David Hoppe

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:: A guaranteed income

Maybe not as crazy as it sounds

by David Hoppe

The holiday season is upon us. So, in the spirit of giving (and getting), let’s entertain an idea that would, if we had the nerve to actually try it, change everything.

What if the government, aka Uncle Sam, provided every citizen — I’m looking at you — with a guaranteed income?

An article by Annie Lowrey, “Take One Income, Please,” in a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine, has succeeded in bringing attention to a notion that’s been around almost as long as our country itself.  Switzerland's Proposal to Pay People for Being Alive

As Lowrey points out, Thomas Paine thought all citizens should have a basic income guaranteed. Over in France, Napoleon agreed, saying, “Man is entitled by birthright to a share of the Earth's produce sufficient to fill the needs of his existence.”

And, when it comes right down to it, how is one supposed to take part in that supposedly god-given and “self-evident” right expounded in the Declaration of Independence, “the pursuit of happiness,” if first you need a job to do the pursuing?

The guaranteed income is getting a fresh look today because the Swiss will soon be voting on a referendum that would promise every person in that snow-capped country a monthly check of about $2,800 — just for living.

If you think this idea is cracked, try thinking about it for a second without your American hat — the one that conditions you to think that you are what you are hired to do.

We talk a lot about freedom in this country, yet work is what really defines us. How we are able to cling to the notion of being free while clinging to jobs for our food, shelter, and healthcare amounts to a kind of mass denial.

The interesting thing about the current interest in a guaranteed income is that a significant amount of its support is coming from the right. As Lowrey states the argument: “Such a system might work better and be fairer than the current patchwork of programs, including welfare, food stamps and housing vouchers.” Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute has written the guaranteed income “says just one thing to people who have never had reason to believe it before…’the future is in your hands'. And it is the truth."

A German artist (naturlich!) named Benno Schmidt believes a guaranteed income (he calls it “stimmig”) can unleash creativity and entrepreneurialism, encouraging people to work they way they want to, rather than just to get by.

Critics who say this creates a disincentive to work can look to Manitoba, where a social experiment found that not only did poverty decrease in a town where about 1,000 families got checks to supplement their incomes, but high school completion rates went up and hospitalization rates went down.

Besides, aren’t those who claim we need a boss and a paycheck really making a confession about their own lack of imagination? What, I wonder, would they do, if they could do what they love?