A Dutch journalist and author debunked conservative arguments against the idea of a universal income in an interview published on Friday, arguing that conservatives should embrace it — and noting that the idea was nearly implemented by Republican President Richard Nixon.
“It would really be the ultimate marriage of conservative and progressive politics,” Rutger Bregman told Gawker. “In terms of redistribution, it would meet the left’s demands for fairness, and where the whole welfare regime of interference and humiliation is concerned, it would give the right more personal freedom and a more limited government than ever.”
Bregman said a national income could be financed by raising taxes on the top 1 percent of earners, saying that he found no evidence it would increase inflation. Implementing such a program would pay major dividends for people working as teachers or nurses, and other jobs he described as important but overpaid.
“Universal basic income would give everybody the freedom to do something of value,” he said. “And how about all the people stuck in dead-end jobs, who don’t have the chance to tap into their potential. How many would-be geniuses are at this moment flipping burgers or driving for Uber?”
He also noted that Nixon attempted to pass such a program in 1969.
“A guaranteed income establishes a right without any responsibilities; family assistance recognizes a need and establishes a responsibility. It provides help to those in need and, in turn, requires that those who receive help work to the extent of their capabilities. There is no reason why one person should be taxed so that another can choose to live idly,” Nixon said at the time. “In States that now have benefit levels above the Federal floor, family assistance would help ease the State’s financial burdens. But in 20 States–those in which poverty is most widespread–the new Federal floor would be above present average benefits and would mean a leap upward for many thousands of families that cannot care for themselves.”
But the plan was stymied by Senate Democrats, Bregman pointed out, because they felt the initial basic income — $1,600 a year for a family of four on welfare without outside income — was not high enough.
“I think universal basic income is a more natural fit for the U.S. than for modern-day Western Europe, given Europe’s social democratic, paternalistic systems,” he said. “Even Milton Friedman was a fan of basic income, precisely because it would stop the government from constantly looking over everyone’s shoulder.”