COVID-19/Coronavirus and the Conversation for Universal Basic Income
The Elephant in the Room
There’s an elephant in the room: the coronavirus, also called COVID-19. It’s such a novel thing that my spell-checker doesn’t even recognize it as a word!
The virus escape the confines of Wuhan, China and created a modern-day pandemic. Thousands are sick within hospitals, self-quarantined, or fighting for their very life. Some have said it could turn into the next Spanish flu, growing deadlier with each new wave. Other have said we’ll just create a vaccine or use our newfangled antibiotics and the problem will go away.
In the meantime, however, we’re all sitting around while the schools and businesses around us close, leaving many people unable to earn a paycheck. The economy had made a rebound after Trump’s election, but now it’s diving into the ground faster than it did in 2008 when the housing bubble burst, throwing us all into a recession that, let’s face it, was really a depression that nobody wanted to admit was happening.
In the face of this emergency, something that normally has such a limited debate has finally seen its day: universal basic income.
This is everything you need to know about it in as unbiased a manner as I can muster so that you know all the possible paths the emergency stimulus can take.
What A UBI Is
The idea of a universal basic income is simply a guaranteed income, and the concept for it is older than most people realize. Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense in 1776, was a proponent of a universal basic income, and it can be found even in writings from the 1400s.
A UBI is:
Automatic: You can rely on it every month, annually, or bi-annually, whether it comes in the form of a check in the mail or a direct deposit.
Not Means-Tested: This income is universal, whether you make $17,000/year or six or seven figures.
Individual: This isn’t an income that’s divided up per household, it’s per individual. So long as you’re over eighteen-years-old (in America), you have a right to some form of income from the government.
Unconditional: It doesn’t matter whether you’re employed, unemployed, or retired. It doesn’t matter what gender or race you are, either. If you’re a citizen or permanent resident of the country employing, you have a right to some form of income.
There have been a number of basic income pilots and experiments around the world, the longest-running one being GiveDirectly in Nairobi, Kenya, which has been going on for three years. India is also testing such a system and Finland gave it a whirl, but they decided not to extend the program until the results are analyzed.
It should be added that those involved in the Finland experiment reported fewer health problems and lowered stress compared to the control group.
And, of course, it formed the basis of Presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who dropped out of the race just weeks before the pandemic hit in full force. What was once considered almost a laughing matter in the debate stage is now front and center.
What’s Actually Being Proposed
Okay, so we know what a UBI is and that the idea of implementing it goes much farther back than Yang’s candidacy. Now the question is, “What is the government actually proposing, and is it a universal basic income?”
There are a lot of plans competing right now to become the one true stimulus. Here’s what I’ve found so far:
Andrew Yang proposed a true UBI in the form of $1,000/month to be paid to every American over the age of 18. According to him, this could be paid for by consolidating welfare programs and giving people the choice between getting more traditional welfare or the unconditional $1,000. In addition, he would add a 10% tax on the production of goods and services. He’s hopeful that Americans will opt for this permanent plan in the wake of COVID-19.
Tulsi Gabbard has put forth a bill called HR 897, which seeks to pay all American adults $1,00o/month for the duration of the crisis. Because of this, it would be paid for largely the same way the 2008 stimulus was paid for, due to its temporary nature.
Ilhan Omar has come out saying that all American adults should receive $1,000/mo and each child $500/mo, at least while the country is suffering under the crisis. She has also thrown her support behind Tulsi Gabbard’s bill.
Mitt Romney believes that all American adults should receive a one-time payment of $1,000 to help stimulate the economy.
Bernie Sanders originally said that each American household should received $2,000. Given the varying sizes of households, he responded to criticism by correcting the press and saying that he meant every individual should receive the money, not just households.
Regardless of which bills come to pass, the White House has said it’s also considering means-testing as a way to distribute the money. This could be problematic, as some have pointed out, because people who were making substantial money last year might have been completely wiped out this year, especially in the wake of the virus.
Aside from Yang’s plan, however, it should be clear that none of these bills represent a true UBI. Most of them are temporary and unsuitable for long-term stability.
The Next Step
I don’t know where you stand on the issue of UBI; I just wanted to inform everyone of what’s happening out there. If there’s a bill you support, or don’t support, write to your Congressman/woman and let them know! Heck, write to Trump himself (or Tweet to him) and let him know what your opinion is.
Thanks for reading.