The ABC’s of universal basic income

Scout Hutchinson, Columnist

Due to mass shutdowns, work from home protocols and an overall decline in our economy, the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged legislators on both sides of the aisle to understand that government assistance and aid is important. Fundamentally, it makes sense that something like a pandemic would slowly start to destigmatize the need for governmental assistance and aid. 

Within the past couple of weeks, many are talking about a second round of stimulus checks, especially considering the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases and increased restrictions. These $1,200 stimulus checks are distributed to most adults in the U.S. and are eerily similar to a universal basic income (UBI) check. The only difference? The stimulus checks are unique to the pandemic, but universal basic income would ideally last forever. 

According to the International Monetary Fund, the term universal basic income in a broad sense denotes regular cash payments that are given to a certain population (in this case all adults within the United States) with minimal to no requirements for receiving the money.

With that said, why did it take a global pandemic for some to even consider the merits of governmental aid for those who need it? This question has been raised by economists and legislators that have been pushing for policies that recognize, as Andrew Yang puts it, “that it should be a basic right of citizenship to have a certain level of resources to be able to meet your basic needs.” 

COVID-19 is not the first major event that has led to large numbers of people losing their jobs, their homes or simply to struggle to stay afloat. Many Americans were struggling long before 2020. If anything, COVID-19 has reinvigorated the need to massively change the way that we look at government assistance. 

Before the pandemic, some Americans had never felt the burdening stress from financial instability and truly not knowing what the next day will bring. However, for many, these burdens are a crisis and another crack in the dream of freedom and prosperity in the United States. 

While the conversations about and the subsequent passing of the first stimulus bill may have brought UBI back to the forefront of popular discussion, it is not the first time that the idea has been proposed. The first and most popular UBI proposal within the United States is the Freedom Dividend, headed by Andrew Yang during his 2020 campaign for Democratic Party presidential nominee. 

The Freedom Dividend is a form of universal basic income that would give every adult in the United States $1,000 dollars a month, totalling $12,000 a year. He proposes that the UBI would be paid through applying a Value Added Tax of 10%, consolidating and reforming existing welfare programs and taxing top earners, as well as levels of carbon emissions. 

Andrew Yang’s proposal was not a reaction to the pandemic. It was created before anyone could even comprehend the state we are in now. Instead, it was created as a direct response to mass economic instability and more specifically the impending job losses due to increased automation over the next few decades. Yang claims that not only will a UBI put money in the hands of the people that need it, it will also grow the economy by approximately $2.5 trillion and create 4.6 million new jobs, according to the Roosevelt Institute. 

Similarly to universal healthcare, universal basic income would be given to everyone no matter one’s economic status. It would strip away the bureaucratic red tape of deciding when one qualifies for extra governmental assistance. UBI would be implemented with the understanding that everyone is entitled to a basic level of resources in anticipation of economic instability or change, while also providing a cushion by allowing for that extra money to be used elsewhere. 

Universal basic income is by no means a one-policy-fix-all idea. However, it is a step in the right direction towards a society where citizens can feel economically secure. Many researchers see UBI as a corrective ‘hope’ and the best option for basic aid from the government. 

Universal basic income would also encourage wider conversations about how the government ought to interact with its citizens when it comes to aid and assistance. It would revolutionize the way we look at our basic rights to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. It is a step towards stability.