11 US cities are piloting Universal Basic Income programs, with more to come

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2021/01/26/11-us-cities-are-piloting-universal-basic-income-programs-with-more-to-come.html


It’s definitely dated, but I listened to this audio book on a long drive this summer:

It breaks down to basically a rant about everything Heinlein thinks the gov’t is doing wrong, and how it could be fixed. Wrapped loosely in a bit of fiction.
Written back in 1938, already advocating the humanity and economic feasibility of a UBI.


That’s a big part of why UBI has such bipartisan support, from Libertarians to Socialists alike—it’s a safety net that actually provides for more choice, more independence, and more economic activity and innovation.

While I think UBI has to happen and that the arguments against it are “bootstraps” BS, it could take on a form that exacerbates or cements inequality. I hope this programme makes it a core value – and not just a best practise – that UBI funds should arrive without the strings that neoliberalism likes to attach to any payment from the state.

ETA: This is America, so also keep in mind that there are opportunists and predators ad cronies who try to use these programmes as a way to squeeze out a buck from those who can least afford it.

As a small example, note that some of the $600 stimulus payments are being sent out not through cheques but pre-paid debit cards that may incur extra fees (especially for the unbanked and the poor) that go directly into the pockets of big banks.

When you use your stimulus debit card at an ATM within the AllPoint network, you won’t pay a fee at all. You can find a list of all the network ATM’s on the EIP Card website.

But if you use a machine outside of that network, you’re at risk of paying not just one, but two separate fees. First, Metabank, which issues the card on behalf of the Treasury Department, will charge you a $2 fee each time you withdraw cash on a non-network ATM (though it will waive the fee once, for your first ATM withdrawal).

And second, the owner of the ATM itself may charge you a fee, which can range from 99 cents to several dollars, depending on the machine. Plus, if you happen to be outside the US, you’ll be charged an even higher $3 fee by Metabank to withdraw cash from an ATM, no matter what machine you use, plus any additional fee charged by the ATM operator.

So if you’re going to withdraw cash from your stimulus debit card using an ATM, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing it only at a network ATM in the US.

While we’re on the subject of ATMs, if you’re not sure how much money you have left on your stimulus debit card, don’t use an ATM to find out. Every time you make a balance inquiry at an ATM, Metabank will charge you a fee of 25 cents.

That 25 cents may not sound like much, but it can add up fast, especially if you decide to use an ATM as your primary method of keeping track of your card’s remaining money.

Even worse, you’ll be charged this fee regardless of whether you’re using a network or non-network ATM. And if you’re using a non-network ATM, the ATM owner can tack on an additional fee of its ow

That banks should even be allowed to skim 1% or more off a meagre stimulus payment where every dollar counts is outrageous, but this is exactly the kind of thing that can happen with an American UBI if we’re not careful.


1 2 3 … Let the pearl necklace clutching, dramatic belly aching, and apoplectic hand wringing start with the TGOP’ers and other right wing loonies.


Some of them are OK with a state-issued basic income, as long as it isn’t universal and only goes to the 'deserving" (at this point we all know what that’s code for).


Wait, wait, let me guess. Is it the same people who cast “legal” votes? /s


IIRC this was when he was in a relationship with the daughter of a union organizer. You can always tell which wife or spouse he was on by the literature. LOL


Oh, funny. I don’t know much about his personal life, except that a friend at college was offended I was a fan because “he was a sexist.” I always thought his female characters (esp. in later books) were amazing and brilliant, so didn’t really get it. Never looked into it, because, well, he’s dead and I like his books.
But your comment piques my interest!


Spending UBI isn’t the hard part - paying for it is. In the past proponents have argued for doing so from “savings” on other benefits, which, on closer inspection often turn out to be huge cuts to targeted benefits supporting the disabled and elderly, to fund the working poor.

If you want to call this socialism, fair enough, but fifty years of tax cuts for the wealthy haven’t improved the lives of the poor or middle class, while the rich have gotten richer and more powerful.


Dunn already addressed that:

Whenever someone asks, “Yeah but how do we pay for it?” I point them Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream by former SEIU President Andy Stern, which actually does all the math for you and lays out 7 different plausible funding scenarios.

I couldn’t find a list of the seven scenarios he lays out, but here’s a summary of Stern’s views:

Paying everyone and not just a select few is likely to make the system more popular and longer-lasting. Society as a whole should benefit as workers will be more readily able to change jobs or take on new pursuits. But how would we pay for this? $1,000 a month for everyone would cost approximately $2.7 trillion annually, which represents around four to five times the size of the defense budget and 15 percent of the GDP. In his book, Stern proposed paying for the $2.7 trillion as follows:

  • Cancel most existing antipoverty programs, which cost about $1 trillion a year, including food stamps ($76 billion a year), housing assistance ($49 billion), and the Earned Income Tax Credit ($82 billion)
  • Cut military spending
  • Phase out most tax expenditures (tax breaks), which currently cost $1.2 trillion a year
  • Implement a federal sales tax and a financial transaction tax
  • Establish a collective wealth fee and “Sky Trust” modeled after the highly successful Alaska Permanent Fund, which could pay a dividend of $5,000 per person annually

One can take issue with the benefits and likelihood of this scheme’s elements, but I don’t see any proposed cuts to benefits supporting the disabled and elderly (not that conservatives have ever worried about doing those things when they’ve been in power).


It makes far more sense to cut the Defense budget instead. I doubt we really need to spend $740 billion on even more weapons, when we could spend it on saving people’s lives instead.

(Of course, that would deprive the Military-Industrial Complex of its profits, so it’s highly unlikely to happen… but we can dream.)


But that’s enough about Iain Duncan Smith. Oh, wait, he targeted the disabled and working poor to fund Tory allies.


So we all agree disabled and elderly should get “huge” benefits which should never be cut then?

Just checking


How about we cut our bloated military budget, which is higher than the combined totals of the next eight highest military budgets in the world.

[Or better yet, how about we go back to tax rates from decades ago. . . ]


tl:dr People who call for UBI should just show all of their workings out, so people can see if it’s a fair idea or not.

Again the devil’s in the detail. $1T from antipoverty programmes is suspicious - the US Federal government only spends $1.2T on social security, unemployment and labour in total. Of the programs specifically identified - housing assistance (according to google anyway), can provide recipients with the equivalent of $8k pa. The average SNAP recipient receives $1.2k pa. Similarly a federal sales tax would be a regressive tax that disproportionately affect poorer people more. A collective wealth fund requires money to set up - it’s not a source of income itself - the Alaskan one is essentially a ring-fenced oil tax.

Cutting military spending would be a legitimate policy choice - but even halving the US military budget would only get you $338b, or enough for a UBI of $125 per month - irrespective of the implications of doing so elsewhere.

People on the right and on the left have called for UBI in the past (it is, after all a tax cut). Everyone seems to subscribe to some sort of straw man that the difficulty with these schemes is that people would become lazy and inactive - and that these trials somehow disprove it- and consequently prove the proposals are viable. The real problem is how to actually find the money to pay for them to begin with.

There’s just no money in America

We can’t pay for things

It’s impossible


Right, but how much people receive isn’t necessarily close to how much it costs us. I think you made that point in some of the other numbers, but to reiterate: running these “means-tested” programs is really expensive.
I work on a program where everything we do on homes has to be cost-effective, but overall the program is nowhere near cost-effective due to oversight, reporting requirements, etc.
I often think of how much less expensive healthcare could be if we didn’t need tens of thousands of health insurance employees and the necessary support structures: billing specialists, etc.
Just putting the money in the hands of people who need it is by far the most expedient economic solution. By and large, they know what they need it for, and will spend accordingly.



And yet Republicans and Tories and Randroids go right to “how can we possibly pay for it?”, even when (to quote Dunn from the FPP) someone “actually does all the math for you and lays out 7 different plausible funding scenarios”. Sort of like how they cry poor and demand austerity except when there’s a ruinous war to be fought on behalf of corporate interests or when they’re calling for tax breaks for the “job creators”.

Agreed. I haven’t read the book, so maybe @thomdunn can address your points. I do know that Stern is a serious policy wonk and isn’t pulling those numbers out of his arse. I did see in an article that he rules out abolishing Social Security as part of the funding scheme, so perhaps he’s discussing something different than what you’re talking about.

But, in this scheme, the sales tax is intended to deliver real benefits and security to everyone. When the revenue from a sales tax funds a programme with clear and direct benefits (e.g. single-payer universal health insurance) it usually becomes less objectionable. But if you find a sales tax so disturbing perhaps you’d prefer the progressive income and/or wealth taxes on UHNWIs proposed by Sanders and Warren instead.

Money that would presumably come from the proposals immediately above that one. There are other sources of income available to the U.S. government besides Alaskan oil, and hundreds of billions taken from the military budget would provide a good base to get started.

Fixed that for you. Liberals and progressives don’t take the same dim view of the common person’s laziness that those on the economic right do (even with the pandemic providing evidence to the contrary).