What if governments just gave money to people?
That’s the big question that Thomas Weisskopf, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Michigan, is asking.
Since automation is replacing human-powered labor in fields like manufacturing, robust employment may be a thing of the past. A permanent surplus of labor has massive consequences, driving down wages and even contributing to social unrest. According to Weisskopf, such a dramatic problem demands a dramatic solution.
Weisskopf said in using “basic income grants,” an amount of money would be handed out to every citizen “without any conditions whatsoever.” Rather than tax breaks or multiple large government programs like food assistance, these basic income grants would not require a web of overlapping bureaucracies. Everyone would get them, not just people who made under a certain amount of money. That way, they would also be more broadly popular, and wouldn’t attract the social stigma and political attacks that welfare or food stamps do.
Perhaps surprisingly in these divided times, this idea has gotten support from economic thinkers all across the political spectrum. Handing money directly to citizens gives low-income people more individual power in the market, rather than forcing them to spend only on government-approved food or housing. That’s attractive to conservatives. It also increases the base-level social safety net for people who can’t work for whatever reason, providing a cushion for those who are struggling. That part is attractive to liberals.
Even though offering a basic income grant to everyone might sound like a big change to the American way of life, the best example of an existing system of this type is right here in the U.S.: Alaska. Every Alaskan gets a small cash benefit from all oil extraction in the state, and there’s no reason why other states couldn’t follow suit.
For more on how Michigan could implement a basic income grant, and where all this money would come from in the first place, listen to the interview below.
The Next Idea is Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.