Stockton, California, announced last week that it will try out a new anti-poverty program that provides $500 per month for a small subset of eligible residents. Earlier this month, the province of Ontario mailed its first monthly checks to 400 lucky Canadians. Advocates for a “universal basic income” (UBI) call these programs “experiments,” or “pilots,” and they hope that positive results will build support for their proposals. But these governments are not testing a UBI; they are running a free lottery. No one should be impressed or persuaded if its winners prove to be fans.
. . . Treating this program as a useful test of the UBI, however, is a marketing gimmick that borders on fraud. The experiments ignore the UBI’s disquieting aspects. It’s generally accepted that people in need should receive short-term support. But limited, means-tested government support is not the same thing as rearranging cultural expectations and economic incentives by making self-reliance optional, which would devalue work, weaken families and communities, discourage young people from launching their adult lives, and subsidize an expanding and idle underclass.