Odd bedfellows: Libertarian’s and UBI (Universal Basic Income)

Finding Common Ground

I just finished reading the book “Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff” by Matt Kibbe. It was an interesting read and I agreed with a bunch of it. On the other hand, there was a bunch that did not sit well with me. Especially when some of the manifestations and mutations of this simple down-to-earth core principle of Libertarianism gets twisted and radicalized. However, I digress and that’s a topic for another couple of blogs, so stay tuned for later releases.

While reading what author Kibbe calls his “Libertarian Manifesto”, I kept thinking of the intersect of libertarian principles (some of which I support) and the Universal Basic Income (UBI, much of which I support). I highlight the following ways in which these seemingly odd bedfellows of ideas might support each other:

  • KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), both libertarian’s and UBI’s support limited government and streamlined policies. With regard to UBI’s, the principle is to get a monthly subsistence check (presumably $1,000) into EVERYONES hands with minimum regulatory oversite and bureaucratic administration. Concepts near and dear to the hearts of most libertarians.
  • Non-discrimination with no gaming of the system with winners and losers’. Once you establish complicated programs (whether that be the distribution of funds or the taxing of citizens/companies), you create a resentment syndrome whereby the “losers” ask “why did he qualify for the benefit” and not me. In a perfect libertarian world, everybody is treated equally unless you go around hurting others in which case there needs to be consequences. Libertarians should like the clarity of the UBI where you get a check if you are over age 18 and of sound mind (i.e., you are not conserved financially) and as long as you are not incarcerated (in which case you already have 3 hots and a cot on a daily basis).
  • UBI is premised on the notion that people know best what to do with their money and if given the opportunity they will use it to their best advantage. This thinking jives perfectly with the libertarian emphasis on self-determination with minimum government oversite and meddling in your personal affairs. Given this symbiotic relationship, it intrigues my why there is not a stronger and more supportive relationship between UBIers and Libertarian’s.
  • After working over 40 years in government and non-profit sectors implementing policies, administering programs, and reading regulations in fields spanning community development, economic development, affordable housing and mental health, I’ve come around to the KISS model as the most cost-effective method of doing the most good for the most people. So philosophically, I have gravitated somewhat to the libertarian camp without sharing my sleeping bag with libertarian extremists. As a radical pragmatist, I warmed up to the UBI model viewing it as a financial safety net (a progressive, liberal notion) while encouraging self-determination without bureaucratic snares (a libertarian notion). Full disclosure, I just used the term “radical pragmatist” after listening to a lecture by Robert Woodson who describes himself as a “radical pragmatist” when asked “what’s your political affiliation?”.

I further dig into the weeds of this proposal by offering the following observations:

  • Libertarians are a very cost conscious, debt averse bunch. That’s a good thing. UBIers are pegged as unreasonable dreamers clueless about where the money comes from to make the UBI payments. If the UBIers could convince the Libertarians that the money could come from the following sources, we might be able to make that odd bedfellow marriage work.
  • Apply higher taxes on the top 2% of Americas wealthiest. It’s not gonna cripple them or the economy. Libertarians will like this sense of fairness by replacing the corrupt current system where those who currently make the most money pay the least taxes. This is where libertarians and populists can join forces (remember the “occupy movement” and the sense of unfairness expressed by Tea Party members). So let’s address that discontent head on while circumventing the nasty, divisive ethnic, racial, culture wars. Stick to dollars and cents practicalities which every true libertarians who is not sidetracked by culture wars is fundamentally concerned about. Stick to replacing the tax code (that is currently 75,000 pages) with a flat tax whereby tax payers can complete their taxes on a post card. Again, KISS.
  • Cut the military budget by 2%. Fully fund the military to be capable of fighting the NEXT war (i.e., cyber warfare, terrorism, special ops, intel, outer space defense, etc.) but maybe not keep building aircraft carriers and tanks believing that WW3 will be a repeat of WW2. Libertarians will like this because they abhor entangling alliances and support America First policies.
  • Cut the bureaucratic overhead of the current system of administering all the complex social service benefit distributions. A 2% cut here might be reasonable and all the funds we currently funnel through the maize of social programs (welfare, food stamps, etc.) could be redirected to the UBI payments. Libertarian’s foist the notion that if the bureaucratic over-reach that stifles creativity was eliminated the problems that beset society would be more directly and effectively tackled. Maybe we could pivot to UBI and hold the libertarians “feet the fire” giving them a chance to show how home grown, organic solutions could create the best of both worlds. If libertarians get accused of being heartless cutting away all government supports, let the UBI be the financial safety net that gives the libertarians time to to prove the naysayers wrong.
  • As election cycles come and go and as crisis’s ebb and flow (pandemics, gas price hikes, etc.) it seems like politicians of all stripes nibble at the edges of real solutions. They offer a tax break here, a stimulus check there, and a dizzying array of program proposals targeted to address special circumstances of sub-groups. Result: confusion, false sense of accomplishment, resentments among those who do not benefit and ultimately the general public tunes them and their proposals out of their consciousness. Again KISS.

My call to action is the following:

  • Maybe the UBI scenario is expensive but in the long run if it frees up the creativity of this country, re-starts investments and over the long haul creates net improvement (as has been demonstrated in the local models where it has been implemented), then let’s give it a try.
  • If some libertarians, some disgruntled members of the Tea Party, some of the right of center folks, some independents, some of the disaffected, disillusioned, apathetic Americans and some of the frustrated beneficiaries of our cumbersome social service system (and the exhausted administrators of those bureaucratic service delivery systems) could be brought on board thanks to a transition to UBI we might have quite an impressive coalition of odd-bedfellows.
  • If an expensive UBI system could move us out of the jungle of stalemate, distrust and animosity then maybe it might be worth every penny (and maybe it could be one of the catalysts that brings this nation together again).
  • As always, looking forward to your thoughts, observations and critiques.

Published by dunnwriteswell

Boomer who is late bloomer to writing. Healthy addictions include Book TV and exercise. Track all things historic, political, cultural, economic and social. Mixture of tough-love. Minimalist who is fiscally conservative and socially progressive. Realist not afraid to see the glass as half empty. However, still willing to consider outside-the-box, long term solutions to seemingly intractable problems. Old enough to appreciate the greater arc of history while remaining young at heart.

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