The UBI’s Parent Trap

Advocates on the right and left are getting behind the Universal Basic Income—but would they offer it to their own children?

Universal Basic Income, or UBI, is one of the hot policy ideas of the moment. It calls for the federal government to provide every citizen with an unconditional cash stipend sufficient to meet basic needs. Just this week, Harvard University Press released Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy, a major work by Belgian professors Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght. Tomorrow in Manhattan, Charles Murray and Andy Stern (bothauthors of pro-UBI books) will debate former Obama advisors Jason Furman and Jared Bernstein on whether “the Universal Basic Income is the Safety Net of the Future.”

These discussions tend to focus on the feasibility of the policy, and comparisons with the current safety net of government programs like Medicaid and food stamps, while ignoring a crucial question: What would it mean to remove the expectation that one provide for oneself and one’s family, instead assigning that role entirely to the state? While policymakers sift through the data, non-economists will find their answer in common sense and lived experience.