Guaranteed Basic Income and the Gilligan Test

Greetings all!

So I was listening to NPR’s On Point earlier tonight, and Tom Ashbrook had a group of guests debating the pros and cons of a national guaranteed basic income.  The idea is simply that every adult in the country would receive basic subsistence payments, say around $10,000 per year, from the federal government, no questions asked and no work required.  These payments would be funded by a massive tax increase; the figure discussed in the segment I heard was a flat 39% rate.

The benefits of this would be that workers would be free to take better jobs instead of being tied to menial work that they hate, consumption would increase, innovation would get a booster shot as more mundane tasks had to be automated, etc.  Apparently, one of the interesting angles that On Point stressed during the piece was that support for this idea is coming from unexpected quarters, like the libertarian community.

Well, I’m pretty libertarian, but I’m also pretty sure I smell a rat.

One of my favorite ways to evaluate any economic proposal is to use a technique I like to call the “Gilligan Test.” Basically, I ask whether this would work on Gilligan’s Island, with its seven castaways. After all, an economy is really just humans applying labor to the environment to produce things of value. The most basic economy of all is Robinson Crusoe alone on an island. If you have more than one person, then people can start to specialize, you get a division of labor (which is the point at which Adam Smith begins his famous analysis), and markets are born. Yay!  So Gilligan’s Island is a better analogy for a modern economy than is Robinson Crusoe.

So back to Gilligan. Hey guys! Let’s all have a minimum guaranteed income!  How about this; all seven castaways will receive a daily allotment of 2 fish, 3 coconuts, and a pineapple. Yum!  And the best part is that each person receives their daily allotment whether they work or not. This is great!!

So…how are we doing?  The Howells are laying around in hammocks, Ginger and MaryAnne are sunning themselves on the beach, the Professor is reading a book, Gilligan is playing with some toy boats, and Skipper is whacking Gilligan with his hat and asking where the first day’s allotment of food is. Right. Someone actually has to go catch 14 fish. Someone has to go climb some trees and gather 21 coconuts and 7 pineapples. And who exactly is responsible for doing all that?  Oops.  Yeah.

K, well that’s today’s rant. Until next time…keep pipping up!!

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