Firing the entire welfare state bureaucracy does not save the day for a universal basic income as Robert Greenstein explains
Suppose UBI provided everyone with $10,000 a year. That would cost more than $3 trillion a year — and $30 trillion to $40 trillion over ten years.
This single-year figure equals more than three-fourths of the entire yearly federal budget — and double the entire budget outside Social Security, Medicare, defense, and interest payments. It’s also equal to close to 100 percent of all tax revenue the federal government collects…
Where would the money to finance such a large expenditure come from? That it would come mainly or entirely from new taxes isn’t plausible.
We’ll already need substantial new revenues in the coming decades to help keep Social Security and Medicare solvent and avoid large benefit cuts in them. We’ll need further tax increases to help repair a crumbling infrastructure that will otherwise impede economic growth. And if we want to create more opportunity and reduce racial and other barriers and inequities, we’ll also need to raise new revenues to invest more in areas like pre-school education, child care, college affordability, and revitalizing segregated inner-city communities.
A UBI that’s financed primarily by tax increases would require the American people to accept a level of taxation that vastly exceeds anything in U.S. history. It’s hard to imagine that such a UBI would advance very far, especially given the tax increases we’ll already need for Social Security, Medicare, infrastructure, and other needs.
The universal basic income is a rare bird for the left. It is the only time the usual suspects on the left are happy to cut government bureaucracy.
Furthermore, the left makes no inquiries as to how these redundant bureaucrats who administered the welfare state will find jobs. The market is left to work its magic for once. How convenient.
When a tariff cut is proposed, a trade deal signed, or job reduction in a bureaucracy suggested perhaps as the result of a privatisation, left-wing activists chain themselves to factory gates or government offices in solidarity. The social upheaval from the job losses among existing workers and their dim prospects of reemployment are paramount in their minds.
Why in the case of a universal basic income is the left so relaxed about job losses. Indeed, it celebrates as an advantage of a universal basic income that “Most of the bureaucracy of the welfare system [is] swept away” .
The universal basic income is the only time the left welcomes a reduction in bureaucracy and the role in the state. This switch from welfare payments to a universal basic income does not make those on the benefit any better off. Normally they are worse off under a universal basic income.
None of the the less well groups which of the concern of the left gain from a universal basic income. Despite this, they sell the jobs of their comrades in the public sector down the river.
I cannot believe the explanation is job losses are OK as long as they are the result of left-wing policies. Unless the labour market is liberalised, its ability to find new jobs for workers, for example, made redundant in the public sector after the introduction of a universal basic income is not any under greater than under a right-wing policy that costs jobs.
A universal basic income in New Zealand will have to be financed by a great big new tax because the existing ones are not enough according to the Economist calculations below.
HT: Paul Kerby.
Running around saying that Universal Basic Income will make work optional leaves open the question of who will be the suckers who actually do the work and pay enormous taxes to fund the idyllic lifestyle of the bohemian rest.
Source: Morgan Foundation (12 April 2016) Four Lessons for Labour on How to Sell the UBI.
I will contract out to Geoff Simmons of the Morgan Foundation my reply to the claim yesterday by the Morgan Foundation’s Susan Guthrie that there are no negatives from a Universal Basic income. Simmons said:
With an unconditional basic income, most beneficiaries would be no better off than they are now (in fact sole parents would almost certainly receive a lower benefit).
Single parents are $150 a week worse off and retirees are $50 worse off per week if their current income support were replaced by a Universal Basic Income of $11,000 per adult.
Both were entitled to much more under the current welfare benefit system and New Zealand Superannuation respectively. Unemployment, sickness and invalid beneficiaries are about 5% better off under a Universal Basic Income.
Labour’s background paper described a Universal Basic Income of $11,000 as not enough. Guthrie is even franker yesterday about how inadequate a Universal Basic Income is for the poor:
A basic income policy would provide everyone aged 18 and over with an unconditional, tax free survival-level of income each and every year.
I will contract out to Gareth Morgan (2011) why a Universal Basic Income that provides a “survival-level of income” is not good enough:
Rather than decreeing a minimum wage and discovering the consequences for jobs and top-up payments, let’s agree on what is a minimum income every adult should have in order to live a dignified life and then see what flows from that.
We begin by specifying the income level below which we are not prepared to see anyone having to live.
A survival-level of income and a minimum income on which every adult can live a dignified life are not the same thing.
Gareth Morgan’s universal basic income of $11,000 for adults makes most better off except those for whom the modern welfare state was established to protect.
Most of the evidence against the Universal Basic Income comes from examining the numbers put forward by its proponents such as the Morgan Foundation and its excellent online tool. Brian Easton (2015) put it well when he said:
Many advocates put the UMI forward without doing the sums.
Those who do, find that the required tax rates are horrendous or the minimum income is so low that it is not a viable means of eliminating poverty. Among the latter are New Zealanders Douglas, Gareth Morgan and Keith Rankin.
The Universal Basic Income of $11,000 per adult proposed by the Morgan Foundation and floated as a idea to consider by the New Zealand Labour Party leaves the poor way below even that the stingy as the poverty line switch is that 50% relative poverty line. Little wonder that the Labour Party said that increasing the Universal Basic Income to avoid leaving current beneficiaries worth off would lead to a very high tax rate.
His first response was to say a Universal Basic Income would not be implemented immediately. This avoids retirees taking home $50 per week less than currently under NZ Superannuation.
Gareth Morgan’s solution is to say that only those currently under 50 will have to rely on a Universal Basic Income.
Only people who are today under the age of 50 could be expected to retire under the UBI policy, the policy would not apply to existing superannuitants.
Generation Rent have to pay higher taxes to keep current retirees in the superannuation style they have become accustomed. Those aged over 50 are also grandfathered in to the existing level of income support from New Zealand Superannuation.
Generation Rent will have to save their Universal Basic Income so they do not live in poverty when they retire in as little as 15 years from the date of introduction. As Gareth Morgan explains when referring to 40-year-olds:
For the 25 years prior to retirement they will receive the UBI on top of their wages. If they save a good portion of it they will have nest egg at retirement which they can use in retirement to supplement the UBI (which is more modest than today’s NZ Super).
At least the Labour Party admitted that a Universal Basic Income of $11,000 per adult was inadequate and will have to be supplemented so that no one is left worse off:
After all, $11,000 is a lower income than what is currently paid out as part of New Zealand Super. If the figure is too low, then the benefits of security and freedom promised by a UBI may not be realised.
On the other hand, if the figure is pushed higher, taxes will have to rise, possibly to an unrealistically high figure. (Morgan’s $11,000 UBI is funded through a flat tax of 30%.) There is, therefore, a real feasibility-sufficiency trade-off.
It may be that a UBI has to be supplemented by other transfers to ensure that the most vulnerable groups have enough income.
As for single parents relying on a welfare benefit, they are $150 a week short under a Universal Basic Income. Where is Sue Bradford when you need her to go on about beneficiary bashing.
Gareth Morgan’s proposed solution to this $150 per week cut in the incomes of the needy is to suggest that the non-custodial parent of the child should give up part or all of their Universal Basic Income to support their child:
Each child has two parents, the UBI is paid to both whether they live together or not.
It is totally feasible that the UBI of both parents could be required to be directed to support the children in the event of separation. In the Kahuna the amount paid per family would be $22,000 after tax – more than is paid to a sole parent family now.
This hard line on child support will make being a non-custodial parent of a child a rather risky venture under a Universal Basic Income. A Universal Basic Income is supposed to make you feel very secure against misfortune as Gareth Morgan explained back in 2011:
…let’s agree on what is a minimum income every adult should have in order to live a dignified life and then see what flows from that. We begin by specifying the income level below which we are not prepared to see anyone having to live.
If you are the non-custodial parent and down on your luck – unemployed, sick or an invalid – you cannot rely on your Universal Basic Income as a backstop because part or all of that is already transferred to support your child.
Paternity suits will take on a new meaning because you can lose your Universal Basic Income. The Universal Basic Income with Gareth Morgan’s ad hoc amendments this week has strings attached on whether you or someone else receives your Universal Basic Income. That make or break decision will be up to the Family Court and the Child Support Agency at IRD.
I am not sure how a Universal Basic Income deals with deadbeat dads at home and living abroad. Central to its funding is abolition of the welfare state bureaucracy to save $2 billion.
Those down on their luck will not have a welfare state bureaucracy to turn to if their child support does not come through or have nothing to live on after their child support is paid.
Now let Gareth Morgan explain why he wanted to get rid of that welfare state bureaucracy and replace it with a Universal Basic Income:
We must finally admit that with all the paternalistic will in the world there is no chance that public servants can adequately identify and monitor eligibility for a needs-based benefit regime.
We should save ourselves the torture of continuously getting it wrong and designing an endless stream of discriminatory “fixes” to cover our mistakes in finding targeted perfection.
The reality is that people’s circumstances are dynamic and that they will change their behaviour to suit the design of the benefit regime making the chicken and egg nature of determining “needs” an exercise in futility.
The important thing is to be fair and to have a consensus on the level of income that we all have an unconditional entitlement to in order to live a dignified life.
Gareth Morgan seems to throw Generation Rent and non-custodial parents under the bus to deliver on his dream. They both have to give up much of their Universal Basic Income either to their children or their KiwiSaver to fill the growing number of gaps in his Big Kahuna. Their unconditional entitlement to be able to live a dignified life through a Universal Basic Income of $11,000 per adult has a lot of strings attached to it and cracks to fall through with no safety net.
Wear a condom, do not divorce and do not be under 50 are the secrets to enjoying a Universal Basic Income. If not, you are on your own. Your Universal Basic income is already spoken for.
Labor Party finance spokesman Grant Robertson yesterday ruled out an income rate tax of 50% to fund a Universal Basic Income. Labour is considering a Universal Basic Income. It released a background paper for that purpose as part of its Future of Work Commission.
Questions arise as to how the Labour Party will fund its Universal Basic Income after ruling out a tax rate of 50%. As Brain Easton said:
Many advocates put the UMI forward without doing the sums. Those who do find that the required tax rates are horrendous or the minimum income is so low that it is not a viable means of eliminating poverty. Among the latter are New Zealanders Douglas, Gareth Morgan and Keith Rankin.
The Labour Party’s background paper already has said that the Universal Basic Income proposed by the Morgan Foundation is insufficient because many beneficiaries and all retirees will be much worse off. They receive much more in income support under the existing welfare state and they would under a Universal Basic Income of $11,000 per adult as proposed by the Morgan Foundation.
The solution proposed by the Labour Party is a supplemental income transfers to ensure no one is worse under a Universal Basic Income. This will greatly increase the cost of a Universal Basic income in comparison to the Morgan Foundation proposals.
A series of questions come to mind that the Labour Party and its finance spokesman Grant Robinson must answer if they are to go anywhere with a Universal Basic Income;
- Is not the point of a Universal Basic Income to replace the welfare state, not supplement it?
- How will the Labour Party fund its Universal Basic Income plus the supplemental income transfers without introducing a $8 billion tax on capital income (including the family home) as in the Morgan Foundation’s proposals?
- The Universal Basic Income proposed by the Morgan Foundation requires $13 billion in extra taxes ($8 billion from taxing capital and $5 billion from a 30% flat-rate income tax) so how much more to that will Labour need for a Universal Basic Income plus supplemental income transfers?
- What is the maximum top marginal income tax rate that Labour will consider to fund a Universal Basic Income?
- Will the Labour Party’s Universal Basic Income be funded by a flat rate income tax or a progressive income tax system?
Gareth Morgan revealed today a hitherto unnoticed design feature in his Universal Basic Income of $11,000 per annum. It will be phased in over a long time. That will mean that Generation Rent will continue to pay taxes to fund a universal old age pension for their parents and grandparents, but will not be fortunate enough to receive that themselves.
Source: Morgan Foundation (2016) Taxpayers Union Critique of the UBI just bonkers – again
They are not left of their own devices. Generation Rent is expected to save the Universal Basic Income they receive over their working lives to avoid living in poverty in their retirement. Does not strike me as a political winner.
The Morgan Foundation does not understand the implications of time inconsistency for retirement savings policy:
- Which is better? Save for your retirement through the share market or save to own your own home and then present yourself at the local social security office to collect your taxpayer funded old-age pension?
- Under this fine game of bluff, you bleed the taxpayer in your old age and pass on your debt-free home to your children.
This strategy of not saving much for retirement is rational for the less well-paid. The family home is exempt from income and asset testing for social security. If you lose you bet, sell your house and live off the capital. For ordinary workers, this is a good bet. The middle class might prefer to live in a more luxurious retirement.
For ordinary workers, whose wages are not a lot more than their old age pension from the government, a government funded pension is a good political gamble. The old-age pension for a couple in New Zealand is set at no less that 60% of average earnings.
Edward Prescott argues for compulsory retirement savings account albeit with important twists because it is otherwise irrational for many to save for their retirement against the background of a welfare state:
The reason we need to have mandatory retirement accounts is not because people are irrational, but precisely because they are perfectly rational — they know exactly what they are doing.
If, for example, somebody knows that they will be cared for in old age — even if they don’t save a nickel — then what is their incentive to save that nickel? Wouldn’t it be rational to spend that nickel instead?
…Without mandatory savings accounts we will not solve the time-inconsistency problem of people under-saving and becoming a welfare burden on their families and on the taxpayers. That’s exactly where we are now.