The Democracy Argument for Basic Income
1. A functioning democracy is impossible if there is extreme economic inequality and extreme poverty.
2. A universal basic income is the best means to eliminate extreme economic inequality and poverty.
3. So, we should have a universal basic income.
I’ve never met anyone who has seriously considered the second premise and disagreed with it so we’ll move on focus our attention here on the first premise. Of course there’s lots of good information out there on the topic if you’re interested or need convincing.
So, moving on to the first premise of the above argument. There are a number of ways in which poverty and economic inequality undermine democracy. I’ll try to argue this claim from several different angles.
The first is that poverty and economic inequality undermine democracy because it can make poor people less likely to vote. This is true in the United States, although not in every country. Despite this not being true in every country, I think the fact that it is true in the United States is a compelling reason to eliminate poverty. Just like we pass laws to try to protect consumers even if the measure taken will not always protect consumers. Seat belts don’t have to be one-hundred percent effective in protecting injuries to make it worthwhile to require people to wear them and similarly eliminating poverty doesn’t have to be the only factor in voter turnout to make it worth eliminating poverty. We need to do everything we can to strengthen the democratic process.
The second argument I would make in terms of poverty and democracy is that poverty undermines a person’s ability to function properly as a citizen. A well functioning democracy requires not only that people vote but that they be educated enough to vote for candidates who will best represents their interests. We don’t have to look farther than the united states to see this in action. A poor person in the United States would never vote republican if they were actually voting in their self-interest they. They would always vote for the party that would best promote the interests of poor and middle class Americans rather than the party that serves the interests of the corporate elite. It really isn’t complicated. An obvious response might be that people who vote republican truly think that a small government would lead to more prosperity for all persons. This is of course a terrible argument because we actually have lots of real evidence that supports the claim that taxes and liberal policies actually do work to reduce poverty. All we have to do is look around the world and look at their economic policies. There is a clear correlation between liberal policies and poverty reduction. The most liberal countries have the least poverty and the most “libertarian” countries have the most poverty. They fact that they sincerely believe voting republican is in their best interest is evidence of my point, that poverty makes it more likely that a person will vote against their own self-interest!
Poverty and economic inequality make it such that people with more money have greater influence over the political process than people with less money. Again we don’t have to look further than the united states to see the corrupting influence of money in politics. Everyone still gets a vote under the current system but a poor persons vote matters much less, because with extreme inequality it no longer is the case that voting is the primary determiner of political outcome. Much ink has been spilled so I don’t feel the need to rehash the details. Republic Lost by Lawrence Lessig is good reading material on the topic. You can see the ted video below for the short version:
So, poverty and economic inequality affect democracy in three ways,
1) by making less poor people vote,
2) making their vote ineffective because they are not capable of voting in their own self-interest, and
3) by making it such that a poor person’s vote counts for less.
Check out some of my other posts Basic Income: