This paper discusses the political feasibility of implementing Universal Income. It explains how to overcome the challenge of partisan politics, and sell the bill to both Republicans and Democrats. It also explains how the push-pull between the two parties can result in a workable program.
Universal Income: Political Feasibility
Partisan Politics is perhaps the greatest challenge to implementing Universal Income. Party loyalties and the rules of the game create contention that threatens to undermine the effectiveness of any government action. Republicans and Democrats are divided against one another so that if one supports a bill, the other must oppose it—regardless of its benefits. They cannot allow the other party to “score” a win that might strengthen their popularity and ensure their re-election.
Unfortunately, politicians often put the welfare of their party above the welfare of the nation. If they cannot block a piece of popular legislation, then they will undermine it so that they can blame its failure on those who supported it. That is how the game is played: (1) Take credit for every success; (2) Blame the opposition for all failure. However, politicians are willing to break party ranks if a piece of legislation will earn them votes in their next election.
Universal Income has the advantage of potentially being very popular. It would put thousands of dollars directly into the hands of individual voters—millions of dollars into every congressional district. This in turn would stimulate demand and end the recession. Those who support it would be hailed as heroes and ensure their re-election. With some careful maneuvering, Universal Income could overcome party divisions and enjoy true bi-partisan support.
Introducing the Bill
How the Universal Income legislation is introduced will strongly impact its success. It cannot pass if it is labeled as a Democrat Bill—Republicans will oppose it out of reflex. The Republican Party has taken a political beating over the past decade and is on the defensive. They are desperate for a win, and will not pass anything that will score political points for Democrats.
The best way to pass Universal Income is to allow Republicans to take the credit for introducing the legislation. If it is labeled as a Republican bill, it will provide them with a significant “win”—something they desperately need. However, Barak Obama (and the Democrats) will also receive some credit if Universal Income is passed because he is the one who actually signs it into law. The President also gets the chance to live up to his promise of bi-partisanship.
By allowing Republicans to introduce the bill, the legislation becomes politically neutral—both sides win and nobody loses. Each member of congress gets to take credit for bringing home millions of dollars to their districts. This money gets spent into the economy, which generates revenue for businesses and encourages growth. Employment improves across the nation, along with the housing market, and poverty is all but eliminated. Congress will become more popular than ever before in history.
Selling the Bill: Republicans
Republicans fashion themselves as the “party of principle”—they claim to stand for morality, oppose big government, and promote personal freedom. They reject the current system of “handouts” and “entitlements” on the grounds that they violate these principles. In their view, these programs are too expensive, add to the deficit, and pile debt onto future generations. They also redistribute wealth, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. They believe that these programs are ineffective, creating bloated bureaucracies and discouraging recipients from finding work. Universal Income provides an effective solution to all these problems.
Because Universal Income is funded by creating new money, it does not add to the national debt. In fact, it reduces the deficit by replacing a variety of tax-funded programs—including welfare, social security, and unemployment insurance. Plus, as the money gets spent into the economy, the increased economic activity will generate higher tax revenues.
Also, Universal Income ends the redistribution of wealth. New money is paid out equally to all citizens, regardless of their economic status. Rich and poor benefit equally –both from the money directly, and from the increased demand and economic expansion it will generate. The poor will have more job opportunities, and the rich will earn higher profits.
Universal Income also does away with most of the bureaucracy associated with current “means-tested” welfare programs. Individuals only need to prove their citizenship once to set up and receive automatic recurring payments. No special agency is required to handle fraud—the legal system is already sufficiently equipped to handle it. In addition, Americans have a strong work culture; they tend to resent laziness, and are very likely to self-police.
Finally, Universal Income is not a free “hand-out” it is a payment to ensure its citizens’ ability to contribute meaningfully to society. It is national credit, extended to The People with the promise that they will use it to be productive and create value. It is a payment for goods and services YET rendered, extended in good faith that The People are willing and able to grow the economy.
Selling the Bill: Democrats
It is almost inconceivable that Democrats would NOT support Universal Income—it fulfills everything their party claims to stand for. From the “New Deal” to the “Great Society”, it has been their dream to create a program to end poverty and promote the American Dream. Universal Income achieves all this and more—better than all previous attempts combined.
However, to get this done, Democrats will have to make several large concessions to Republicans. First, they will have to sacrifice many hard-won social programs: Social Security, Food Stamps, and Unemployment Benefits—along with the taxes that support them. They may also have to give up the minimum wage and sweeten the deal with tax benefits for businesses.
The most difficult concession of all will be to allow Republicans to take credit for the “holy grail” of all social programs. Even though they may have proposed similar programs in the past, Democrats will have to swallow their pride and pretend to “eat crow”—allowing the Republicans to claim that they defeated the Party of FDR at its own game. Democrats will have to hold their peace as Republicans boast that they found the “right” solution for the failed policies of the left.
However, Democrats will automatically receive some credit for the “Republican Bill” when President Barack Obama signs it into law. The President can also use this occasion to trumpet the virtues of bipartisanship, and live up to his campaign promise to reach across the aisle and bring the two parties together. This in itself is an enormous victory because it makes the party seem more respectable, and earns the confidence of the American People.
Democrats will have to sacrifice a lot to implement Universal Income. However, in the end they gain far more than they surrender. They get a sustainable social program that can end poverty and promote economic prosperity. They empower the poor, and create an environment that encourages upward social mobility. They achieve greater equality and a higher standard of living for all. Democrats also earn the respect of the nation as they set politics aside and put the needs of the nation first.
Points of Contention
Although both parties stand to gain enormously from Universal Income, there are several points on which Republicans and Democrats are likely to disagree:
- How to fund the program
- How high to set the Minimum Contribution Requirement
- Who should and should not receive it
- How much to pay each citizen
The only way for Universal Income to be sustainable is to fund it by creating new money. Borrowing money or raising taxes will only make the current economic situation worse. Unfortunately, some (Conservative) Republicans are politically invested in the idea that printing money causes inflation—which is only half-true. To support Universal Income, they must be shown how printing money can also bring about economic expansion. In addition, they need assurance that there will be protections in place in case something goes wrong.
Another point of contention will be the Minimum Contribution Requirement. Some (Liberal) Democrats will want to make Universal Income UNCONDITIONAL—to treat it as a basic human right. Unfortunately, this will not work because 80% of people believe that others are lazy and will quit their jobs if they receive money unconditionally. The Minimum Contribution Requirement assures people that others will continue to work.
However, there is also the risk that some Republicans will try to set the requirement too high. In the interest of preserving the “American Work Ethic”, they will likely push for a requirement of 40 or more hours a week. Unfortunately, this will kill motivation and encourage people to ONLY do the required minimum amount. Research shows that people work their best when they do something because they WANT to—not because they HAVE to. Fortunately, the push-pull between Republicans and Democrats is likely to result in a reasonable Minimum Contribution Requirement between 15-25 hours a week.
The next big area of debate will be WHO should receive Universal Income. Both Republicans and Democrats are likely to agree that every citizen of the country must receive it regardless of their economic status. However, what about people of dual citizenship, the children of illegal immigrants, or people living here on visas? What about people who are physically or mentally incapable of fulfilling the Minimum Contribution Requirement? Should criminals receive Universal Income? All of these will have to be addressed.
Finally, the most difficult question will be how MUCH to pay each citizen eligible to receive Universal Income. First of all, to be effective this cannot be based on either “economic status” or “cost of living”—it must be a flat amount paid to all citizens equally. The only possible exception would be children or dependent adults. Also, the amount needs to be high enough for a person to provide all their basic needs, but low enough so that working will increase their standard of living. Democrats are likely to want an amount that is too high ($50-60k annually), while Republicans will likely push for an amount below the poverty line ($10-15k a year). Once again, the push-pull between the two parties will likely result in a healthy living wage of $20-40k a year.
Agreeing to Disagree:
Universal Income is politically feasible because the program can be justified from the perspective of either party. Each will see the program according to their platform and implement it for different reasons. Republicans will view Universal income as a program of national credit—payment extended to the nation for products and services yet rendered; they will do it to reduce government bureaucracy and promote economic growth. Democrats will see it as an entitlement program—a living wage to which every citizen has a right; they will do it to end poverty and promote equality. In spite of their ideological differences, both parties can find reason to implement Universal Income.
In addition, despite their differences, both parties are comprised of politicians who will greatly benefit from the millions of dollars that Universal Income would bring to their districts. Their popularity will soar as thousands of dollars flow into the hands of individual voters, and as they announce how the program fulfills their particular party platform. They will be hailed as national heroes—ensuring their re-election for many years to come.
Although Republicans and Democrats may disagree on ideology, they have enough in common to make Universal Income feasible. They both want to improve the economy, make their voters happy, and get re-elected. In addition, both parties are suffering the lowest approval rating in history—Republicans most of all. They both desperately need the win that Universal Income could provide. It is in their best interest to set their differences aside and agree to disagree so that they can get this done.