Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 04.10.14
Just Outside Washington


Guaranteed annual income and universal draft, for all

In Switzerland, a group called Generation Basic Income has gathered more than the 100,000 signatures necessary to put a ballot initiative before the country's voters. If passed, the initiative would amend Switzerland's constitution to guarantee every citizen a yearly unconditional income.

The ballot initiative is not scheduled for a vote yet, but it will be held in two or three years. Also, the referendum does not state how big the unconditional income would be. The referendum supporters have mentioned 2,500 Swiss francs a month, which is about $2,800 per month or $33,000 per year.

A universal basic income sounds very radical, but it is not a new idea -- Thomas More proposed it in his work Utopia in the 16th Century.

Thomas Paine in his 1797 pamphlet, Agrarian Justice, advocated a social insurance system for young and old, financed by a 10 percent tax on inherited property. (He was one of the Founders, right?)

More recently, the economist Milton Friedman, supported the idea of a basic universal income in his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom, which he called a negative income tax. The negative income tax was revived by President Richard Nixon in a 1969 proposal called the Family Assistance Plan that had been developed by Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

In his 2006 book In Our Hands, Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute argued for an unconditional $10,000 annual cash payment to all adult Americans, coupled with a repeal of all other welfare transfer programs.

I say fair enough, end the welfare transfer programs. However, the $10,000 that Murray proposes is peanuts. The current median U.S. family income is about $50,000, so from my perspective, the Swiss proposal is closer to the mark.

Even with the kind of support from the Right mentioned above, the Far Right fears that having unearned income and leisure time will morally degrade the lower strata of our society. This is evidenced by Veronique de Rugy's article in the March 2014 issue of Reason magazine. There will be much more tearing of hair and renting of clothes by the Far Right. (Funny how it is OK to be one of the idle rich but not one of the idle poor…)

However, the concern may be unwarranted. Since 1982 Alaskan citizens of all ages have received an average payment of $1,136 per year, which amounts to $4,543 for a family of four. These payments do not seem to diminish the rugged individualism as evidenced by winter dog sled races and Sara Palin. And they still vote Republican.

Maybe the idea of a guaranteed income would sit better with the Far Right if it were coupled with universal service -- a 100 percent draft.

Clearly, we do not need and cannot use everyone in the military. However there is much that needs doing and a Universal Service Corps (USC) could do it. Those drafted into the USC could: maintain the national, state and local parks; clean rivers and stream; plant trees; teach illiterates to read; help the disabled and elderly; etc, etc. Two years serving our country could make all feel that they contributed and that they all belong.