I have never understood why it is “greed” to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money. —Thomas Sowell

Believe it or not, 16th-century policy ideas can still be found in 21st-century political discourse.1 In 1516, universal basic income (UBI) was suggested as a “cure for theft”; in 2019, it was the basis of former U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s platform.2 Other political figures, such as Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and former president Barack Obama, have also endorsed it.3 But what is UBI, and is it really as desirable as its advocates claim?

UBI’s supporters characterize it as a political policy whereby the government distributes a regular stipend to each and every citizen, unconditionally. Although, at first glance, this might seem ideal to some, the reality is that governments can’t actually distribute money, they can only redistribute it. That is, they must first forcibly take money from some people in order to give it to others.4 This policy is economically dubious, but the more fundamental issue is the moral status of UBI.5 . . .


1. Sigal Samuel, “Everywhere Basic Income Has Been Tried, In One Map,” Future Perfect, February 19, 2020, https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/2/19/21112570/universal-basic-income-ubi-map.

2. “A History,” Basic Income Earth Network, https://basicincome.org/history/#:~:text=The%20idea%20of%20a%20minimum,middle%20of%20the%2019th%20century; “Freedom Dividend, Defined,” Yang 2020, https://www.yang2020.com/what-is-freedom-dividend-faq/.

3. “Tulsi Gabbard Open to the Radical Right-Wing Version of Universal Basic Income,” Medium, July 5, 2017, https://medium.com/@pplswar/tulsi-gabbard-open-to-the-radical-right-wing-version-of-universal-basic-income-c0e56d48aa3e; Nate Singham, “Obama Has Jumped on the Universal Basic Income Bandwagon—Let’s Make Sure It’s a Tool to Help Solve Inequality, Not Enforce It,” Common Dreams, July 19, 2018, https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/07/19/obama-has-jumped-universal-basic-income-bandwagon-lets-make-sure-its-tool-help.

4. “Freedom Dividend, Defined,” Yang 2020, https://www.yang2020.com/what-is-freedom-dividend-faq/; “Switzerland’s Voters Reject Basic Income Plan,” BBC News, June 5, 2016, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36454060.

5. “Switzerland’s Voters Reject Basic Income Plan,” BBC News, June 5, 2016, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36454060.

6. Singham, “Obama Has Jumped on the Universal Basic Income Bandwagon.”

7. Brittany Hunter, “Top Three Arguments against a Universal Basic Income,” Foundation for Economic Education, September 8, 2017, https://fee.org/articles/the-top-three-arguments-against-a-universal-basic-income/.

8. Michalis Nikiforos, Marshall Steinbaum, and Gennaro Zezza, “Modeling the Macroeconomic Effects of a Universal Basic Income,” Roosevelt Institute, August 29, 2017, https://rooseveltinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/RI-Macroeconomic-Effects-of-UBI-brief-201708.pdf.

9. Paul Buchheit, “A 2% Financial Wealth Tax Would Provide a $12,000 Annual Stipend to Every American Household,” Common Dreams, March 19, 2018, https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/03/19/2-financial-wealth-tax-would-provide-12000-annual-stipend-every-american-household.

10. Simon Duffy, “The Moral Argument for Basic Income,” UBI Lab Network, September 7, 2018, https://www.ubilabnetwork.org/blog/the-moral-argument-for-basic-income.

11. Matt Zwolinski, “A Moral Case for Universal Basic Income,” The Critic, https://thecritic.co.uk/issues/july-august-2020/money-for-nothing-2/?fbclid=IwAR0lpodenhD_fY8JwQs8FpPXKloqUZJFDVukMKCjp-9oz6RBHRejdqG46jI.

12. Lorie J. Schabo Grabowski, “‘It Still Don’t Make You Feel Like You’re Doin’ It’: Welfare Reform and Perceived Economic Self-Efficacy,” Journal of Poverty, March 15, 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1828031/.

13. Karen Yuan, “A Moral Case for Giving People Money,” The Atlantic, August 22, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/membership/archive/2018/08/a-moral-case-for-giving-people-money/568207/.

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