The idea of Universal Basic Income is not new, but one that has been touted and used for a long time. There have even been some small tests of the program … one in a small town in Ontario, Canada that seemed on the surface to yield positive results. There is a current test in Finland that is not turning out positively. There is also a current large test in Africa run by a group of non-profits, which has not yet been completed. But these tests and the proponents of a Universal Basic Income have not considered the dark side of this ultimate expression of the welfare state.
Perhaps the earliest demonstration of the welfare state was the Roman Empire in 123 B.C. when the Annona (grain doles) was started by a popularis politician, Gaius Sempronius Gracchus in order to gain political support (later Annona evolved into “Bread and Circuses”). In the nineteenth century, the (not so) wonderful humanitarian, Otto von Bismarck, determined that he needed to make payments to the unemployed Germans to keep them from joining the communists and overthrowing his German Government. Let’s just say that the welfare state, which may, in some of us, be a compassionate outreach, was originally conceived and arguably is still used to buy political support … votes. And what did Otto do with that support? He engineered a series of wars to unite Germany under the rule of Prussia. These included wars with Denmark, Austria, and France. Hundreds of thousands died. The control Bismarck established under the Chancellor of Germany, provided the platform for World War I where millions were killed.
What happens when the Government gives you money?
The long and short of it is that it is a step toward authoritarian socialism, which strangely enough is a reasonable description of fascism, the exception being that fascism puts one dictator at the top and authoritarian socialism replaces one man with the “politically elite class.” This idea is not new either. In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois, the sociologist and civil rights activist, supported the idea, developed by northern liberals in 1896, that intellectually there was a “talented tenth” who should be followed by the remainder of the population, who he called the “dependency class.” His first reference was to the African American population, but later expanded the view to all Americans, “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men.” – W.E.B. Du Bois
If the Federal Government gives you money, based on the legal precedent, it can require you to do things. No, this is not part of the US constitution, but the power was created by the courts decades ago. Perhaps the only penalty is having your funds cut off, but that could be problematic if you are devoid of other options. But would the Federal Government ever cut off your support? The answer is unequivocally yes, the Federal Government has cut off promised support in the past!
In 1803, President Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory from the French, which contained lands dominated by the Osage Indians, a very large and powerful tribe. But they were no match for the US Government, and their Chiefs knew it. So, in 1808, they ceded over 100 million acres to the US in return for a 50 by 125 miles corner in southeastern Kansas and a peace treaty with the US Government. As time passed, the press of settlers looking for good farmland forced the Osage to begin to sell off their land at $1.25 per acre. Still, impatient settlers slaughtered the Osage any chance they got … the US Army’s protection was conspicuously absent.
So, the US Government bought the Kansas land from the Osage for a small amount of cash and an annuity payment [our Government can’t seem to ever pay cash]. The Osage then bought and paid for an area known as Osage County in Oklahoma. They paid for it. They owned it. Of course, the US Government still owed the tribe an annuity, a universal basic income payment.
In the 1870’s the US Government changed its policy to force the Osage to assimilate into the US economy. The US determined that the male Indians would have to become farmers or they would not receive their annuity payments. When the Indians refused, the US began to starve them out, no longer giving them cash, but paid in forms of clothing and meager food rations. The US Government owed the Osage cash, but would only give them payment in clothing and food rations (food stamps). Clearly the US knew what was best for the Osage. The Osage had to attend church and the girls had to go to school … often boarding school … Catholic boarding schools where they were taught essentially to be a good pioneer.
Only when the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was placed in fear of his life … in his own office, by an Osage Chief, did the rationing end. But the tale of woe for the Osage did not end there. Oil was discovered on their land and the tribe was further exploited by the US and the local governments. For instance, the US Government determined that the Osage were not competent to handle their own money, so it required agents to be appointed to supervise their finances. Those agents stole millions from their Osage wards, and even had them killed to direct their inheritance to relatives and friends of the agents. This story can be found in a recent book, Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann.
Our points remain threefold, 1) a universal basic income is not a new idea, 2) such welfare state schemes are foisted upon a country to buy political power, and 3) despite the compassionate goals of some, the “unintended” results throughout history have been awful. This is just another case where a concept works in an “ideal world” but not in a world subject to human nature.