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Friday, April 17, 2020

Selling the Republican Soul for a UBI

When did faith in a free society’s enterprising market system give way to self-fulfilling prophecies of doom?

Image Credit: Flickr-Collision Conf | CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Anyone who pays passing attention to politics is probably familiar with former Rahm Emanuel’s suggestion that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Though to my knowledge rarely so explicitly stated before, it surprised no armchair geneticists who have learned how embedded in the DNA of Democrats are desires to control the lives of others.

Unfortunately, too many Republicans are vulnerable to the same. That’s likely why San Antonio Express-News “Smart Money” columnist Michael Taylor believes a universal basic income (UBI) is imminent.

A UBI is when government sends every citizen a regular cash payment. Mr. Taylor humorously declared Andrew Yang, who campaigned on the issue, the winner of the 2020 democratic presidential nomination, even though he dropped out in February.

Mr. Taylor trips up a bit however in making his case.

The vessel by which he thinks this new strain of welfare will become reality is the direct payment made to some families via the $2 trillion “stimulus” passed into law to mitigate the financial fallout resulting from the coronavirus-induced shutdowns.

Mr. Taylor asserts that such a “cash transfer is a previously untried solution to alleviating the effects of a recession.”

To the contrary, Uncle Sam did just that in response to the dot.com bust and the financial crisis. Neither proved effective when judged against the intent of their respective passages, the vast majority having been saved or used for debt reduction instead of being spent.

Predictions and Prophecies

To be sure, we’re in a different situation now, with government literally cutting off peoples’ means of supporting themselves and their families. By the same token, it informs Mr. Taylor’s prediction. Nevertheless, it’s depressing that he “can imagine” the oncoming recession lasting through the summer.

When did faith in a free society’s enterprising market system give way to self-fulfilling prophecies of doom? What’s more, why are so many conservatives joining this chorus? Mr. Taylor cites Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, who proposed sending $1,000 to Americans, through either unemployment insurance or tax rebates, “for the duration of the crisis.”

Coincidentally, one of the more prominent selling points of a UBI is that we live in a world akin to that of the Terminator movie franchise, in which Cyberdine Systems’ Skynet is going to take over and flood society with Terminators. “BOO! ROBOTS!”

Mr. Taylor errs again when he attempts to buttress his prediction by citing Alaska’s Permanent Fund dividend. As he alludes, this fund is tied to revenue from the state’s #1 industry, oil and gas. The comparison suffers however, from the same flaws that trip up proponents of socialism: scale and federalism.

There’s a silly meme floating around stating that, while we’re sending our folks a one-time payment, England and Denmark are paying a certain percentage of their citizens’ salaries, and Canada is sending their people a couple grand every month. I responded with the numbers 327, 56, 6 and 38.

Those are the populations (in the millions) of those countries, respectively. This is the pertinent bit that seems to elude BernBots.

Alaska is our third-least populous state. Like the Scandanavian countries socialists drool over, their population pales in comparison with the US. This is where we benefit from the federalist system set up by the Founding Fathers. States can enact almost whatever policy they want without foisting their failures on the rest, though the latter are free to mimic successes.

Redistributionist Policies

While he teases the reason some conservatives find a UBI appealing, that it would not “require giant bureaucracies” of the welfare programs it would ideally replace, to label it a “small-government idea” because of its “simplicity” is woefully off the mark.

There is nothing “small-government” about any state program that requires for its existence the taxation of resources, particularly in our convoluted way, from the productive private sector.

And that’s to say nothing of what French political economist Frederic Bastiat would have called the “not seen” innovations that never happened due to such confiscation.

Alas, politicians have little incentive to worry about such tradeoffs. They need not be bothered about the negative consequences of putting taxpayer revenue at stake for something that polls well in focus groups. This includes Republicans like Sen. Cotton.

The Wall Street Journal recently reminded readers that conservatives regularly fight an uphill battle against Democrats who “define their lives through politics.” They have to be more politician-y in order to counter the left’s brazen appeal to people’s base instincts, those that need to be coddled, and assured that their struggles “are not their fault,” but rather that of “The Man.”

Moreover, the envy that consumes the left inoculates them from any moral compunction against commandeering the earnings of productive citizens.

The GOP has a handful of principled members for sure, and some whose experience in business no doubt instilled in them an aversion to treating resources willy-nilly, and assuming that government is a benevolent partner.

There are others however, whose background consists of nothing but government, or law, or academia.

Their experience dealing with scarce resources is nearly non-existent. They’ve never had to create value, best their competitors, on a limited budget, under the threat of losing it all. They’ve either ridden piggyback on businesses via lawsuits, or fallen back on taxpayers.

That makes them more susceptible to snake oil like a UBI.

Incidentally, the aforementioned editorial was a salute to Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn on the news of his retirement in 2014. The Journal ran it again in memoriam, as Dr. Coburn succumbed to prostate cancer.

Few elected officials respected the taxpayer more, holding his colleagues’ feet to the fire regarding their profligate ways. We need more folks like him who have the ability to say one of the simplest words in the English language.

“No.”