Doss: Is Universal Basic Income similar to sharecropping?

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has separated himself from a crowded primary field by proposing Universal Basic Income (UBI). Under Yang’s UBI plan every American Adult will receive a “Freedom Dividend” of $1,000 a month. This is a pro-active plan to deal with the threat of automation to America’s workforce. Yang sells his proposal by telling audiences that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for UBI right before his death. MLK stated that since capitalism can’t eliminate poverty, the government has a moral obligation to provide work or an income, and the simplest way to abolish poverty is for the government to guarantee an income.

Yang’s use of MLK’s endorsement suggests that UBI is an extension of MLK’s “dream.” This is a brilliant campaign tactic because it makes it difficult to dismiss UBI on principle.

Brian Hamilton, founder of the program Inmates To Entrepreneurs, overcame that difficulty when he called UBI sharecropping by another name. Hamilton wrote, “In the sharecropping system, a person would rent land from an owner and farm that plot. A ‘share’ of the profits was also provided to the landlord/owner. Rents were set to make economic profit impossible…As a result, people never became owners, which is a basic tenet of economic advancement…Today’s proposal for UBI is similarly flawed, specifically since it will not result in more ownership. My fear is that, rather than helping, UBI will create a permanent class of people on the margins. Without owning assets of significance, people will remain bystanders.”

Hamilton is correct that UBI won’t lead to ownership or economic advancement. The problem is he’s arguing against a point no proponent of UBI has made. Sharecropping was designed to prevent upward mobility, but UBI is intended to strengthen the social safety net by preventing people from falling underneath the poverty line.

Now, any policy that begins with “universal” will be associated with the left, but icons on the right such as economists F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman advocated for UBI and political scientist Charles Murray suggested a universal annual income of $10,000 per citizen. The rights mantra is “limited government,” therefore it’s not the government’s moral obligation to abolish poverty like MLK preached and it’s not the government’s responsibility to keep people from falling under a certain level of living like Yang proposes. The right wants to reduce the size of government, and Right-wing advocates of UBI believe it will decrease the cost of the “welfare state” and liberate individuals from the stigma of public assistance.

If Yang abandoned his campaign tactic and promoted UBI from a “limited government” standpoint, it wouldn’t sound like a gimmick and he could actually build a left/right coalition on this single issue.

Unfortunately, seeking the Democratic nomination for president is a one-way street with no right turns.

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

(J. Pharoah is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)

 

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