UBI, for example. All your points about the fact that you (and others) should be able to better rely on other aspects of the current social safety net are valid, but they don’t in any way take away from the value of a potential UBI. (It’s like arguing in 1965 that since social security exists, a national medicare program shouldn’t be created.) Everyone has biases that develop as their lives progress, and I think your biases are tripping you up here.

  17. Nobody attempted to answer Laura’s question and it was good one. I suspect the real answer is that on the right, where the belief is that “a person should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” (a phrase that used to mean to do something impossible), they need votes to gain or stay in power, and to motivate people, you need to some emotional appeal. Resentment can be fanned into jealousy and jealousy can inspire fear. It’s especially effective when you can point to “those” people and isolate groups with stereotypes that aren’t true. In a nutshell, it’s the basis for the current Republican Party platform.

    As I like to say; We all do better when we all do better.

  18. ” …whether anyone is truly free who struggles daily just to survive,” is a
    massively important question. My answer is, simply, “No.”
    My e-mail “tag” is the phrase “I am because we are,” which derives from
    “Ubuntu.” The meaning is about “togetherness, and how all of our actions have an
    impact on others and on society,” and, I would add, how others, and society frame, create,
    who we are individually.

  19. JoAnn,

    I think I have to agree with your sentiment on this subject. Because there are mechanisms already in place. They just have to be fair and equitable as you say. Firstly, corporations who are so generously praised as citizens by the Citizens United fiasco, they should pay their fair share as the average citizen does. The same for the Uber wealthy, 35%? I could live with that. Would it fix a lot of issues and, level the playing field? Sure, if what we have on the books would function as designed.

    Then, look at what’s lacking, and, those issues can be tweaked, maybe in the form of universal basic income. But throwing good money after bad, only exacerbates the crookedness of the wealthy, the corporations, and the politicians who are in league with them.

    The more moving parts, the more complicated things become, the easier it is for those who are skilled in deception and sleight of hand to reap windfalls not intended for them. Then, the least of us, those who can least afford any beneficial necessities will continue to suffer!

    So absolutely, JoAnn Hits the target in the center. What we have needs to be fixed first. But, also as Vernon and Lester have pointed out, thoughtful, equitable and compassionate considerations, probably won’t happen. IGIO? Not yet, 🤝🏽✊🏽

  20. John H, et al; I have always been aware that my tax dollars too often benefited those who were not deserving of aid, it has nothing to do with my views of UBI or Universal Health Care. My comment regarding better management for current programs is not a bias; it is a common sense reality, probably due to overload. I will loudly admit that the school voucher system, as it aids six-figure income families while depriving poverty level students decent education in public schools, pisses me off totally. If you consider that bias; that is your view of the problem.
    What is the tax rate on working people, the wealthy and corporations in those countries who claim UBI and Universal Health Care is the solution to problems; what is their cost of living and living standard compared to our system. Why not fix the known problems rather than add a massive drain on our tax base now? Where is the money to come from when we can’t fix the economic problems we have today?

  21. Currency seems to obscure economics.

    Work done by supply chained networks of individuals in a society creates wealth; goods and services that are valued by consumers which is the same group as workers are plus some non workers who are not able to work because they’re too old or young or infirm. Working turns natural resources into waste eventually but in between can offer value. The output of work needs to be distributed somehow among consumers.

    Currency offers a convenient abstract token of value to put a measure on transfers within the supply chain network and also must be distributed among workers and non workers in the group of consumers.

    Every economic system addresses somehow the challenges of the distribution of currency tokens among the dynamics of an always changing population of births and training and aging and deaths.

    There are no natural laws as to how, so government is established to make artificial rules to solve the problem.

    Among humans there are examples of various solutions, none perfect but all flawed differently.

    Why do we under our government assume that there is no room for improvement in our economic system any more?

  22. Pete, as far as I can see (from outside the USA), it’s because capitalism (especially free-market, neoliberal capitalism) is treated religiously in the USA. And for many, it’s dogma to have unquestioning faith in religion. In other words, suggesting changes to the economic system is akin to questioning one’s faith in god, so it’ll be anathema to many.

  23. I’ll say one last thing about the UBI topic, so my position is clear. The issue of “deserving” it is completely irrelevant. (I tried to make this clear before, but I don’t think I succeeded.) If one is human, one automatically deserves it. There should be a basic level below which no one should be allowed to fall. Way too many people struggle daily just to survive, and that is not a life we should wish on _anyone_. As long as there are people below this threshold (and as a consequence, barely surviving), then we are not succeeding as a species.

    The support money delivered during covid lifted HALF of the children struggling with poverty above the poverty threshold. It’s a demonstration of the type of thing that can be accomplished.

    The fact that this is being UNDONE is an abomination to me.

  24. One comment, amplifying Sheila –

    Once you worry about “deserving”, two things happen:
    1) You create an expensive bureaucracy to determine who is “deserving”, and
    2) the rich manage to invert it and say the the working poor are “undeserving”, not caring about reality.
    Non-means tested programs are more universally accepted and save money in the short and long run.

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