I oppose tests of basic income because basic income testing is wrong and a waste of time and money.
Strangely, my support for the basic income is the main reason I oppose testing. In fact, I think most “basic income tests” do more harm than good.
There are several reasons why testing of basic income is stupid, wrong, and misguided. Unfortunately, most universal basic income advocates fail to understand these reasons and end up supporting destructive testing.
What’s wrong with Basic Income Testing?
Here are several reasons why both advocates and opponents of basic income need to oppose testing:
Basic Income Tests are Morally Wrong
Basic income tests are totally unethical because they subject helpless poor people to a social science experiment to prove a political point.
Opponents, for instance, are trying to prove basic income does not work. Meanwhile, supporters want to show how much a dividend helps the poor. Either way, poor; and usually uneducated, people become guinea pigs for social scientists.
For example, the Province of Ontario put 4,000 people into a basic income experiment then canceled it for murky political reasons, NPR reports. Worst of all, news stories did not say when the experiment will end.
The people in the program lose all freedom and find themselves completely at the mercy of social services bureaucrats. Personally, I find such tests no different from the notorious Tuskegee Experiment.
Why Basic Income Testing is Unethical
To explain, in the Tuskegee Experiment doctors and nurses deliberately lied to poor and illiterate African American men infected with the deadly disease syphilis.
The “scientists” told their subjects they were being treated. In reality, researchers withheld treatment so scientists could study the effects of the disease.
Just like the Tuskegee Experiment, basic income tests place a poor and vulnerable population at the mercy of an arrogant and self-righteous cadre of researchers. Moreover, the basic income researchers; like the Tuskegee doctors, are playing games with people’s lives in the name of science.
Additionally, critics could easily construe a basic income experiment as racist. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates African Americans had a poverty of 20% compared to 8% for whites and 16% for Hispanics in 2017. Thus, black and Hispanic Americans are more likely basic income test subjects than whites which raises the specter of racism.
Finally, the basic income testing is done for helping the poor the noblest of reasons. Basic income testers want to help the poor or protect the taxpayer from waste. The Tuskegee Experiment began with a similar noble motivation to cure syphilis but went horribly wrong.
My prediction is future generations are likely to look upon today’s basic income tests and social services bureaucracy the way we view the Tuskegee Experiment. Most people today view the Tuskegee Experiment as a racist abomination and a perversion of science.
Basic Income Tests are not Scientific
The purpose of tests like the one in Ontario is to test a universal basic income. A universal basic income is a stipend of cash paid to every member of a population with no strings attached.
However, the Ontario test involved just 4,000 low-income people in a few cities. A similar experiment in Finland involved just 2,000 lower income people, The New York Times reports. Moreover, the Ontario test encouraged recipients to work or forgo some social services in exchange for more money.
Therefore, neither of these programs is a test of basic income. To clarify, a true basic income test will pay all the people in a community or region money and have no requirements.
For example, we could give all the residents of a town $1,000 a month for three years and watch to see what happens. Note: neither the Ontario nor the Finish program tried that. Instead, testers only sent money to those social scientists label “low income.”
Consequently, I do not consider the Finland and Ontario “experiments” basic income or scientific. Thus, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s decision to cancel the program is justifiable. The province of Ontario was planning to spend $150 million of the taxpayers’ money on a questionable and unethical social science experiment not basic income.
Basic Income Tests are rigged to fail
I believe social services bureaucrats rig these tests to fail. To explain, social services bureaucrats have a strong incentive to see these tests fail: job security.
If we can alleviate poverty by giving money to people, there is no reason for a social services bureaucracy. Instead, politicians will have a reason to fire all the social workers and close their offices.
Bureaucrats can easily rig basic income to fail. For example, they can deliberately direct payments to drug addicts, or people who refuse to work. Or make the payments in areas with few jobs available.
Notably, Finland’s experiment did not increase employment, The Guardian reports. However, that experiment mainly involved the disabled, and those with few job skills. The test examined people unlikely to seek work or start businesses.
Finally, bureaucrats will direct journalists to the worst people on basic income. For example, the man who spends his days lying on the couch, smoking pot, and playing video games. Accordingly, a Guardian column on the Finish experiment highlights Juha Järvinen a struggling artist who used the money to finance his “art.”
Thus social services bureaucrats reinforce all the worst conservative stereotypes of the poor in their efforts to discredit basic income. However, history shows social scientists have good reason to promote such stereotypes.
The Ugly History of Social Services
Moreover, basic income threatens the unspoken ideology behind social services. The rationale for social services is that the poor are ignorant, incompetent, irresponsible, and illiterate children who do not know how to act like adults. The purpose of social workers is to teach the poor how to be adults.
Additionally, there is a lot of ugly racism, xenophobia, and class prejudice in the progressive ideology behind social services. We can trace the origins of American social services to the progressive movements to the Progressive Movement at the turn of the 20th Century.
One of the main goals of the Progressive Movement was to turn Jewish and Catholic immigrants into good White Anglo Saxon Protestants or WASPs. For instance, early 20th Century social workers offered immigrants classes in “citizenship” in addition to vocational training.
Citizenship meant propaganda disguised as history that glorified America. In addition, Progressives encouraged immigrants to act WASP. Thus, the Progressives wanted to force immigrants to adopt their version of American or middle-class values.
Meanwhile, modern “welfare reformers” try to force the poor to adopt middle-class values by threatening to take benefits. For instance, work requirements for the poor.
Why some Conservatives Love Social Services and hate Basic Income
Obviously, a program that trusts the poor to think for themselves, live their own lives, practice their own values, and solve their own problems runs counter to such agendas.
Thus basic income threatens both the social services bureaucrat’s paycheck and popular prejudice. More recently, American conservatives use social services to force African Americans or Latinos to behave like white people, or a certain white people. A means of achieving this goal is to require people on welfare or Medicaid to work or search for work.
Notably, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg found work requirements for Medicaid in Kentucky and Arkansas so “arbitrary and capricious” they were illegal, National Public Radio (NPR) reports. I believe such requirements originate with the conservative fantasies that all poor people are too lazy to work, and jobs are a magic wand that will instantly cause poverty to vanish.
Notably, there are 9.5 million Americans whom the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies as “working poor,” the University of California Davis-Center for Poverty Research estimates. In detail, the BLS classifies the working poor as people who work for 27 weeks a year but have incomes below the federal poverty level. The existence of the working poor disproves the conservative fantasy of work as a cure for poverty.
Basic income threatens such fantasies by taking away the weapons right-wing fantasists use to force their ideologies on the poor. Conservative ideologues need the social services bureaucracy; both as a whipping boy, and a means of social control over the poor and nonwhites.
History Proves Basic Income Works
America has been conducting the largest and most successful basic income experiment in history for 84 years and it works.
We call the experiment Social Security, and it has lifted 22.038 million people out of poverty, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates. In fact, 39.2% of elderly Americans could live below the poverty line without Social Security.
In 2017, Social Security kept 1.106 million children; 5.629 million working-age adults, and 15.333 million elderly people out of poverty, analyst Kathleen Romig estimates. Thus we have all the data and evidence we need about basic income. Any further tests will be a waste of time and money.
Social Security is a basic income because it sends 68.55 million Americans a cash payment every month, the Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates. However, the cash payment varies and America finances Social Security with an unreliable revenue source (payroll taxes). Notably, Social Security’s own trustees admit the program could run out of money in 2035, if Congress does not give it more revenue, Fox Business reports.
Thus, the popular notion people “pay into Social Security” when they work is a fallacy. Instead, Social Security is a basic income scheme with payments partially based on a person’s work history. To explain, American workers can “earn” higher Social Security payments with more work or by retiring later.
Basic Income Testing is Unnecessary
Social Security became a reality because President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-New York) refused to test it. Instead of a test, FDR had Congress pass Social Security and start making the payments.
Moreover, reformers launched other successful entitlement programs; like Britain’s National Health, Canada’s Medicare, and America’s Medicare with the same strategy. For example, President Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-Texas) did not hold a Medicare test, instead he had Congress pass Medicare. Nor did Prime Minister Clement Attlee hold a National Health experiment, instead his Labour government had parliament enact National Health into law.
History is clear, if we want basic income we need to forget about testing and set it up. Until we admit basic income testing is unethical, unscientific, unproductive, and ineffective, basic income will remain a pipe dream.