An Unintentionally Great Article About UBI

The Washington Post has an unintentionally great article about UBI. The first problem with the article is the use of the word “UBI.” It seems that while “UBI” is still relatively unpopular, it’s more popular still than “expand the welfare system,” so many of the people who want the latter like to call it the former. In this case, an experiment targeted specifically at low-income mothers is referred to as a “universal basic income,” with the experiment supposedly a test of UBI. The program is closer to UBI than most current welfare programs, but cannot be a test of UBI as its recipients are a heavily selected group. The general tone of the article is that the experiment is successful, with the recipients making progress out of poverty. Still, there were some concerns:

In Jackson, Gray just wanted to escape poverty. She had grown up poor and was pregnant at 16, which is when she started hearing people say she’d “never become nothing.”

“I wanted to show I could do it all on my own,” she said.

She tried to defy the stereotypes by staying in school and going to Jackson State University. Her bachelor’s degree in social work led her to $40,000 in student loan debt, a busted car and a cleaning job that paid no more than $11 an hour.


Then there was Gray’s own education. She told the social worker it was still too expensive to carry out her plan to go to school full time. And there was no time to take classes when she was still working two jobs.

“Maybe you should just take a course,” Johnson suggested.

“Okay,” Gray said, looking away.

“You’re saying okay, but your face is not saying okay.”

“I just think school is down the road,” Gray said.

Gee, I wonder why she isn’t too enthused about getting another degree? Could it have something to do with the fact that her first degree didn’t give her any benefits? Not only did her degree in social work fail to get her a job, it couldn’t even keep her from requiring the aid of a social worker. No, it must be due to an irrational hangup, effects of poverty, we just need more social workers and more “education” to get her to see the light!

The fears some people have that recipients will not use their money wisely are not groundless, but they ought to be balanced against the likelihood that if you empower bureaucrats to make paternalistic decisions for people, they’ll just waste the money by imposing with their own ill-informed ideas of “how to escape poverty.” The poor person who receives money is unlikely to be a genius, but has an incentive to spend it wisely. If he wastes it, he’ll be miserable. But if the bureaucrat oversees a program which wastes money, nothing bad will happen to him. He’ll just pat himself on the back for caring about the problem and trying to solve it, and will attack critics for heartlessness.

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