My latest research study was released today: a detailed look at whether we could replace the current welfare state with some form of guaranteed national income. The case in favor of a GNI turns out to be surprisingly strong, at least in theory. It would be far simpler and more transparent than current welfare programs, and would break up the institutions and special interests that push for more spending. It would treats recipients like adults, dissipate concentrations of poverty, and have better incentives when it comes to work, marriage, and savings. In theory such an income could be set high enough that no American would live in poverty.
But what sounds good in theory tends to break down when one looks at implementation. There appear to be serious trade-offs among cost, simplicity, and incentive structure. Attempts to solve problems in one area would raise questions in others. In the end, there simply appears to be no practical way to establish a guaranteed national income that does not create as many problems as it solves.
The idea of a guaranteed national income should not be dismissed out of hand, but neither should we allow good intentions to cause us to rush into something we could soon come to regret. That, after all, is what got us into the mess we are in today.
You can also listen to this podcast on the topic: