11 Arguments for a Universal Basic Income

Posted on Posted in Basic Income, Consequentialism, Egalitarianism, Ethics, Kantian Ethics, liberal/conservative, libertarianism, Normative Ethics, Political Philosophy, Utilitarianism

Many people believe that a universal basic income is the best solution aimed to combat and ultimately end the scourge of poverty. I certainly do but I think there is a dearth of actual arguments for the proposal. And by actual I mean logically valid arguments with numbered premises. Maybe analytic philosophers are the only ones who find such things useful but nevertheless here are my  eleven arguments for a universal basic income (in no particular order):

The Egoistic Libertarian Conservative Argument

1. I am benefitted by the elimination of poverty

2. A universal basic income is the best way to eliminate poverty.

3. I ought to pursue what benefits me.

4. So, I ought to pursue a universal basic income.

This argument is pretty much lifted straight from the pages of Milton Friedman’s work Capitalism and Freedom. Although he leaves the unflattering third premise “I ought to pursue what benefits me” as a suppressed premise. I still remember the shock and horror of reading his argument for the first time and trying to come to terms with the idea that the best argument he could think of for eliminating poverty is that it benefits himself. This is the only argument out of the ten that is based in self-interest the rest are all made in terms of our moral obligations to help others.

 

The Human Rights Argument

1. We ought to guarantee that each person has all the rights granted to them in the universal declaration of human rights.

2. The best way to guarantee that each person has all the rights granted to them in the universal declaration of human rights is to provide each person with a basic income.

3. So, we ought to have a universal basic income.

For this argument to get off the ground we need it to be true that we really ought to be working to ensure that people are given the things they are said to have a right to in the universal declaration of human rights, and it has to be true that a universal basic income is the best way to guarantee those rights. I think one could make a case for both of those.

 

The Religious Argument

1. God would want us to end poverty.

2. A universal basic income is the only way to end poverty.

3. So, God would want us to have a universal basic income.

4. We should do what God wants.

5. So, we should have a universal basic income.

Many supporters of a universal basic income are not religious, so this argument might not mean much to them. However many people who are likely against such a proposal are religious, at least in the United States, so I think it makes sense to make the argument in religious terms. The first premise is obviously the key one here. I think one could certainly make a case for it based on any of the world’s major religious traditions. (I’ve made the argument from a Christian perspective here.)

 

The Golden Rule Argument

1. I ought to treat others as I would want to be treated.

2. If I were poor I would want there to be a universal basic income.

3. So, we ought to have a universal basic income.

There is some overlap with previous argument here in that the golden rule is often connected with Christianity and Judaism but all cultures have some version of the golden rule and atheists are likely to ascribe to it as well, so I think there is some justification for including it. It is also worth noting that most philosophical conceptions of ethics rely on a similar style of justification.

 

The Utilitarian Argument

1. We ought to maximize utility.

2. A universal basic income would maximize utility.

3. So, we ought have a universal basic income.

Since I’m not a utilitarian I actually don’t think this argument work, but there it is for all you utilitarians out there. Hey, I didn’t claim all the arguments would work. I don’t know if there is one best or ultimate argument but I think this kind of brainstorming on the topic really shows just how powerful the case for a universal basic income is.

 

The Kantian Argument

1. We should always treat other persons as ends in themselves and never merely as a a means to an end.

2. A society in which we allow people to go poor when we have the means to eliminate poverty does not treat other persons as a means to an end.

3. A universal basic income is the best way to eliminate poverty.

4. So, we ought to have a universal basic income.

How is it that we don’t treat persons as an end in themselves when we allow them to be poor? That probably requires some work but I think an argument would run something like this:

1. If we value a persons ends we will help them achieve their ends, and if we don’t value a person as an end itself the we will not help them achieve their ends.

2. Without a minimum income we fail to help other persons achieve their ends.

3. So, without a minimum income we don’t value all persons as ends in themselves.

This argument might not seem as powerful as the others but I think it might actually be the most powerful because I think Kantian ethics is the right theory of ethics. To find this argument convincing it helps to understand Kantian ethics. Allen Wood’s book Kantian Ethics is a great introduction to the topic.

 

The Social Contract Argument

1. Wealth can only be created in a society.

2. All members of society deserve a share of the wealth created in a society.

3. So, we ought to have a universal basic income.

The idea is that every person is part of society and therefore deserves a portion of the benefits of society. No one person is responsible for their success. Each persons success in society is dependent upon not only current members of society but past members as well. Despite libertarian fantasies, no one is a self-made man. I think this particular argument would need a lot of exposition as this is exactly the notion that libertarians would find totally incomprehensible, so in that sense it might be one of the best as it would get to the heart of the disagreement between egalitarians and libertarians.

The Social Dividend Argument

1. All wealth creation depends on the use of public land and assets.

2. All citizens have an equal ownership of public land and assets.

3. So, all citizens have an ownership of some portion of the wealth created.

4. A basic income is the best way to assign wealth to all members of society.

5. So, we ought to have a universal basic income.

This argument might be one of the weaker arguments because I’m not sure if a basic income is actually the best way to allocate money earned as a social dividend. I’m by no means a social dividend expert. If it were a true dividend then it might be more precise and it might turn out that the dividend amount would be more or less than the amount required for a basic income. So, while this might not actually be an argument for a universal basic income it is definitely an argument for something similar. But I think the argument as stated is worth thinking about so I included it.

 

The Disability Argument

1. We ought to take care of persons who cannot take care of themselves.

2. A universal basic income is the best way to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves.

3. So, we ought to have a universal basic income.

There are many people who are unable to properly take care of their basic needs due to physical and mental disabilities or simply due to old age. A universal basic income solves that problem much better than the host of current programs

 

The Child Poverty Argument

1. We ought not to ever let a child go poor if we can prevent it.

2. The only way to make sure no child is ever poor is to provide a universal basic income.

3. So, we ought to have a universal basic income.

I find this argument to be one of the most important and powerful arguments for a universal basic income. There is a line of reasoning that goes something like “People who don’t work hard don’t deserve money.” Ignoring that argument we can just focus on the people who do deserve money who would be helped by a universal basic income. The fact that so many children grow up in poverty, that so many children are hungry, in the United States, is appalling. And the fact that globally so many children die due to extreme poverty is a moral failing of tremendous magnitude. People will certainly look back on our civilization as completely barbaric a hundred years from now, hopefully. No matter what one’s political affiliation is I think everyone can agree that no child deserves to grow up lacking the basics of food, shelter, clothing, etc.

The Environmental Argument

1. A universal basic is necessary to solve the environmental crisis.

2. We ought to do what we need to do to solve the environmental crisis.

3. So, we ought to have a universal basic income.

A universal basic income will obviously reduce poverty but how will it help the environment? I think to understand the argument we need to understand what is truly creating the environmental crisis. The answer I believe is an out of control economic system that prioritizes profit above everything else. And I believe that if people were provided a basic income they would naturally use their time and energy to make the world a better place. If people didn’t have to worry about being homeless they would spend their time doing amazing things for the world. Not all people, but most. I think if we just took everyone in the United States and provided them with a basic income that would be profound catalyst for changing the entire world. How many people would dedicate their time to non-profit organizations that promote sustainability? How many people would start growing their own food? How many people would choose to support companies that prioritize the environment? I believe the answer those questions is a lot, it would be a true revolution. Of course I’m a liberal optimist, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

Feel free to leave comments or criticisms of any of these arguments. I’d be happy to revise any of them to make them stronger.

And also feel free to submit an argument of your own. Maybe we can get to 100!

 

Check out some of my other posts Basic Income:

 

Imagine a World Without Poverty

 

Basic Income and The Role of the Market in Society

 

The Democracy Argument for Basic Income

 

Democracy and Basic Income part II

 

Why supporters of basic income should be in favor of a negative income tax

 

Is Basic Income Communism?

 

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