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  • - Good afternoon and welcome to our debate

  • on the Universal Basic Income.

  • My name is Charles Wheelan.

  • I'm a senior lecturer at the Rockefeller Center.

  • The last decade, if not longer, has obviously seen a debate

  • over our market-based capitalist system.

  • The financial crisis

  • brought a lot of the weaknesses to the fore.

  • Now, we are experiencing several political campaigns

  • that discuss whether moneyed interests

  • have co-opted the system,

  • whether there's sufficient competition,

  • particularly in high tech,

  • whether we should reinvestigate antitrust.

  • Obviously big concerns about income inequality

  • with San Francisco and California being an example of places

  • where enormous wealth are being created

  • even as there are 10 cities that are more familiar

  • in developing countries than in modern America.

  • Amidst all that, people are asking questions

  • about capitalism itself.

  • If you look at surveys of young people,

  • support for both democracy and capitalism have fallen.

  • People are bandying about the word socialism,

  • which is somebody who lived through

  • the Fall of the Berlin Wall was not something

  • we thought was going to be resurgent.

  • When you push on that a little bit,

  • what people tend to really mean

  • is they kind of want to rethink

  • the finer points of our market-based system.

  • So it's not necessarily throwing out the car

  • but maybe a redesign,

  • if not some serious buffing and polishing.

  • One idea that has emerged from that larger discussion

  • is the possibility of a universal basic income

  • and I'll define what that means in a little bit

  • and that's the narrow discussion that we're going to have.

  • But of course it touches on lots of other big issues,

  • income inequality, what we owe the poorest Americans,

  • what we ought to ask of the wealthiest Americans and so on.

  • That's what we're going to explore.

  • It's obviously important enough

  • that it is basically launched and sustained

  • the political campaign of Andrew Yang.

  • It's kind of a one idea that has resonance.

  • There are two guests who are going to be debating this issue.

  • On my far left, Karl Widerquist, who is associate professor

  • of Georgetown University at Cutter.

  • He is an expert in political philosophy

  • and distributive justice,

  • which is really a discussion of who has what

  • and is that fair?

  • He holds not one but two doctorates.

  • Around here, we're usually impressed

  • with people who have one PhD, but he's got two.

  • One in political theory from Oxford

  • and the second in economics

  • from City University of New York.

  • He is the author of numerous articles and books

  • including the book,

  • "Independence Propertylessness, and Basic Income:

  • "A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No."

  • To my immediate left is Oren Cass,

  • who is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

  • He is the author

  • of "The Once and Future Worker:

  • "A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America."

  • He was the domestic policy advisor for Mitt Romney

  • in his presidential campaign in 2012.

  • Before that, he was the editor of the Harvard Law Review.

  • He worked at Bain and Company

  • he has BA from Williams and a JD from Harvard Law School.

  • Karl will be kicking it off with his defense

  • of the universal basic income and Oren will go after that.

  • They'll each talk for about 10 minutes

  • and then we'll allow them to debate

  • and eventually, we will open it up for questions

  • from all of you.

  • In anticipation of Karl's talk,

  • let me just set out the parameters

  • of what we mean by universal basic income

  • and we can debate the nuances.

  • But for opening purposes, it is a benefit that is cash.

  • So it doesn't have to actually be bills

  • but it's not an in kind benefit like food stamps.

  • It is a cash benefit that goes to all individuals

  • who are eligible.

  • So if there's a household of three, it would go to the male,

  • to the female, to any of the kids in trust of their parents.

  • It is not means tested.

  • So it goes to all folks in America.

  • We can talk about whether that's citizens,

  • non-citizens and so on.

  • But it's unlike say food stamps

  • where if you're below a threshold, you get them.

  • If you're above the threshold, you do not.

  • This is a universal benefit

  • and there is no work requirements.

  • So there's nothing you have to do

  • in exchange for that basic income.

  • And it is regular,

  • meaning that it is not a one-time payment.

  • It is something that can be given annually

  • or as we may discuss more regularly

  • because that's more important

  • for people who are struggling

  • at the low end of the income scale.

  • There are different flavors of a universal basic income.

  • We can get into that.

  • It can be additive to existing benefits.

  • So it can be layered on top of the social safety net

  • or it can also be used to replace some of those benefits

  • because it's simpler than some of the means-tested programs.

  • So with that basic explanation,

  • I will turn it over to Karl who will make the case

  • for universal basic income.

  • - Thank you.

  • I support basic income because I think it's wrong to become,

  • to come between people,

  • anyone and the resources they need to survive

  • and that is exactly what we've done.

  • We've taken the resources of the earth

  • that were here before anyone came along

  • and we've said this is government property

  • or this is private property

  • and these belong to these people.

  • And then we divvy them up

  • between the privileged people in the world,

  • but the rest of you didn't get a share.

  • And the only way you can get a share

  • is if you work for these people

  • and you can't work for yourself.

  • We've taken away any possibility for propertyless people

  • to work for themselves.

  • And we say the only way you can work

  • is the follow order for these people

  • who already control resources.

  • I think that's a really terrible thing to do to anyone.

  • And I think all of you in your heart of hearts

  • to some extent and agree with me.

  • And I think that's why suppose some entrepreneur

  • came in here right now

  • and he appropriated the air in this room.

  • He just sucked all the air out of the room and said,

  • and an improved mixed his or her labor with the air

  • to make it better air and say,

  • so this air is my property now.

  • We were sharing it.

  • Now it's my private property.

  • If you all get jobs, you can buy air from me

  • and you better hurry 'cause you have seven minutes.

  • I think all of us would be pretty upset.

  • We'd say, well, if you want me to work for you,

  • maybe I will show me what the job is,

  • but give me my air back first.

  • You can't hold me under this duress

  • that you're holding under by depriving me of air.

  • But yet we do that every day with other resources,

  • food and shelter and water and the resources to make them.

  • We hold most of the working in the middle class

  • and the people under this duress

  • of you don't get these things unless you work for somebody.

  • I think that the people who own stuff,

  • the people who own stuff really need to pay back

  • for what we own.

  • That when you take a piece of the earth

  • and you make it your property,

  • what you're doing is you're imposing a duty on everyone else

  • saying this part of the earth

  • or whatever I've made out of this part of the earth

  • used to be anybody could use it, now only I can use it.

  • So you're all under this duty.

  • Well, if you're going to impose a duty on other people,

  • you should pay for it.

  • So I envision is you're paying taxes on the property you own

  • and you're getting paid for the property

  • that everybody else owns.

  • You're simultaneously paying,

  • you're simultaneously getting paid.

  • Some of us are going to pay more than we can get.

  • Some of us are going to get more than we paid.

  • If you pay more than you get,

  • if you pay more than you get back in basic income,

  • that is your reasonable fee

  • for hogging a bunch of the earth's resources.

  • And if you're getting more than you pay,

  • that is your reward to spend as you wish

  • on the services provided by everyone else

  • for using less resources than everybody else.

  • It's only normal.

  • Now, it's in the sense it's really not a radical reform.

  • We can combine it with lots of other reforms.

  • But if all we do was introduced basic income tomorrow,

  • what we'd have is a market economy

  • where income doesn't start at zero.

  • That's not so radical, but it might have radical effects.

  • It might have radical effects because as I showed

  • in that opening illustration

  • about air ownership of resources

  • gives you not only enjoyment of those resources

  • but control other people.

  • If you control things that people need to survive,

  • you control not only those things, but those people.

  • It puts all the rest of us in this position

  • where we have to go to whatever privileged group

  • owns the resources.

  • And it doesn't matter if it's a capitalist group

  • or if a socialist group or somebody else.

  • If it's not you, they have control over you.

  • And we should not be putting people in this condition.

  • Now, people who oppose this idea will often say,

  • I think fanciful things.

  • They'll pretend that we actually do provide these things.

  • We don't.

  • We have most of our policies run out.

  • If you get disability that lasts for the rest of your life,

  • if you live long enough to get social security,

  • that will last of the rest of your life.

  • Food stamps don't.

  • And TANIF doesn't and most of the things that we do

  • to help poor people run out,

  • and most of them come with conditions.

  • Now, a lot of conditions are popular.

  • People say they want to fight poverty, but with conditions.

  • But often these conditions are very self serving

  • on the part of the privileged.

  • First of all, it's the privileged

  • who are deciding conditions.

  • So we've already taken all the resources

  • and now we're the ones who get to decide

  • what those who didn't get any resources,

  • what they have to do

  • to get the resources they need to survive.

  • Well that's kind of self-serving, and kind of cruel isn't it?

  • That you don't get these resources until you do what I say.

  • And I'll show you how self-serving it is.

  • What's the number one thing we always ask

  • of the less privileged?

  • To prove they're amongst the truly needy

  • rather than those bad, needy people

  • who aren't really truly needy.

  • Is that you must be willing to work.

  • Well, that sounds good, but you know what they mean by work.

  • They mean take a job,

  • go in and be a servant to your employer

  • in a sense of you might not be in the service industry.

  • You might not be a butler,