Pilot basic income programs in the forms of UBI (Universal Basic Income) and guaranteed income are popping up all around the country, including Texas. It is generally assumed that these programs are used as tests to determine whether governments should implement permanent UBI programs. Advocates for UBI often use pilot programs to back their claim that it works. While there are some differences between UBI and guaranteed income programs, such as the latter being means-tested while the former is universal, both involve governments handing out direct cash payments. Generally, there are no work requirements or restrictions on what the money can be used for, unlike traditional social safety net programs.
On Feb. 2, the application for Uplift Harris, Harris County’s pilot guaranteed income program, closed. Households were qualified to apply if they have legal status and reside in the top 10 high-poverty zip codes in Harris County or if participants are in ACCESS (Accessing Coordinated Care and Empowering Self Sufficiency). Applicants will be selected randomly, and the lucky winners will receive $500 per month for 18 months.
Besides the problem of Uplift Harris’ potential unconstitutionality, the problem with basic income schemes in general is that they create government dependency and strip away the dignity of work. Harris County officials in charge of Uplift Harris claim that the “guaranteed income program is an effective tool that can empower communities within [the county] by providing them with the resources they need to support their families.”
However, the nature of these programs disempowers breadwinners, regardless of its immediate outcome. When governments rashly decide to assume the role of provider using other people’s money, the purpose of work becomes distorted to the detriment of society. No longer is personal responsibility a necessity and productive activity required on account of government handouts.
However, there is an obvious cost to eroding an individual’s productive capacities, both for the recipient as well as societally. Neither is benefitted in the long run from sloth and fruitlessness. Work does not merely provide material benefits for society and individuals; it also provides dignity and spiritual blessing for the soul. There is a different satisfaction that comes from earning something rather than it being handed out. It should not come as a surprise that the Bible admonishes those who do not work, saying that those who do not work should not eat. This is not to say that those who are unable to work or cannot temporarily find work should not receive any help at all.
Governments should ensure that workers are able to enjoy the fruits of their labor through participation in the free markets, not pass legislation that inhibits the market’s ability to provide dignified work.
Additionally, Harris County officials claim that “a small monthly infusion of unconditional cash can make the difference between stability and deep poverty.” But the reality is that the difference between stability and deep poverty is not just an economic problem. Government handouts to the poor may temporarily boost their economic situation, but perpetual basic income programs will only exacerbate the societal factors that lead to poverty.
Many of the root causes of poverty relate to marriage and parenthood, which cannot be solved by throwing money at people with no strings attached. Only targeted welfare reform that promotes the nuclear family could lead to a lasting impact on poverty. Furthermore, the psychological and social benefits of work are not experienced when government takes on the role of provider. Perpetual government cash handouts would undermine the positive effects of breadwinning, allowing individuals to enjoy the economic reward without experiencing the social benefits of work. But many progressives think that there is an inherent problem with the modern idea of work. The strongest supporters of basic income are often feminists, Marxists, and those on the post-labor left. There is even a book titled “The Problem with Work,” written by a post-labor Marxist who argues for UBI on the basis that the modern idea of work is patriarchal and unethical.
If the pilot program is deemed successful and survives any constitutional challenges, expect a stronger push for permanent basic income programs in local governments across the state. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo also said that she is working “on a similar program aimed at immigrant residents who are excluded from Uplift Harris.” Not only do progressives want more guaranteed income programs like Uplift Harris in the future, but also programs which reward illegal immigration by providing criminal aliens with government handouts.
Even 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who brought UBI and guaranteed income programs back into popular political discussion, admits that UBI will incentivize mass immigration. In fact, he responds to the criticism by saying that “high demand for citizenship is not new,” and that UBI would simply make citizenship more meaningful. Do we really want an immigration system that incentivizes people who want free money? With basic income, progressives will get a two for one: open borders and socialism.
Texas must not travel down this road. Basic income harms taxpayers, the structure of society, the relationship between individuals and the state, and national sovereignty, so attempts to implement UBI at city, county, state, and federal levels should be shot down.