Has An Idea Finally Met Its Time?

The concept of a national guaranteed minimum income has been around for some time. It gained a lot of popularity in conjunction with Andrew Yang’s 2020 Democratic presidential campaign. Like most I have for a long time dismissed it as too far out. I’m having some second thoughts.

What if we used it as a catch all to replace our existing (and demonstrably inadequate) social safety net? Trillions of dollars in multiple bailout/relief packages during the pandemic and before have proven that our existing social safety net program is woefully inadequate. Today we have a maze of what years ago we called welfare programs but we still have an abundance of poverty and food insecurity in America. Obviously what we have is not working. How about scrapping it and starting a new?

Many Americans, including most Democrats and independent but Democratic leaning voters, are socially liberal but to some degree fiscally conservative. One of the main reasons you never see me knocking conservatism is that in some circumstances, with regard to fiscal policy, I feel it is the way we should go. If we came up with a reasonable plan where a national guaranteed minimum income replaced all other social service programs I think it could be sold to the vast majority of voters. The current system obviously isn’t working so why not try to develop one that can?

Let’s look at some of the objections I anticipate.

What happens to the SNAP program (more commonly known as food stamps)? The short answer is that it goes away. It is run out of the Agriculture Department because one of the ways it was originally “sold” in Congress is that it is aid to farmers by supplying them with a market. The money still exists, it just comes from a different agency, therefore the market exists along with the needed agricultural support. All that we lose is a lot of bureaucracy and those resources can be utilized elsewhere to better serve society.

What about unemployment benefits? They vanish because with a guaranteed minimum income there is no need for them. The guaranteed national income is unemployment compensation. Again this frees up a lot of resources for more beneficial deployment.
What about non-medical Social Security benefits? They also vanish.  The  guaranteed national income is your government pension. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but again we can see redeployable resources. The Medicare portion is a problem but a cradle to grave national health care system (including delivery) is another battle for another day.

Where does the fight for $15 stand in this? I’m not going to be foolish enough to try to lay out all the details in a simply article but $31,200 does not seem like an outrageous base income. If we started there the fight for $15 is moot. As in all minimum wage/benefit discussions I’m open to exploring regional adjustments but that is what the sausage making process of legislation is for.
I could go on but you get the idea by now. This is an impossible dream with the current Senate and the filibuster rule as is in place. As with most things the devil is in the details but I no longer consider the concept of a national guaranteed minimum income foolish and with a little selling I don’t think the majority of Americans will.

Over the last nearly 100 years the pattern has been that America elects Republicans and the economy suffers (The Great Depression, The Great Recession and The Trump Depression). The Democrats who replaced them (FDR and Barack Obama) brought with them recoveries. It appears Joe Biden is poised to follow recent American history. Let’s think big and tomorrow.

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