The Liberal Case for a Basic Income

The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog held a debate on basic income in December with Mike Konczal, Max Sawicky, Megan McArdle, and Veronique de Rugy. Konczal, who has written thoughtfully in favor of basic income, posted Sawicky’s remarks–“The Liberal Case Against Basic Income” on–his Rortybomb blog a few weeks later. BINews posted my response–“The Liberal Case for a Basic Income”–today.

Long-Term Effects of Income Supplements for Children

Excellent piece in the Times by Moises Velasquez-Manoff about a natural experiment on the effect of income supplements on the long-term mental health of Native Americans who received dividends from casino profits in North Carolina. Unsurprisingly, mental health outcomes were better for children whose families had received the dividends than for the control group of white children in the same area whose families were not entitled to tribal dividends.

The investigators, led by Jane Costello of the Duke University Medical School, had been following the children (both Native American and white) before the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians began distributing dividends. This means they had an existing control group and had data on the control and experimental groups before and after the dividends were implemented.

Their first report was published in 2003. Their second report, published in 2010, followed the children into adulthood.

Alaska has a similar (though smaller) resource dividend from the sovereign wealth fund it established with oil royalties, but since the dividend goes to all state residents, there is no control group to measure the dividend’s effects against.

Costello’s findings provide support for the idea that an unconditional basic income, while expensive to implement, actually saves money in the long run by cutting social costs related to mental illness and substance abuse. They also provide support for including children in basic income schemes in countries like the U.S. that lack child allowances because, as I argued in Basic Income Studies, a basic income that goes only to adults is less efficient in targeting child poverty in single-parent families.

Helping Men by Helping Women?

In Sunday’s New York Times, Stephanie Coontz suggests that working men would benefit from policies that “put women first” because so many men face the kinds of challenges that working women have faced for decades: unstable part-time work, the high cost of child care, and stagnant wages at the low end of the economic ladder.  Coontz rightly points out that “gender-neutral” social policies so often assume a male perspective, but characterizing family-friendly policies as “putting women first” perpetuates the assumption that family responsibilities are primarily women’s.

What we need are social policies designed for the “universal caregiver” in Nancy Fraser’s term, a model of citizenship superior to both the “universal breadwinner” model, which assumes unfettered availability for employment and no caregiver responsibilities, and the “caregiver parity” model, which regards caregivers as, one might say, separate but equal to breadwinners, and deserving of support for that special care giving function. Instead of helping low-income male workers as a byproduct of supporting working women, shouldn’t we aim for policies that enable all adults to work and care for their children, parents, neighbors, and anyone else who needs it? (See Fraser, Nancy. “After the Family Wage: A Postindustrial Thought Experiment,” in Fraser, Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist” Condition, Routledge. 1997, 41-66.)

Launch of J-PAL North America

J-PAL has launched a North American office to bring randomized evaluation to domestic policy planning. It would be interesting to have their take on the negative income tax experiments of the 1960s and 1970s in the U.S. and Canada, but Karl Widerquist’s review of the literature on the experiments reminds us that the hardest part of policymaking is reaching consensus on our goals.