What’s Good About Guaranteed Basic Income

If conservatives really want to do away with “wasteful” and “overly bureaucratic” social services in the U.S. - services like Medicaid, Social Security and foodstamps - there’s an easy alternative.

It’s simple. It encourages personal responsibility. And it will do away with our current mess of programs that make up our social safety net. All we have to do is guarantee every person a universal, and unconditional, minimum income.

It sounds unusual. It sounds like we’d just be paying people not to work. And why would anyone choose to work if they’re receiving FREE money already?

That’s the knee-jerk response - but it doesn’t hold up in real-world experiments.

A paper published in 2013 looked at two groups in Uganda: one group that received a no-strings attached grant equal to their annual income - about 380 dollars per person - and a control group that received no grant. And what did the unemployed youth do when they were “paid not to work”?

The group that received the grant worked on average an extra 17 hours in comparison to the control group. And they showed a 41% increase in earnings four years after receiving the grant. They invested in skills and businesses. Individuals were 65% more likely to practice a skilled trade two years after receiving the grants.

And researchers have seen similar results from other experiments with unconditional income. In Kenya incomes increased by 33% and assets increased by 58% just one year after people received an unconditional $513 grant.

Those researchers also found that the grant reduced hunger and that the recipients were better off in terms of psychological well-being. Which just makes sense. A guaranteed income lets households make a real budget and frees people from focusing only on where their next meal will come from.

Those are numbers that show that a guaranteed minimum income promotes economic productivity and real growth from the base of the market. But those are just examples in the developing world. What about evidence from the world’s developed countries?

Well, the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands will run its own experiment with basic minimum incomes. Starting at the end of the summer, the city of Utrecht and University College Utrecht will give some welfare recipients a living income instead. Instead of receiving welfare, individuals will receive a 900 euro monthly check, and a couple or a family will receive up to 1,300 euros.

According to the Alderman for Work and Income, Victor Everhardt, the questions at the core of the experiment are: “What happens if someone gets a monthly amount without rules and controls? Will someone sit passively at home or do people develop themselves and provide a meaningful contribution to our society?”

Based on what we’ve seen in similar experiments in Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, South Africa and even Mexico: people will develop themselves and contribute to real economic growth and the wealth of the nation. People want to contribute. And they want to be productive members of society.

The problem in America, and in many other parts of the world, is that the majority of workers have to work just to survive. And again, the knee-jerk reactions is that that’s how it should be, or at least that's what billionaires who inherited their fortunes say!

But that mentality goes against the core notion of having an inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When are individuals supposed to pursue happiness in a society where both parents in a household have to work two or three jobs with constantly changing schedules - just to pay the rent and keep the water running?

How are people supposed to start businesses based on their own talents and innovation if they are working dead-end jobs that require and teach no skills - just to keep food on the table?

How can anyone invest their hard earned money into a start-up business or just into savings - if every cent of their income goes to just the bare essentials?

Providing a guaranteed minimum income makes people freer and more able to participate in society. And that translates to a freer market where more people are able and willing to participate. “Where does the money come from?!” the conservatives will shriek.

Why don’t we ask Sarah Palin and the good people of Alaska? Alaska collects royalties on oil that’s extracted within the state, those royalties go to the state’s Permanent Fund, and then that fund pays out about $1,800 a year to every man, woman and child in the state.

So a good start would be to charge fossil fuel companies royalties for extracting resources on federal and state land, and to close the loopholes that companies use to avoid paying those royalties right now. Then you cut the $52 billion that we give out to those companies in subsidies, and there’s a real basis for a U.S. permanent fund.

Combine that basis with the savings from eliminating the rest of the social safety net, and there’s more than enough money for every man woman and child to not just survive - but to contribute meaningfully to our economy and society.

So the next time a conservative tells you about government waste and fraud with Medicaid and Foodstamps, just remind them. We could eliminate every single social welfare program and streamline our social safety net. If we simply set up a guaranteed minimum income based on living wages around the country.


kellybchicago's picture
kellybchicago 8 years 50 weeks ago

Hi Thom,

I might be crazy for seeing more into this video but, can you and your listeners please watch this and comment. I think its subliminal messaging regarding race. What do you think.


I look forward to hearing from you all.



TxPeon's picture
TxPeon 8 years 50 weeks ago

This same experiment was done in Canada, the results were the same. Homelessness almost completely dissappeared, unemployment fell, standard do everyone's living improved, and the economy was elevated. Unfortunately, the conservative base here, makes too much money ripping off our govt., and conning the public, with occupations, of other countries, and terrorism.

oneworldatpeace's picture
oneworldatpeace 8 years 50 weeks ago

Hey Thom ! and friends! I barely limped into Social Security as a Union Building Trades Commercial Plumber and was relieved when I started getting my checks from SS after I turned 67. I couldn't have stood any more pain if I had to work any more years so raising the retirement age is something I can't believe any politician could believe would be OK but I remember my sense of relief when I realized I didn't have to maintain unemployment anymore BECAUSE I COULD ALWAYS PAY MY RENT!

I thought! WOW WOULDN'T IT BE GREAT IF EVERYBODY COULD ALWAYS PAY THEIR RENT ! Without having to be in pain or work slave hours or all the other compromises' that families have to make in minimum wage America.

Salt Lake City has found that if they give Drug addicts, Drunks, and other assorted "street people" free HOUSING, they stop being Drunks, Addicts and they go to WORK! This will really piss off the Christians,

its almost like that pain in the Ass Liberal was talking about on the service on the Mount

peace and justice's picture
peace and justice 8 years 50 weeks ago

Bucky Fuller said pretty much the same in the 60's. Give everyone on the planet an income and let them do what they love to do. Humans are designed to be problem-solvers for the earth.

liz banker 8 years 50 weeks ago

Thom, I would highly recommend this NYT article for your reading. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/07/us/politics/hillary-clintons-team-is-wary-as-bernie-sanders-finds-footing-in-iowa.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=photo-spot-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Who would I like to see in Hillary Clinton's cabinet should she steal the Democratic nomination away from Senator Bernie Sanders? Any corporate management who also hates to see waste and fraud among its worker bees. More specifically, I would like to see someone from Walmart, Hewlett Packard, Disney Corp, etc. in Hillary's cabinet, in any position as Secretary or Under-secretary. Someone who knows how to suppress wages but talks a good game about worker concerns; able to strategically outsource every middle-class job if the Transpacific Partnership trade rules fall short in Congress; hires more foreign nationals that got the benefit of an American ivy league education; uses identity politics as a conduit to pass corporate personhood more effectively; and anyone else who would understand the real value of being greedy--not just on Wall Street--but within our commons and our community recreational centers. Corporate statehood would be the backbone of our 21st Century.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 8 years 50 weeks ago

Geez, I wonder what a national poll on guaranteed basic income would look like?.....99% in favor, 1% oppposed......the 1% including billionaires like the Waltons, and fast food franchise owners.

Thomas Paine says, yeah!

mathboy's picture
mathboy 8 years 50 weeks ago

If it were enough to survive on, I'd gladly quit my job and do something meaningful and fulfilling with my life. Unfortunately, bad labor laws have screwed me out of 14 weeks of vacation time and therefore I can't even catch up on basic stuff at home.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 50 weeks ago

The business class has WAY too much power over our lives and destinies. I think a guaranteed income -- with single payer -- would have a wonderfully transformative effect on society as well as the lives of its citizens.

w1ders's picture
w1ders 8 years 50 weeks ago

Do you think everyone who is guaranteed social security and disability would gladly give up the money in it to give to a collection to distribute to all? And if something goes terribly wrong what guarantee do they have? Too many times the billionaires, banks, and wall street have found ways to deplete large collections of money. What happened to the lock box on Social Security funds? Didn't Ronnie do away with that to make up for his tax cuts?

delster's picture
delster 8 years 50 weeks ago

Capitalism can only suceed when there is sucess for a few and failure for many. It is the ultimate pyramid scam. Easy enough to analize poverty by declaring the weak and unambitious fail but that is not true in every case. Ultimately it is not even capital or giving money away that is the solution. The solution is opportunity for as many as possible and I believe the opportunity is getting scarce. The goal of industrial, retail and investment capitalist is to maximize profit with as little investment as necessary. A true capitalist is the ultomate welfare recipiant. They make much more than they deserve based on the effort they put nto what they do. Thats an entitlement we simply cannot afford with dwindling resources and shrinking opportunities. Everytime I watch the Shark Tank I get sick of these self riteous under achieving entitlement freaks whos main goal in life is to legally scam democracy into thnking what they devise is ethical.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 50 weeks ago

Let's not forget how much money is being wasted on warfare, weapons of war, corporate welfare and tax breaks for people who don’t need them. The Pentagon alone is literally eating our lunch. And what have bank bailouts (on our nickle!) done for us except set us up for the next big crash?! That’s a crapload of wasted money; trillions upon trillions of dollars that can EASILY pay for a guaranteed income and healthcare for all.

This is not a question of available funds. It’s a question of priorities. I’ve said this so many times already, I’m beginning to feel like a scratched Lp with the needle jumping back again and again… but I’ll keep saying it anyway. Priorities, widers!

Delster (post #10), I wholeheartedly agree.

Thom seems to think well-regulated capitalism is a viable option, but I disagree. Capitalism needs to go bye-bye. We cannot count on politicians to regulate it adequately; I think what we’ve witnessed over the past thirty five years gives ample proof. With all due respect to Thom’s intellect and grasp of the issues, I’d love to debate him on that (and Hillary).

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 49 weeks ago

AIW -- As I tell Loren B, you need more details of your alternative plan.

Thom has a strong argument for regulated capitalism. That argument is that the New Deal and Great Society provided a plan which resulted in the most beneficial economy to the lower and middle classes that has happened in the 7000 years of western civilization.

Bernie's plan so far has what I think are the most critical parts of the New Deal. Those pieces are a 91% top tax rate and the elimination of all trade agreements we have made,

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 49 weeks ago

Chuck-- "the most beneficial economy to the lower and middle classes that has happened in the 7000 years of western civilization...." In the U.S.?! Sorry my friend, but I find that pill a little hard to swallow.

Don't get me wrong. I love Bernie's plan. But when it comes to quality of life, we pale in comparison to the Scandenavian countries. How can you insist a country that (for example) lacks a national universal single payer system of healthcare, can still claim such a grandiose mark of distinction?! I seriously question whether American workers have ever been treated with the compassion and generosity enjoyed by those In Norway or Denmark, to cite just two examples.

No paid sick leave, no paid family leave, skimpy unemployment protections, no paid vacations, no paid maternity leave, no this, no that... Gimmie a fucking break.

I don't know what kind of "details" you want, Chuck, but how about explaining to me what's so wonderful about capitalism. I repeat: politicians have proven themselves unreliable when it comes to maintaining regulations necessary to keep capitalism's predatory tendencies in check. The past several decades provide ample proof of this. Do you want me to draw you a picture?

I don't know about you, Chuck, but I'm tired of being at the mercy of whoever the next president is. With maybe the exception of Carter, every single goddam president we've had has left us worse off; more of the New Deal eroded away, more of those regulations on capitalism stripped away, leaving us more vulnerable to the whims of capitalism's fucking carnivores. Enough already.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 49 weeks ago

AIW -- Regulated capitalism is what the Scandinavian countries have. In 2008, the CEO of IKEA was the richest man in the world. The reason we have no paid sick leave, no paid family leave, skimpy unemployment protections, no paid vacations, no paid maternity leave etc is because Reaganism loosened the regulations.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 49 weeks ago

Well Chuck, apparently the Scandinavians have figured out how to regulate capitalism permanently and have the political will to do it. But that is not the case here. Our legislators do not have that political will, which is why we keep going through these eighty-year cycles. Our policians are not trustworthy. And this is why I think it must go. I'm not holding my breath, and I doubt I'll live to see it, but that's my opinion. Take it or leave it.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 49 weeks ago

AIW -- Hopefully, Bernie will lead us to the Scandinavian way.

Quote AIW:And this is why I think it must go.

What must go? What would we replace it with?

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 49 weeks ago

SOCIALISM, Chuck. Democratic socialism, or socialist democracy; take your pick.

Yeah that nasty, dirty little word that gets so many Americans' panties in a twist, at the mere utterance of it.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 48 weeks ago

AIW -- It seems that socialism and capitalism have so many interpretations and meanings, that they have lost meaning.

Thom's Blog Is On the Move

Hello All

Thom's blog in this space and moving to a new home.

Please follow us across to hartmannreport.com - this will be the only place going forward to read Thom's blog posts and articles.

From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Thom Hartmann is a literary descendent of Ben Franklin and Tom Paine. His unflinching observations and deep passion inspire us to explore contemporary culture, politics, and economics; challenge us to face the facts of the societies we are creating; and empower us to demand a better world for our children and grandchildren."
John Perkins, author of the New York Times bestselling book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
From Screwed:
"I think many of us recognize that for all but the wealthiest, life in America is getting increasingly hard. Screwed explores why, showing how this is no accidental process, but rather the product of conscious political choices, choices we can change with enough courage and commitment. Like all of Thom’s great work, it helps show us the way forward."
Paul Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen and The Impossible Will Take a Little While
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Right through the worst of the Bush years and into the present, Thom Hartmann has been one of the very few voices constantly willing to tell the truth. Rank him up there with Jon Stewart, Bill Moyers, and Paul Krugman for having the sheer persistent courage of his convictions."
Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth