Coronavirus is the new excuse for universal basic income

The latest installment in our series on Never Letting a Perfectly Good Crisis Go To Waste comes to us courtesy of Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii who, for some reason, still seems to believe she’s in the running to be President. This actually took place on Friday, but I’m only just getting around to it now. Apparently seeking to stand out from the crowd, as Congress debated various relief packages to help the nation through the coronavirus crisis, Gabbard introduced a resolution that would assure $1,000 per month to every American until the COVID-19 crisis has passed. Yes, it’s a (theoretically) short-term version of the Democratic dream of a basic income guarantee, also known as Universal Basic Income. (The Hill)

Multiple lawmakers have proposed economic stimulus packages and universal basic income (UBI) programs as the coronavirus begins to take a larger toll on the American economy.

On Friday, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a 2020 presidential candidate, introduced a resolution that would provide a UBI of $1,000 a month to every American “until COVID-19 no longer presents a public health emergency.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has created a threat to the health and well-being of the American people, as well as to our country’s economic stability,” Gabbard said in a statement. “While some in Washington are focused on taking care of Wall Street, everyday Americans get left behind. That’s wrong… Taking care of all Americans will stimulate our economy during this downturn.”

As with so many Democratic wishlist items, the list of reasons why this is a terrible idea is lengthy. To start with, much like most of Bernie Sanders’ schemes, there is no consideration given to the cost. Stop and think about the totals here for a moment. There are roughly 340 million people in America at present. (Assuming half of them haven’t either succumbed to the virus or, as Joe Biden recently said, been killed off in gun violence.) Sending all of us that amount of money is going to cost 340 billion (with a B) dollars per month. If the “flattened curve” of COVID-19 only lasts three months – an optimistic estimate in the opinion of many medical professionals – you’re talking about more than a trillion dollars. You’re going to need one heck of a magical money tree in the White House rose garden to float that kind of cabbage.

If you were only going to send the money to the very poor the costs would approach something more manageable, but where would you draw the cutoff line? There are still plenty of people out there earning up to $54K per year who are barely making ends meet and living paycheck to paycheck. And that’s the median household income in the country. So… great. Instead of a trillion dollars in three months, you’re only talking about a half of a trillion. Super.

We’ve discussed the basic income guarantee here frequently in the past. One of the only solid examples of the theory being put into practice is the experiment they’ve been running in Stockton, California. And an initial analysis of the results didn’t look very promising. It’s a lovely socialist dream whereby we would support those unable or unwilling to work, but it falls apart rapidly in practice.

Besides, Congress is already working overtime to lessen the economic impact of this crisis. They’re extending unemployment benefits for the duration of the epidemic, paying for extended sick leave for workers, and even offering food aid to low-income families with children who may be missing meals at school. I rarely get the opportunity to say this, but even I have to admit that both Congress and the President have worked together quickly to take concrete action to help those most adversely affected by the economic impacts caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

I should point out before closing that this terrible idea is no longer confined just to Democrats like Gabbard. We learned today that Mitt Romney is calling for at least a one-time UBI payment.

Unless and until we see that the impact of these relief measures isn’t enough, there’s no need to cut our own throats with a trillion-dollar boondoggle like the one Gabbard is proposing. But that’s probably not the point of her resolution anyway. She and her Democratic colleagues probably just want the chance to get Americans used to the idea of a basic income guarantee so they’ll begin to think of it as being part of “the new normal.” But in a post-pandemic world, everyone will eventually have to go back to work and carry on as we always have. And universal basic income is not “normal” in that world at all.

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