[FoRK] universal welfare.

Damien Morton dmorton at bitfurnace.com
Sat Feb 6 18:43:48 PST 2010


If Bowles has the history of wealth figured out all the way back to the
Stone Age, shouldn’t he have some practical advice?

Indeed he does. Here, one number will suffice.


OK, that’s a figure Bowles picked out of the air. It’s how much each person
might receive under a key economic reform he supports: universal welfare.

It could also be called direct government investment in everyone. After all,
taxpayers already invest in strangers’ children through the public schools
before turning them loose with nothing.

“Suppose instead what we did is this: We said, ‘Look, when somebody turns
18, he gets a quarter of a million dollars and, after that, you’re on your
own,’” Bowles says. “Once you’ve got your quarter-million, you’ve got to
make a decision: ‘Should I go to college or do I want to start a
business?’—which you could do with a quarter of a million.”

This is a variant of an old idea, more recently popularized—at least in
Europe—by the Belgian economist Philippe Van Parijs. Under his “basic income
grant” proposal, the government would redistribute wealth so that everyone
has enough to live.

“They just get a check. And they get it no matter what—Rockefeller, the
poorest person in America, everybody gets it,” Bowles says. “There’s nothing
you can do to get more; there’s nothing you can do to get less.”

Such a system eliminates the disincentives to work in the current social
safety net. “The problem with the welfare system is that as soon as you get
a job, they start taking your money,” Bowles says. “This basically says,
‘You’ve got this nest egg and, if you go out and get a job, you keep the
whole thing—except for whatever taxes you pay.”

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