Overwhelming Evidence That A Guaranteed Income Will Work

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Above Photo: A giant poster in Geneva reading “What would you do if your income was taken care of?” ahead of Switzerland’s vote on a proposed “basic income” set the Guinness World Record for the largest poster ever printed. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

We’ll have to do something drastically different to employ people in the future. Our jobs are disappearing. The driverless vehicle is here, destined to eliminate millions of transport and taxi-driving positions. Car manufacturing is being done by 3-D printing. An entire building was erected in Dubai with a 3-D printer. Restaurants are being designed with no waitstaff or busboys, hotels with no desk clerks, bellhops, and porters. Robot teachers are interacting with students in Japan and the UK.

There are plenty of naysayers and skeptics, of course. The Atlantic proclaimed, “The job market defied doomsayers in those earlier times, and according to the most frequently reported jobs numbers, it has so far done the same in our own time.” But this is a different time, with no guarantees of job revolutions, and in fact a time of unprecedented machine intelligence that threatens the livelihoods even of doctors, teachers, accountants, architects, the clergy, consultants, and lawyers.

Most of our new jobs are in service industries, including retail and personal health care and food service. The only one of the eight fastest-growing occupations that pays over $33,000 per year is nursing — and even nursing may give way to Robotic Nurse Assistants. The evidence for downsized jobs keeps accumulating. A US Mayors study found that ‘recovery’ jobs pay 23 percent less than the positions they replaced. The National Employment Law Project estimates that low-wage jobs accounted for 22 percent of job losses but 44 percent of subsequent job gains. Business InsiderHuffington Post, and theWall Street Journal all concur: the unemployment rate is remaining low because of low-paying jobs.

We’re fooling ourselves by believing in a future with satisfying middle-class jobs for millions of Americans. It’s becoming clear that income should be guaranteed, so that recipients have the wherewithal and incentive and confidence to find productive ways to serve society.

Evidence from Research

Credible research overwhelmingly supports the concept. A World Bank analysis of 19 studies found that cash transfers have been demonstrated to improve education and health outcomes and alleviate poverty…concerns about the use of cash transfers for alcohol and tobacco consumption are unfounded. An MIT/Harvard analysis of seven cash transfer trials found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work.” The Brooks World Poverty Institute found that money transfers to the poor are used primarily for basic needsBasic Incomes have been shown to lead to reductions in crime and inequality and malnutrition and infant mortality.

Successes in North America

One of the earliest experiments with guaranteed incomes was the “Mincome” (minimum income) program conducted in the town of Dauphin, Manitoba during the 1970s. The results were never made clear, partly because of a change to a more conservative government, which put the program’s records in storage, unevaluated. One study, however, found improved health outcomes for the recipients of the basic income payments.

In the U.S., the Alaska Permanent Fund has thrived for 35 years, even with anti-socialist conservatives in power. Texas has long employed a “Permanent School Fund” to distribute funds from mineral rights to the public education system. Wyoming has used a similar “Mineral Trust Fund” to help eliminate state income taxes. Nebraska distributes low-cost electricity from a publicly owned utility. Oregon has used the proceeds from wind energy to return hundreds of dollars to households. Vermont has proposed “Common Assets Trust” to raise money from taxes on pollution and pay dividends to residents. A pilot basic income experiment is set to begin in Oakland.

Numerous Native American communities have instituted guaranteed income programs, both in the form of shared benefits from casinos and as “land trusts,” which recognize the common ownership of natural resources. Notably, according to a Duke Universityanalysis, the establishment of the Eastern Cherokee Indian Land Trust has resulted in fewer behavioral and emotional problems among the community’s children, relative to neighboring communities. In adulthood, recipients had less depression, anxiety, and alcohol dependence.

Even the concept of providing grants to homeless people seems to work. In both Utah and California, trial programs have led to stable living conditions for dozens of formerly homeless people, with few conflicts or behavioral issues within the communities, and at a significantly lower cost than the alternative of temporary shelters — especially if people without homes are given jobs, as in a new program in Albuquerque.

Successes in Europe

A 2005 program in Britain added support to the argument that the reduction of poverty promotes family stability, rather than the other way around. Efforts to increase family income, especially through work opportunities, resulted in “sharp and sustained decreases in material hardship for the most vulnerable families,” and, in the cases of households with children, more spending on family needs and less on alcohol and tobacco. A broader study of 18 European countries found “increasing employment commitment as social spending gets more generous” — in other words, dividend payments encourage people to work harder, rather than the other way around. NowFinland is readying a wide-scale guaranteed income program, and cities in theNetherlands are preparing similar experiments with such “basic income” payments. Despite an initial rejection of a basic income proposal, citizens of Switzerland continue toadvocate for a Guaranteed Income plan that would provide $2,600 a month tax-free to every adult, and $650 to each child.

Successes in Africa

A program in Uganda followed young people who were given cash grants with twice the typical annual income. After four years most had invested their earnings in vocations, causing their earnings to rise by 40 percent or more, an outcome that generally lasted well beyond the four-year study period. Women overall earned more than men. As summarized by the authors of the study, “The grants are typically invested and yield high returns…even among poor, unemployed and relatively uneducated women.”

In Namibia, a two-year program yielded remarkable results, reducing poverty from 76% to 16%, child malnutrition from 42% to 10%, and school dropout rates from 40% to almost zero. A Unicef-funded study in India recorded the same positive health effects, with particularly noticeable improvements among the disabled population.

The charity Give Directly, which has been highly rated by the charity research organization GiveWell, provided cash transfers to poor rural households in Kenya. Results showed increased spending on food, medical needs, and education, with very little used for alcohol and tobacco, and with similar outcomes for both males and females. According to the authors of the study, “Transfer recipients experience large increases in psychological well-being.”

Almost Everyone Likes the Idea

The Guaranteed Income concept is not a left-right issue, it is not welfare for the poor or the rich, it is not blessing or bane to any exclusive segment of America. Whereas liberals see it as a means of lifting millions of Americans out of poverty, many conservatives and libertarians endorse it as a means of decreasing government intervention and promoting individual choice in spending decisions. Individuals as diverse as Milton Friedman, Martin Luther King, and Charles Murray have all promoted the concept.

Guaranteed Jobs

Perhaps most importantly, a guaranteed income could relieve some of the pressure on our newest generation of young adults, who are deep in debt, underemployed, increasingly unable to live on their own, and ill-positioned to take the entrepreneurial chances that are needed to spur innovative business growth. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 70% of workers don’t feel ‘engaged’ (enthusiastic and committed) in their jobs. A guaranteed income will offer young people the freedom to choose appealing work. No other group of Americans could make better use of an immediate boost in income.

Paying For It?

Several ways have already been suggested, and the extended list, detailed at You Deserve Facts, includes:

  • Collecting from Corporate Tax Avoiders
  • Collecting from Individual Tax Avoiders
  • Financial Speculation Tax
  • Military Cuts
  • Progressive Income Tax
  • The Reduction of Regressive Taxes
  • Wealth Tax
  • Carbon Tax
  • Land Tax
  • Patent Reform
  • Share of the Research Benefits
  • Safety Net Savings


  • Dave Constable

    The 1970’s programme in Dauphin, Manitoba is mentioned as not yet being adequately studied.
    A retired senator here in Canada, a Conservative who was chief of staff of the Prime Minister’s Office a that time has, for some years, been an advocate for Guaranteed Annual income. He says that the reports on the programme were shelved, but that they do show all the positive results cited in the other studies mentioned above. Reduced demands on health care system, increased school attendance, increased high school graduation rates, reduced crime, and reduced unemployment!
    It’s possible that the reduced unemployment included people choosing to work at what they figured was important, and less for what outsiders figured was important.
    I would think, too that people would have a stronger sense of belonging to a community, and that citizenship participation would increase.
    I would think that GAI would impact other social phenomena such as abortion rates and prostitution. I suggest that with decriminalization of various drugs’ use that GAI would have an impact there as well.

    There are powerful interests that do not want anything like GAI for others at all.

  • Jon

    While I fully endorse this proposal for a guaranteed income, and the methods to pay for it, the article’s author tacitly assumes that employment will continue to be determined by corporate need for profits instead of human need. If, in an alternative economy, we provide employment based on what people truly need, there will be employment for everyone who can work. Just to get started:
    1. Converting industrial agriculture to multi-crop organic farming which employs far more human labor instead of massive machines.
    2. Providing piped potable water for everyone on earth
    3. Massive reforestation to reclaim land removed form forest for mono-crops
    4. Remediation of contaminated lands
    5. Wholesale conversion form fossil fuels to alternative energy.
    6. Use of navies worldwide to remove trash and plastics from the oceans

    If I can imagine such a future, so can others, and create the political will do do it. Jill Stein is just such a person.

  • DHFabian

    It’s clear that the basic income guarantee would not only resolve some of our greatest, most expensive problems as a nation, but would ensure a vibrant economy overall, where creativity and productivity were possible and positive. The US as a culture, however, has gone far in the opposite direction.

    Since the 1980s, we have been re-educated about wealth and poverty, and now determine human worth itself on the basis of income/class. Even liberals no longer call for restoring the most basic human rights (UN’s UDHR) of food and shelter to America’s poor because they don’t believe the poor qualify for those rights. The poor are viewed as something separate, different, from the rest of the population. This is a very extreme viewpoint, not the human norm, but it is what today’s generation has been taught to believe.

    I think Americans overall would rather see the nation and economy crash completely than live with the anxiety that some someone, somewhere, was getting a crumb more than he deserves/has earned.

  • DHFabian

    Most of these ideas are for jobs that require physical strength, and overwhelmingly hire men. More broadly, we remain stuck on infrastructure jobs as our sole response to our economic crisis.

    Either way, saving and rebuilding the country/society must start with the here and now, or there won’t be a future for the US. It’s great to think ahead, but in the meantime: What should we do with our surplus population right now — those who can’t work, and those for whom no jobs are available? This has to be the starting point, and there is clearly no will to even begin educating the general public about these issues.

    The US shut down/shipped out a huge number of jobs since the 1980s, ended actual welfare in the 1990s, and we pretend that there are no consequences. What we have actually been doing is making the US itself unsustainable. This makes the collapse of the economy/nation inevitable.

  • DHFabian

    Didn’t Canada, like the US, largely embrace the belief that poverty is the fault of those who are pushed into poverty, and that it is therefore appropriate to treat them as harshly as possible?

  • Jon

    Did you read the first line I wrote? Women a all over the world are engaged in agriculture, that addresses another point of yours. Women can also be engaged in alternate energy and the other suggestions I made. Where is your negativity coming from? Despair is not a winning strategy, Fabian!

  • GraceAdams830

    A wonderful wish list. With somewhat higher taxes maybe we could scrape up 5% of GDP to hire about 5% of population able to do at least some useful work but least able among the able-bodied to land and hold a regular corporate job and use them to at least start on your wish list.

  • Jon

    Hi Grace, I want this to be EVERYBODY’S wish list. Just higher taxes on the corporate interests and their bloated-income CEO’s–not all of us. We need to redirect a good 50% of the military and “intelligence” services into projects like these. Thanks for notices my comments.

  • GraceAdams830

    Since I like replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy most urgently, maybe first phase in a tax on greenhouse emissions and use the revenue to help pay for the renewable energy to replace the fossils. That tax would consume it’s base and need another tax on energy regardless of carbon footprint to raise funds to finish the job. I hope the energy tax kept below maximum revenue rate could yield enough to finish everything on your list.

  • Jon

    FYI I worked for 20 years marketing solar energy for water heating. But I want to see mare targeted taxation, along with freeing money from the gigantic, bloated military, which is the biggest consumer of fossil fuels in the world. I want taxation on those who can afford it, not the average working class people who are struggling already.

  • GraceAdams830

    Eisenhower targeted fuel for motor vehicles to pay for much improving interstate highways. Didn’t the improvement in those highways save highway users enough between improved efficiency and wear and tear on their vehicles enough to pay those gas taxes?

  • Jon

    “Eisenhower targeted fuel for motor vehicles to pay for much improving interstate highways.” Sure. But nowadays when so many people are struggling, I don’t want to see any more taxation of the low end of the financial ladder. As for what the military contractors could make, start with alternative energy equipment, including ways to capture the tidal shift for power, and modern electric trains, including light rail for commuter traffic. Inexpensive pre-fab houses to mitigate the homeless problem is another.,

  • GraceAdams830

    Only people who drive buy motor vehicle fuel and since it costs $1000 /YEAR for mandatory liability insurance alone, motorists are not at the bottom of the heap.