Are you ready for the next stage of the welfare state? Stockton, California is preparing to launch a pilot program to test out the idea of a basic income, one that the funders hope will one day become a universal basic income. From Fox News:

Stockton plans to give several dozen families $500 a month for a year as part of a program to study the economic and social impacts of giving people a basic income.

The so-called “SEED” project will give a small group of low-income residents a modest, no-strings-attached monthly income. Funded by a million-dollar private grant from a tech group called the Economic Security Project — co-led by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes — SEED creates a real-world research model of what’s known as universal basic income.

“I think it will make people work better and smarter and harder and also be able to do things like spend time with their families because we’re not robots. We’re not just designed just to work all day and run a rat race,” Mayor Michael Tubbs told NPR.

Stockton, CA was the largest American city to file for bankruptcy a few years ago when it was unable to meet its pension obligations. In 2016, the city elected 26-year-old Michael Tubbs as mayor and Tubbs apparently learned about the private money available for this experiment. From CBS Bay Area:

Stockton mayor Michael Tubbs is coordinating the effort in his city of 300,000 people where 1 in 4 residents lives below the poverty line.

“They were looking for a city to pilot what would a ‘basic income’ look like? And what could that do for people’s lives,” the mayor said…

Dorian Warren, who co-chairs the Economic Security Project, said the goal in Stockton is to gather data on how having a basic income impacts people.

“What does it mean to say, ‘Here is unconditional guaranteed income just based on you being a human being?’” Warren asked.

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation has an opinon about what it means. He told the Daily Signal, “Essentially it says we will let the illegals come in and take all of the jobs and then we’ll put American workers onto a kind of welfare reservation where they can live out their lives on that reservation.”

Again, the plan is to test this on a few dozen families and see if they feel good about it. Here’s a little prediction: They are going to feel very good about it. In fact, the idea of doing a study to see if people like free money is pretty absurd. It’s like those dish ads on television: Some people like sitting in gum or walking into a glass door, but for the rest of us there’s free money. Really, can’t we just stipulate up front that free money is going to be popular?

Here’s what I don’t understand about this proposal: How would it be scaled up to make the basic income universal? If 75,000 Stockton residents are below the poverty line, giving all of them this same deal ($3,000 a year) works out to $225 million dollars a year. Where does that money come from once the research phase has ended? Again, I’m going out on a limb here and assuming most people are going to like and want the free money. But who is going to give it to them? And how long before Stockton sees an influx of needy people looking for their cut of the free money? How long before the cost of providing it drives businesses out of the city?

And let’s look beyond Stockton to California which happens to be the state with the highest rate of poverty in the nation. According to Census figures, just over 20 percent of Californians live below the poverty line. That’s roughly 8 million people. If we decide to give each of those folks the same basic income, we’re talking about $24 billion dollars a year. That’s a pretty sizeable line item to tack on to the budget, even in a state which already spends $190 billion a year (with a chunk of that money going to the same people who will get the basic income).

The best part of all of this is going to be when the 20+ percent of California voters realize they can vote themselves a raise. I mean, if $3,000 a year is good, then surely $6,000 a year, or maybe $12,000, is better. After all, who can possibly be expected to survive on $3,000 a year? It’s insulting if you think about it. Once we’ve firmly established that it’s the government’s job to take care of everyone’s basic needs, the amount will go up. Indeed, there will be millions of people demanding it.

But all of that’s a bit further down the line. In the short-term, i.e. sometime next year, we’ll get glowing reports about what a success this experiment was in terms of increasing people’s sense of self-worth, literally at someone else’s expense. Headline prediction, “Stockton Recipients Benefit from Basic Income in a Variety of Ways.” The Vox story alone, making all of this sound like a brilliant insight into human nature, is going to make it all worthwhile.