Jump to content

Universal basic income in the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Universal basic income and negative income tax, which is a related system, has been debated in the United States since the 1960s, and to a smaller extent also before that. During the 1960s and 1970s a number of experiments with negative income tax were conducted in United States and Canada. In the 1970s another and somewhat related welfare system was introduced instead, the Earned Income Tax Credit. The next big development in the history of basic income in the United States came in 1982, when the Alaska Permanent Fund was established. It has delivered some kind of basic income, financed from the state's oil and gas revenues, ever since.

Older history (from Paine and Spence to 1900)[edit]

Arguably the first to propose a system with great similarities to a national basic income in the United States was Thomas Paine, in Agrarian Justice, 1796/1797. His idea was that a few "basic incomes" to young people, in their 20s, financed by tax on heritage, was highly needed and also a matter of justice. Shortly after that, in 1797, Thomas Spence outlined a complete basic income proposal.[1]


In the first half of the 20th century various people in the United States advocated some kind of basic income. There were for example the Louisiana Governor Huey Long who called it "Share Our Wealth" and also some followers of Henry George.

1960s and 1970s[edit]

In the 1960s and the 1970s the debate around, and support for, basic income and the related system negative income tax, rose substantially. This debate and interest was highly linked to general debate on poverty and how to deal with it. In 1968, James Tobin, Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith and another 1,200 economists signed a document calling for the US Congress to introduce in that year a system of income guarantees and supplements.[2] Milton Friedman endorsed the negative income tax in 1962 and again in 1980,[3] and he connected his support for the negative income tax to support for basic income in an interview with Eduardo Suplicy in 2000.[4]

Martin Luther King, a famous civil rights activist and politician, also gave his support for the idea in his book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, published in 1967.[5][6] In 1969, Richard Nixon proposed a "Family Assistance Program" which resembled guaranteed income, in that benefits did not rapidly taper with additional earnings by the beneficiaries. Nixon's proposal only applied to families, but extended previous welfare by benefiting more than those without a 'father'.[7] Other advocates from the 1960s and 1970s include Senator George McGovern who called for a 'demogrant' that was similar to a basic income, although a plank calling for a guaranteed income of $6,500 was defeated at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.[8][9]

From 1968 to 1982, the US and Canadian governments conducted a total of five negative income tax experiments. They were the first major social science experiments in the world. The first experiment was the New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment, proposed by MIT Economics graduate student Heather Ross in 1967 in a proposal to the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity.[10] The four experiments were in:[11]

  1. The New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment: Trenton, Passaic, Paterson, and Jersey City, New Jersey with Scranton, Pennsylvania added to increase the number of white families, 1968–1972 (1357 families)[12]
  2. The Rural Income Maintenance Experiment: Rural areas in Iowa and North Carolina, 1969–1973 (809 families)
  3. Gary, Indiana, 1971–1974 (1800 families)
  4. Seattle (SIME) and Denver (DIME), 1971–1982 (4800 families)
  5. Manitoba, Canada ("Mincome"), 1974-1979

In general they found that workers would decrease labor supply (employment) by two to four weeks per year because of the guarantee of income equal to the poverty threshold.[13]

The 1980s, 1990s and early 2000[edit]

The Permanent Fund of Alaska[edit]

1975 photo of Jay Hammond, the former governor of Alaska who is regarded as "the man behind" the foundation of the Permanent Fund of Alaska

The Alaska Permanent Fund is often mentioned as one of the few existing basic income systems in the world. Since 1982, the Fund has paid a partial basic income to all (permanent) residents averaging approximately $1,600 annually per resident (adjusted to 2019 dollars) from the state's oil production revenues.[14] A prominent figure in the history of the fund is Jay Hammond. He was the Republican Governor of Alaska in the 1970s and as such he was concerned that the huge wealth generated by oil mining in Prudhoe Bay, the largest oilfield in North America, would only benefit the current population of the state. Therefore, he suggested setting up a fund to ensure that this wealth would be preserved, through investment of part of the revenue from oil.[15]


The Green Party of the United States since its 2010 platform advocates for a universal basic income to "every adult regardless of health, employment, or marital status, in order to minimize government bureaucracy and intrusiveness into people's lives."[16]

The debate about basic income, according to Guy Standing, has gone in two directions in the United States in recent years. On the one hand is the introduction of basic income as an alternative to existing social policies, paid from direct taxation, and on the other hand is a discussion about capital funds with basic income-style dividends.[17]

In July 2017, Hawaii State Rep. Chris Lee published a bill to investigate basic income for his state.[18]

American Democratic Politician John Moser ran on a Universal Citizens Dividend as the core focus of his 2018 Congressional campaign.

In April 2021, a bill to send unconditional monthly cash payments of $1,000 to California residents passed committee, though with no funding mechanism.[19]

Andrew Yang and the emergency-basic income of 2020[edit]

Andrew Yang was a presidential candidate for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries. He was running against more well-known candidates such as Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren to get the Democratic Party-ticket to run against the Republican candidate in 2020. His flagship proposal was a basic income, which he labels "Freedom Dividend" of 1000 dollars per month to each American citizen over the age of 18. He also had several other proposals, regarding democracy, health and medicine, international affairs and so on, but the focal point of his campaign was basic income. That, in turn, is a proposal which he outlines with the background of the fourth industrial revolution. In other words, the development of automation and artificial intelligence, and how these factors change the job market. According to Yang, the Freedom Dividend's benefits include "healthier people, less stressed-out people, better-educated people, stronger communities, more volunteerism, [and] more civic participation. There's zero bureaucracy associated with it [because there is no] need to verify whether [people's] circumstances change."[20]

Yang argues that automation-driven job displacement was the main reason Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, saying that based on data, "There's a straight line up between the adoption of industrial robots in a community and the movement towards Donald Trump."[21] Yang has said that he became a UBI advocate after reading American futurist Martin Ford's book Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, which deals with the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the job market and economy.[22] He believes UBI is a more viable policy than job retraining programs, citing studies that job retraining of displaced manufacturing workers in the Midwest had success rates of 0–15%.[23]

On March 5, 2020 Andrew Yang started the Humanity Forward[24] movement, a non-profit with the goal of introducing the core ideas that Yang ran on during his 2020 presidential campaign such as Universal Basic Income, human-centered capitalism, and data as a property right. Andrew Yang has already received three million dollars[25] in donations for use in this organization. Humanity Forward will endorse and provide resources to political candidates who champion Universal Basic Income, human-centered capitalism and similar policies. HF will help launch and support projects to display the power and practicality of UBI in real life. Yang intends to push these ideas to the mainstream through podcasts, traditional media, and high-impact events.

COVID-19 era[edit]

With a flood of federal COVID-19 recovery money going to local governments, over 150 municipalities and counties in the United States ran guaranteed income programs,[26][27] including one that supported all new mothers in Flint, Michigan.[28] Local government cash aid without any work requirement was subsequently banned in Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, and South Dakota, and considered in several other conservative states.[29] Ban attempts were vetoed by Democratic governors in Wisconsin and Arizona.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Marangos, John (January 2006). "Two arguments for Basic Income: Thomas Paine (1737-1809) and Thomas Spence (1750-1814)". History of Economic Ideas.
  2. ^ Steensland, Brian (2007). The failed welfare revolution. Princeton University Press. pp. 70–78. ISBN 978-0-691-12714-9.
  3. ^ Frank, Robert H. "The Other Milton Friedman: A Conservative With a Social Welfare Program," The New York Times (23 November 2006).
  4. ^ Suplicy, Eduardo (June 2000). "Eduardo Suplicy's Interview With Milton Friedman". The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee NewsFlash.
  5. ^ Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (New York: Harper & Row, 1967)
  6. ^ Jordan Weissmann (28 August 2013). Martin Luther King's Economic Dream: A Guaranteed Income for All Americans. The Atlantic. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  7. ^ "Daniel Moynihan and President-elect Nixon: How charity didn't begin at home". archive.nytimes.com.
  8. ^ National Party Conventions: 1831-1996. Internet Archive. Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly. 1997. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-56802-280-2.
  9. ^ "How Mark stands on the issues" Archived December 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Gravel presidential campaign, 2008
  10. ^ "An Overview of Social Experimentation and the Digest". Urban.org. Archived from the original on 2011-11-30. Retrieved 2013-02-13.
  11. ^ "IRP Negative Income Tax Archive". University of Wisconsin–Madison, Institute for Research on Poverty. July 10, 2007. Archived from the original on 2009-12-06. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  12. ^ Social Experimentation and Public Policymaking By David H. Greenberg, Donna Linksz, Marvin Mandell.
  13. ^ Robins, Philip K. (Autumn 1985). "A Comparison of the Labor Supply Findings from the Four Negative Income Tax Experiments". The Journal of Human Resources. 20 (4). University of Wisconsin Press: 567–582. doi:10.2307/145685. JSTOR 145685.
  14. ^ DeMarban, Alex (2019-09-28). "This year's Alaska Permanent Fund dividend: $1,606". Anchorage Daily News. Retrieved 2020-09-24. [See graphs] The annual check this year will be delivered to 631,000 Alaskans, most of the state population, and come largely from earnings of the state's $64 billion fund that for decades has been seeded with income from oil-production revenue. ... This year's dividend amount, similar to last year's, is in line with the average annual payment since they began at $1,000 in 1982 when inflation is taken into account, said Mouhcine Guettabi, an economist with the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research.
  15. ^ "History of basic income | BIEN". BIEN. Archived from the original on 2008-06-21. Retrieved 2017-05-27.
  16. ^ "2010 Platform: Economic Justice & Sustainability". The Green Party of the United States. Archived from the original on 2011-06-19.
  17. ^ World Economic Forum (2019-01-18). "What has a year of experiments taught us about basic income?". The European Sting - Critical News & Insights on European Politics, Economy, Foreign Affairs, Business & Technology. Retrieved 2020-06-23.
  18. ^ Weller, Chris (2018-01-15). "Basic income experts predict an important milestone for free money in 2018". Business Insider. Retrieved 2020-06-23.
  19. ^ Nieves, Alexander (2021-04-26). "California Democrats advance universal basic income bill with no funding mechanism". POLITICO. Archived from the original on 2021-05-19. Retrieved 2022-07-01.
  20. ^ "Andrew Yang: Being the free-money guy won't hurt me". USA Today. September 19, 2019. Archived from the original on September 21, 2019. Retrieved September 21, 2019.
  21. ^ Karson, Kendall; Gehlen, Bobby; Szabo, Christine; Palaniappan, Sruthi; Kelsey, Adam (July 31, 2019). "Andrew Yang: Everything you need to know about the 2020 presidential candidate". ABC News. Archived from the original on June 29, 2019. Retrieved August 3, 2019.
  22. ^ Murphy, Jason Burke (July 16, 2018). "Interview: Presidential campaign brings 'new crowds' to basic income". Basic Income Network. Archived from the original on March 21, 2019. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  23. ^ Lea, Brittany De (July 11, 2019). "You can't turn truck drivers into coders, Andrew Yang says of job retraining". FOXBusiness. Archived from the original on August 3, 2019. Retrieved August 3, 2019.
  24. ^ "Let's Move Humanity Forward". Humanity Forward. Retrieved 2020-06-23.
  25. ^ Lahut, Ben; Winck, Jake (March 5, 2020). "Andrew Yang announces new 'Move Humanity Forward' organization amid speculation that he'll run for NYC mayor". Business Insider. Retrieved 2020-06-23.
  26. ^ Jennifer Ludden (March 5, 2024). "Places across the U.S. are testing no-strings cash as part of the social safety net". NPR.
  27. ^ Lily Jamali (May 14, 2021). "More Cities Are Handing People Cash With No Strings Attached. Here's Why". KQED-FM.
  28. ^ Jennifer Ludden (March 12, 2024). "Every new mom in this U.S. city is now getting cash aid for a year". NPR.
  29. ^ a b Jennifer Ludden (May 3, 2024). "After a boom in cash aid to tackle poverty, some states are now banning it". NPR.

Further reading[edit]