Reason is the monthly print magazine of "free minds and free markets." It covers politics, culture, and ideas through a provocative mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews. Reason provides a refreshing alternative to right-wing and left-wing opinion magazines by making a principled case for liberty and individual choice in all areas of human activity.
Reason Foundation advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law.
Is Reason libertarian? Yes. Reason Foundation's mission is to advance a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law.
I hope this is clear. I hope this leaves no room for confusion.
Reason Magazine published almost 7000 words on “The Indestructible Idea of the Basic Income,” by Jesse Walker. A “principled case for liberty and individual choice” based on “libertarian principles” would not take so many words to destruct this idea.
Yet, being Reason, you know it cannot be so simple…or principled. But, before we get there…the subtitle of the essay is telling:
Is this the only policy proposal Tom Paine, Huey Long, Milton Friedman, Timothy Leary, and Sam Altman can agree on?
A scary thought.
Let’s examine each of these individuals:
Thomas Paine was an English-American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary.
There was a “good” Thomas Paine and a “bad” Thomas Paine. Walker cites the bad Thomas Paine:
Agrarian Justice, which was ultimately published in 1797, posited that "the earth, in its natural, uncultivated state was…the common property of the human race." Therefore, Paine argued, each landowner "owes to the community a ground-rent" to compensate the dispossessed for their loss. From those fees, "the sum of fifteen pounds sterling" should be paid to everyone when they turn 21, with another "ten pounds per annum" paid after they've turned 50.
The earth is the common property of all of humanity. Common property: more closely associated to “libertarian principles” or communism?
Huey Pierce Long Jr., self-nicknamed The Kingfish, was an American politician who served as the 40th governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and as a member of the United States Senate from 1932 until his death by assassination in 1935.
Long's Share Our Wealth plan was established in 1934 under the motto "Every Man a King," also the title of his autobiography. It proposed new wealth redistribution measures in the form of a net asset tax on corporations and individuals to curb the poverty and homelessness endemic nationwide during the Great Depression.
Share Our Wealth? Our Wealth? This has what, exactly, to do with individual liberty? Sounds more like communism.
Milton Friedman was an American economist who received the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his research on consumption analysis, monetary history and theory, and the complexity of stabilization policy.
Like Thomas Paine, there was a good Friedman and a bad Friedman; Walker cites the bad Friedman:
In the 1940s, Milton Friedman and George Stigler started exploring the concept of a negative income tax.
Friedman advocated a payment to those who paid no income tax – not a refund, a payment.
Timothy Francis Leary was an American psychologist and writer known for advocating the exploration of the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs under controlled conditions.
Leary believed that LSD showed potential for therapeutic use in psychiatry. He used LSD himself and developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD. He popularized catchphrases that promoted his philosophy, such as "turn on, tune in, drop out", "set and setting", and "think for yourself and question authority".
I am not sure how any of this qualifies Leary to speak on the topic of basic income from a “principled libertarian” perspective. He could speak on much that is libertine, but I am not sure about libertarian.
Samuel H. "Sam" Altman is an American entrepreneur, programmer, and blogger. He is the president of Y Combinator and co-chairman of OpenAI.
Apparently a very successful young entrepreneur. As best as I can find, he is worth about $1 billion. He could guarantee a basic income of $1000 per month for 20 years to over 4000 people. That’s principled liberty and individual choice in action.
It is rather difficult to find joy in communion with these gentlemen on the idea of a basic income.
Yet Reason proceeds, undeterred. The starting point of Walker’s examination was a Cato Institute sponsored discussion between two gentlemen, presumably on opposite ends of the political spectrum:
Andy Stern is a former president of the Service Employees International Union. Charles Murray may be America's most prominent right-wing critic of the welfare state.
Either a “principled libertarian”?
Walker identifies the range of possibilities when discussing this topic:
Some people want to means-test the checks so that only Americans below a certain income threshold receive them; others want a fully universal program, given without exceptions. Some want to replace the existing welfare state; others want to tack a basic income onto it. There have been tons of suggestions for how to fund the payments and for how big they should be. When it comes to the basic income, superficial agreement is common but actual convergence can be fleeting.
Is there any indication of preference for one scheme over another? Might a self-described advocate for liberty and individual choice have a preference? Is there a “principled libertarian” argument against any such scheme? If so, you won’t find it in this essay. Instead, we find a focus on “convergence,” a term used ten times to describe the (presumably) positive (in Reason’s eyes) meeting of the minds of left and right on this issue.
Instead, from Walker, we get advocacy for the program:
…it can cashify and combine programs.
By cashify, I mean taking a subsidy with strings attached—food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers, anything like that—and instead simply send money to the people who qualify for it, letting them choose how to spend it.
Simply send people the money, no strings attached. This is principled libertarianism?
Those programs might not converge all the way to a basic income, but they could at least become simpler, less intrusive, and less expensive.
Make government more efficient. This is principled libertarianism?
Might there be a libertarian objection anywhere in these 7000 words?
Many libertarians dislike even Friedman's version of the idea, arguing that it won't displace the rest of the welfare state for long: Other programs could still creep back, leaving us with an even costlier system than before.
You think? Please tell me: how many “other programs” were eliminated as a result of Friedman’s negative income tax? Has government been made more efficient because of this scheme?
In any case, Walker offers (and quickly discards) only a pragmatic objection. Is there a “principled” objection anywhere to be found?
For me, it all started with RUSH and 2112; this led me to Ayn Rand. The other place it led was Reason Magazine. I grew up intellectually with Rand and Reason as my first influences.
At the time, Murray Rothbard was a contributing editor of the magazine; he would regularly write columns for the magazine. Perhaps this is why my recollection of this publication was, in the past, positive as it relates to developing my libertarian thought.
Eventually I quit reading the magazine; unbeknownst to me at the time, it turns out I quit sometime after Rothbard was no longer associated with it. Given my understanding today of libertarianism, this doesn’t surprise me.
Thank God I am not growing up intellectually under its influence today. I certainly wouldn’t be bionic.