Note:This is part of the Promise of Republicanism series, which can be foundherein its entirety.
The idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is getting a lot of attention these days, thanks largely to the fact that Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has made it the centerpiece of his campaign. Yang calls his version of the UBI the Freedom Dividend, a proposal under which every American over the age of eighteen would receive $1,000 a month from the Federal government, no strings attached.
The name Freedom Dividend is, of course, a nice bit of political rhetoric for an electorate largely inclined to view any large-scale scheme of income redistribution as a form of socialism. But beneath the rhetoric lies a legitimate, substantive point. Yang is right: Theres a good case to be made for a UBI based on the importance of individual freedom. Indeed, the foundations of that case have already been laid by none other than the renowned champion of economic and personal liberty, Friedrich Hayek.
Hayeks devotion to the ideals of free markets and limited government is well-known. His most famous book, The Road to Serfdom, argued that economic and political liberties are tightly connected, and that liberal democracies cannot safely curtail the former without also endangering the latter. His later works, especially The Constitution of Liberty, set forth a positive vision of a free society centered on the idea that individuals should be left largely free to act on the basis of their own values and beliefs, rather than those of government regulators or planners, in both the personal and economic dimensions of their lives.
While everybody knows that Hayek saw himself as a champion of individual freedom, few understand the precise nature of the freedom that Hayek sought to defend. Unlike many libertarians, who understand freedom primarily in terms of non-interference or respect for property rights, Hayek subscribed to a republican theory in which freedom consists of being able to live ones life according to [ones] own decisions and plans, in contrast to one who was irrevocably subject to the will of another.
Understanding Hayek as a commercial republican helps to make sense of many different aspects of his political theory. It explains why, unlike many libertarians, Hayek was never seriously tempted by the idea of anarcho-capitalism. Hayek did not believe that government was necessarily inimical to freedom. Indeed, he believed that government, or at least governance, in the sense of a set of institutions that subject human conduct to general and impartial rules, is a necessary precondition for freedom. For example, traffic laws limit the actions we can perform, but they do so in a way that makes us more free rather than less. They do so by allowing us to form reliable expectations about the behavior of others, which enables us to carry out our own plans more effectively than we could without them. However, a tyrant who can order us to perform or refrain from specific behaviors at a whim deprives us of the ability to effectively set and pursue our plans with any confidence even if the tyrant happens not to interfere at any given time. The fact that it is always in her power to intervene in any way she likes strips us of control over our lives, and thus renders us unfree.
Considerations such as these explain why Hayek continually emphasized the distinction between general rules on the one hand and commands on the other (or between law and legislation) in his writings. To be subject to the commands of a tyrant is to be dependent on the arbitrary will of another person. The actions of those subject to commands are based not on the beliefs and values of the actor, but on the beliefs and values of the tyrant. In contrast, general and impersonal rules do not subject individuals to the will of anyone else. They are, in Hayeks words, like laws of nature stable facts of social existence around which individuals can learn to navigate and plan their lives. They do not place some citizens in a position of subordination, nor do they elevate others to a position of dominance.
Hayeks republican political theory provides one of the main theoretical foundations for his strong support of free markets. Although many contemporary republican theorists have been either overtly hostile or at best lukewarm toward the market economy, Hayek saw correctly that market competition can serve as one of the most effective guarantors of republican freedom.
The essence of market competition is the existence of alternatives, and the right to say no to offers that fail to serve ones interests at least as well as one of those alternatives. In a competitive labor market, an employer who tries to force an employee to do something she doesnt want to do is constrained by that employees ability to quit and find a job elsewhere. A used car dealer who would like to take advantage of a buyer by charging an unfairly high price is similarly constrained by the presence of a competing dealer next door. In general, the more competitive a market is, the more prices and other terms of agreements will be regulated by the impersonal forces of supply and demand, and the less any particular market agent will be able to impose her particular will on her partner in exchange. All market actors are constrained by the general, impersonal rules of the market. But those same rules generally work to prevent any market actors from achieving a position of dominance over others.
Similarly, it is largely because Hayek views competition as such an effective check on coercion that he views government power with suspicion. After all, government is the only institution within society to claim and generally possess an effective monopoly on the use of force. And this monopoly on force is often used to establish and maintain other monopolies: on roads, on the delivery of regular mail, on the creation and enforcement of criminal law, and so on. Because individuals who value these services have nowhere else to go, they are often left with no practical alternative to compliance with the governments demands.
Moreover, as legal rules become more numerous and complex, as ordinary individuals become unable to know in advance what actions are permitted and which are prohibited, as law enforcement becomes practically unable to enforce all the rules that they could, in theory, enforce, the extent of individual discretion within government increases, and so too does the possibility of arbitrary coercion. In that case, individuals are no longer required to comply with the law, but with the edicts of a bureaucrat behind a desk, or an officer behind a badge. When the agents of the state are granted a practically unchecked power to apply the law (or not) in whatever way he sees fit, individuals are no longer fully free.
But while Hayeks republicanism provides strong support for the ideals of free markets and limited government, it also provides a criterion for determining when those institutions are not enough. Market competition generally protects the consumer against predation by unscrupulous sellers, but this protection can be undermined by collusion and natural monopolies. Similarly, competition in the labor market might protect workers from exploitation when those workers have an adequate range of alternatives available to them, but fall short when those alternatives are limited either by features of the local economy (a lack of jobs) or by characteristics of the employee (e.g. limited skills or lack of mobility).
In order to protect individual freedom in these circumstances, Hayek believed that some governmental action was both necessary and appropriate. Indeed, Hayek took great pains even in his most partisan work, The Road to Serfdom, to distance himself from a dogmatic opposition to government action, writing that nothing has done so much harm to the liberal cause as the wooden insistence of some liberals on certain rough rules of thumb, above all the principle of laissez faire. Hayek believed that government had a legitimate (though delicate) role to fill in preventing and/or regulating monopolies. He believed that government had important work to do in the areas of sanitation, health services, and public works. And, most strikingly of all, he believed that it was not only permissible but necessary for government to redistribute income in order to provide a social safety net that would ensure a certain minimum income for everyone, or a certain floor below which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself.
Hayek himself did not have much to say about why he thought such a policy might be justified. But Hayeks commitment to republican freedom provides a starting point from which an argument can easily be constructed. Poverty, while not itself coercive, renders people vulnerable to coercion by others. A wife who is dependent on her husbands paycheck may have to put up with abusive behavior simply in order to keep a roof over her head. And as Hayek himself noted, an employee in a slack labor market must do what his boss tells him or else risk destitution. In these cases and many more, people are unable to escape serious and pervasive interference by others because they lack the financial resources to stand on their own. Providing people with money gives them options, and thus the ability to live their lives in accordance with their own will, rather than in subjugation to the will of another.
Moreover, there are strong Hayekian reasons for providing assistance in the form of cash, rather than in-kind benefits. One of the most powerful and consistent themes in all of Hayeks work is the idea that government planners often lack knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place that would be necessary to carry out their plans effectively. For Hayek, that limitation was an important part of the case for decentralized (i.e., free market) economic planning. But these same considerations provide a powerful argument for redistribution taking the form of cash grants, as opposed to in-kind transfers. Cash gives individuals the freedom to decide for themselves what they need, whether that is paying rent, buying groceries, or saving for future consumption. A system of in-kind transfers, in contrast, puts those decisions in the hands of government, where they are at least as likely to be determined by powerful special interests as they are by genuine and accurate considerations of recipients basic needs.
Hayeks support of a minimum income is compatible with his famous rejection of social justice. There is a difference, Hayek argued, between a society that accepts the duty of preventing destitution and of providing a minimum level of welfare and one which seeks to determine the just position of everybody and allocates to each what it thinks he deserves. The latter task requires a level of knowledge on the part of government that Hayek believed was impossible to obtain, and a level of discriminatory power that he believed was incompatible with a free society. The former, in contrast, could be administered by precisely the sort of general, impartial rules that Hayek believed were essential to a genuinely liberal order.
Still, despite all this, it would be misleading to claim that Hayek supported a Universal Basic Income. One of the defining features of a UBI is the idea of unconditionality, meaning that eligibility is not limited to those who are working, or who are willing to work. And this is an idea that Hayek explicitly and repeatedly rejected.
I do not question any individuals right voluntarily to withdraw from civilisation. But what entitlements do such persons have? Are we to subsidise their hermitages? There cannot be any entitlement to be exempted from the rules on which civilisation rests. We may be able to assist the weak and disabled, the very young and old, but only if the sane and adult submit to the impersonal discipline which gives us means to do so.
Still, just because Hayek rejected a UBI does not mean that Hayekians must do so. Indeed, as I argue in more detail elsewhere, Hayeks own fundamental principles provide one of the best arguments for rejecting the kind of work requirement that Hayek himself endorses. In particular, Hayeks own insights into the radically dispersed nature of knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place pose a serious obstacle to conditional schemes such as those he favored.
The problem is this: Hayeks support of a work requirement appears to be based on a kind of reciprocity principle according to which those who seek to benefit from the productive activities of society have a moral obligation to make some reciprocal contribution to society. But it would clearly be a mistake to assume that paid labor is the only way to make such a contribution. Artists, parents, and caregivers, for instance, all make (or are capable of making) an important contribution to society, even if none of them are engaged in the sort of work that would qualify them for benefits under something like the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Furthermore, even if the reciprocity principle is true, presumably some accommodation will have to be made for those who are genuinely incapable of making a reciprocal contribution. Those who are physically or mentally unable to work, for instance, presumably should not be excluded from receiving benefits even if one thinks that those who are able but unwilling to work should not be eligible.
So, in order to correctly apply Hayeks principle, governments would have to know both (a) what sorts of activity count as a legitimate reciprocal contribution and which do not, and (b) which particular individuals are genuinely incapable (as opposed to just unwilling) to make such a contribution. But how could we expect governments to accurately arrive at this information? What standard should they apply to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate contributions to social welfare? What sort of intrusive powers will they require to distinguish between a genuine inability to find work and mere shiftlessness? The Hayekian case for an unconditional benefit is that it economizes on governments scarce knowledge, and that it errs on the side of protecting individuals who truly are in danger of subjugation due to their economic vulnerability, even if that means erring on the side of supporting some individuals who do not truly need it.
Hayeks republicanism provides an attractive way for reconciling a commitment to free markets and limited government with support for a social safety net. Moreover, Hayeks particular emphasis on the significance of dispersed knowledge push in favor of that safety net taking the form of a UBI.
This principled case for a UBI leaves many concerns of a more practical nature unanswered. Wouldnt the UBI cost too much? Wouldnt it discourage work? Wouldnt it turn the United States into a welfare magnet or, on the flip side, lead voters to push for even tighter restrictions on immigration?
But these concerns are not really objections to a UBI as such. Rather, they are objections to particular ways in which a UBI might or might not be set up. It is probably best to think of the UBI not as a single policy but as a family of policies, all of which involve cash transfers, but which vary according to the size of those transfers, whether or not they are means-tested, what sort of citizenship and residency requirement are attached to them, and so on.
My own inclination is to favor a UBI in the form of a Negative Income Tax (as Niskanens Samuel Hammond has argued, UBI is really just a NIT with a leaky bucket), and to address concerns about excessive costs and unemployment effects by altering the size and phase-out rate of the transfer. But as Miranda Fleischer and Daniel Hemel have pointed out, there are a variety of different ways of structuring the Architecture of a Basic Income, each with its own costs and benefits.
The important point is that pragmatic concerns about the UBI can largely if not entirely be addressed at the level of policy design. If the Hayekian argument I have presented here is correct, and there really is a good case to be made for a UBI on grounds of a republican conception of individual freedom, then we should not let such concerns stand in the way of making progress toward a basic income for all.
Originally posted here:
- Amnesty International Canada Questions Freedom of Speech and Assembly - Reason - December 12th, 2019
- CoE urges Azerbaijan to respect freedom of expression, support IDPs - Emerging Europe - December 12th, 2019
- Lebron and student athletes alike deserve freedom to speak - The Tide - December 12th, 2019
- Fox host lambasts Trump over 'most sustained assault on press freedom in US history' - The Guardian - December 12th, 2019
- Bethlehem Catholic girls basketball shakes off early nerves in win over Freedom - lehighvalleylive.com - December 12th, 2019
- How This 17-Year-Old Rapper Found Freedom In Self-Expression - Yahoo Lifestyle - December 12th, 2019
- European rights body urges Azerbaijan to respect freedom of expression - Reuters - December 12th, 2019
- Minnesota Brothers Have Taught Firearms Safety Together for More Than 50 Years - America's 1st Freedom - December 12th, 2019
- Freedom wrestling rolls to championship at Battle of Bethlehem - lehighvalleylive.com - December 12th, 2019
- Hong Kong's Struggle Against Tyranny, and Why It Matters - City Journal - December 12th, 2019
- OSCE warns Albania not to block freedom of expression online - The San Diego Union-Tribune - December 12th, 2019
- Democracy in Iraq Depends on Press Freedom - Foreign Policy - December 12th, 2019
- National Security Podcast: Freedom of the press - Policy Forum - December 12th, 2019
- Interview: the Scottish Information Commissioner on freedom of information - Holyrood - December 12th, 2019
- How the U.S. was able to win Princeton University students freedom from Iran - NJ.com - December 12th, 2019
- Charlottes bad names, Matthew McConaughey, and Metro standing - Black And Red United - December 12th, 2019
- View: Women riding vehicles are busy wresting their freedom to be a person, forgetting their worst fears - Economic Times - December 12th, 2019
- Sea Ray and Freedom Boat Club win National Safety Awards - Yahoo Finance - December 2nd, 2019
- Freedom From Religion Group Speaking Out Against Kanye West Program in Jail - All On Georgia - December 2nd, 2019
- Facts are under siege. Now, more than ever, we need to invest in journalism - The Guardian - December 2nd, 2019
- Australias proposed defamation law overhaul will expand media freedom but at what cost? - The Conversation - Australia - December 2nd, 2019
- Opinion/Editorial: Law preserving freedom of action should stay - The Daily Progress - December 2nd, 2019
- YouTube CEO on censoring content: Balance responsibility with freedom of speech - Yahoo Celebrity - December 2nd, 2019
- Sakharov Walk of Freedom: inauguration ceremony | News - EU News - December 2nd, 2019
- Book on US religious freedom starts with the Founders but forgets seeds of secularism - National Catholic Reporter - December 2nd, 2019
- Understanding the SCAs freedom of expression judgment - Daily Maverick - December 2nd, 2019
- Angela Merkel Says 'Freedom Of Expression Has Its Limits,' Must Be Regulated To Keep Society Free - The Daily Wire - December 2nd, 2019
- FM on Bajaj's lack of freedom comment: Spreading one's own impression can hurt national interest - Business Insider India - December 2nd, 2019
- Freedom of movement from the EU will be impossible to end after Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn claims - The Sun - December 2nd, 2019
- 11/29, full issue: Regulating regulators; Freedom of the press; Right to privacy - Statehouse Report - December 2nd, 2019
- Letter: Freedom will decrease as government grows | Opinions and Editorials - Aiken Standard - December 2nd, 2019
- Florence Freedom Release Top Five Possible New Team Names - The River City News - December 2nd, 2019
- How Rudy Lost his Mind and (Probably) His Freedom - TPM - December 2nd, 2019
- Pardoned Turkeys "Bread" And "Butter" Trot Away To Freedom - DOGOnews - December 2nd, 2019
- 10 thoughts on the Giants: How much freedom does Daniel Jones have to change plays? - The Athletic - December 2nd, 2019
- "Experimentation and freedom": Inside the exhibition documenting the history of Berlin techno - Mixmag - December 2nd, 2019
- The cost of freedom: Daughters of the American Revolution honor local patriots - Chicago Daily Herald - December 1st, 2019
- Bostons Freedom Trail guides are staging their own rebellion - The Boston Globe - December 1st, 2019
- KALEV: Netanyahu's Indictment Could Be A Game-Changer For Freedom Of The Press - The Daily Wire - December 1st, 2019
- This government must be held to account on press freedom. It's not to be taken lightly - The Guardian - December 1st, 2019
- Hong Kong: Sometimes you have to fight for freedom - The Times - December 1st, 2019
- BILL TINSLEY: Be thankful for freedom, and use it wisely - New Castle News - December 1st, 2019
- Tory claim about the cost of freedom of movement "illiterate" and "xenophobic", say experts - Scram News - December 1st, 2019
- Hard Kaur: Artists need to be respected for freedom of expression - indica News - November 25th, 2019
- Freedom Teams picked to win NWC - Taylorsville Times - November 25th, 2019
- Bills Today | Freedom in route running has helped John Brown excel in Buffalo - BuffaloBills.com - November 25th, 2019
- In context: Freedom of information reform - Holyrood - November 25th, 2019
- Climate, freedom and denial: What Green Thatcherism teaches us today - The Economist - November 25th, 2019
- We met with Vice President Pence to talk about press freedom. Heres why its important. - USA TODAY - November 25th, 2019
- Revolutions of our time: Freedom without US leadership | TheHill - The Hill - November 25th, 2019
- When robots need the freedom to maneuver - C4ISRNet - November 25th, 2019
- Witnessing Climate Thuggery in Germany - Somewhat Reasonable - Heartland Institute - November 25th, 2019
- Uri Regev: Religious freedom is important to Israelis, and could bring down Netanyahu - The Jewish News of Northern California - November 25th, 2019
- Farm Freedom And Safety Act Introduced To Protect Farmers - StrathmoreNow.com - November 25th, 2019
- Turkish Constitutional Court: Dismantling of Turkish-Armenian friendship statue violation of freedom of expression - Information-Analytic Agency... - November 25th, 2019
- Threat against freedom and transparency - MENAFN.COM - November 25th, 2019
- The Good, The Bad And The Ugly: Reaction To Farm Freedom And Safety Act - StrathmoreNow.com - November 25th, 2019
- 'Significant reduction' in Freedom of Information backlog says PSNI - The Irish News - November 25th, 2019
- Familiarity goes beyond the field for Parkland footballs Santos vs. Freedom - lehighvalleylive.com - November 13th, 2019
- Internet freedom declined in the US and worldwide this year: report | TheHill - The Hill - November 13th, 2019
- Embrace The Freedom Of Honoring Your Word Impeccably - Inc. - November 13th, 2019
- Lula's Free, and He's Promising to Fight - The Nation - November 13th, 2019
- Five things to know about Freedom Never Dies, by the Sojourners - Vancouver Sun - November 13th, 2019
- The wages of freedom - The Boston Globe - November 13th, 2019
- In our opinion: Because of those who sacrifice for freedom, the importance of Veterans Day will never cease - Deseret News - November 13th, 2019
- CSG and Freedom expand partnership to provide business and IT services - MobileSyrup - November 13th, 2019
- Mormon quest for peace and freedom in Mexico shattered by violence and adversity - CNN - November 13th, 2019
- Geingob congratulates Angola on 44 years of freedom - New Era Live - November 13th, 2019
- The bar has always been high for Freedom footballs Jenkins; thats where he likes it - lehighvalleylive.com - November 13th, 2019
- Democracy doesnt matter to the defenders of economic freedom - The Guardian - November 13th, 2019
- Religious-Freedom Voters Will Vote Trump - National Review - November 13th, 2019
- Donald Trump plans to make foreign aid conditional on religious freedom - The Guardian - November 13th, 2019
- Reauthorizing the USA Freedom Act of 2015 FBI - Federal Bureau of Investigation - November 13th, 2019
- The Chinese Government Cannot Be Allowed to Undermine Academic Freedom - The Nation - November 13th, 2019
- 'A story about freedom': artist set to re-enact largest slave revolt in US history - The Guardian - November 13th, 2019
- Just How Far Should the Freedom of Information Act Go? - WVTF - October 16th, 2019
- How we ditched debt: Little splurges on the path to freedom - USA TODAY - October 16th, 2019
- USMNT loss, D.C. United, and Beckhams forest stadium: Freedom Kicks! - Black And Red United - October 16th, 2019
- The OSCE Produces Guidance On Freedom Of Religion Or Belief And Security - Forbes - October 16th, 2019
- Finding the freedom to 'f*ck like an animal' - PGH City Paper - October 16th, 2019