I’ve been following debates on guaranteed income for almost a decade, and one thing that’s stood out is that universal basic income (UBI), a regular cash payment to all citizens with no strings attached, is like a Rorschach test.
Some people see UBI as a “capitalist road to communism” or a world free of work. Others see everything from a means of unleashing the population’s creative potential to a policy that would undermine human agency and erode “psychological capital.” Some see it as a way to shore up the welfare state. Others, a way to bulldoze it.
In part, that’s because unless you pin down the details, basic income is too vague to mean anything politically concrete. Like the Rorschach inkblot, you can interpret and design UBI in an endless variety of ways. A program that provides $250 per month is a different ballgame than one providing $1,200 per month. The same goes for one that replaces all other welfare, like food aid (sometimes referred to as a “pure UBI,” which would actually leave the most disadvantaged worse off, and is a bad idea), compared with one that complements existing programs.
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