Let’s say hypothetically that the US has allocated $1T in aid to the poor. There’s nothing you can do to change that, the budget is set. Would you prefer to

  1. Spend $100B figuring out how to administer programs that provide specific goods and services to the poor, figure out who’s eligible, design forms and guidelines and scripts for bureaucrats to say to get people to do more work (and also there are welfare cliffs that disincentivize work), or
  2. Just give them all cash, tapering based on how much they earn. You save some large portion of the $100B, which either goes as extra money to the poor, or maybe to broader tax refunds.

#1 sounds a lot more like a nanny state, where #2 reduces government.

Regarding those “unwilling to work”, what about stay-at-home moms, or those caring for their sick elderly parents, or just those with nontraditional jobs like starting a new business? To determine who qualifies and who doesn’t, you need more bureaucrats, and maybe company X’s jobs don’t currently count, so they lobby those bureaucrats to change their rules, and so on until government gets big again. This is a real problem today, and it costs taxpayers money and corrupts the system. Work requirements sound nice on paper, but in reality it’s more efficient and humane to drop them from legislation.

Written by

Economist. Founder and president of the UBI Center. Studied at MIT and UC Berkeley. YIMBY. Former Google data scientist.

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