Bipartisan consensus for universal basic income

It’s an old irony of politics that “bipartisan consensus” only counts when it comes to ideas backed by wealthy centrists between the two parties, but it doesn’t count when it unites both of the more populist elements on right and left.

Thus, deficit reduction, corporate tax breaks and military interventions receive the “bipartisan” label if a few centrist Democrats and Republicans agree on them. But anti-interventionism, resistance to corporate-friendly trade deals, and civil liberties protections that unite right and left along a different ideological axis are still considered outre.

The same goes for a univeral basic income (UBI), which is still pretty far outside the Overton Window of mainstream political discourse (for now), but that is increasingly uniting both progressives and conservatives on the edges. A growing number of progressives have been calling for UBI as a response to globalization, mechanization and flattening of the labor force, and increasing inequality. After all, why roll Sisyphus’ stone up the hill of job protections when jobs themselves are becoming scarce and lower-paid for a wide variety of reasons, when instead we could free up human dignity and creativity by not tying survival to having a “job” for a corporate overlord in the first place?

From a certain conservative point of view, meanwhile, UBI is a simple and elegant solution to the problem of government bureaucracy and program multiplicity that keeps people fed and happy and the pitchforks at bay. Yes, many Objectivist types would prefer that the “non-producers” face starvation as incentive to near slave-wage toil for the “producer” class. That immoral worldview has the producer-parasite metaphor topsy turvy, but it’s also foolish because it nearly guarantees violent revolution. More intelligent conservatives at least comprehend the necessity of maintaining the social order. Milton Friedman supported a universal basic income for similar reasons.

And now even disgraced racist Charles Murray of Bell Curve fame has seen the wisdom of granting a universal basic income to those he delusionally believes to be of lower intelligence than himself.

In short, two very distinct worldviews have both come to the same conclusion: we need to provide a basic universal income that allows people to live in dignity and unleash their creative potential toward their own interests. It’s a bipartisan view.

It’s just not the sort of bipartisanship that has street cred in the Village.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.