Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What's the impact of a universal basic income on attitudes to foreigners?

Apropos of Matt Zwolinski's Cato Unbound forum.

My biggest objection to a universal basic income is that I fear it would make the populace even less receptive to immigration than it is currently, due to the conventional wisdom that people don't want to pay for social services for folks ethnically dissimilar to themselves. And of course this would be a perverse result from all ethical vantages that don't vertiginously discount the rights and welfare of foreigners. But is my fear well-founded?

The universality of a UBI might lessen the perception that it is really welfare. After all, people tend not to believe that programs they benefit from count as social assistance. Few comfortably middle class people sucking on the mortgage interest deduction teat think of themselves as welfare queens. The UBI could be purposefully framed to play up its universal aspect. This sort of decorative rhetoric was deployed by the crafters of social security, who made the program universal precisely because they worried that "programs for the poor are poor programs". Propaganda for the UBI could feature stories of this medical student who used her UBI check (Citizen's Dividend?) to fund a year of service with Doctors Without Borders and that small businessman who saved up a few years' worth of his dividends to launch his vintage auto repair shop.

If the UBI isn't seen as welfare, but just as another privilege of citizenship, then might I have some hope that immigrants wouldn't be seen as so much of a threat? If the UBI dividends were seen as secure (broad political support), then might they even act as a buffer to other fears people have about immigrants stealing native jobs. "I have to compete with immigrants for jobs, but at least I know I'll have my Citizen's Dividend in the worst case ..." And while, in my fantasy border regime, all who desire citizenship can ultimately do so, guest workers, tourists, and newly arrived migrants just aren't quite citizens yet.

These are quick and dirty thoughts articulated through the fog of sleep deprivation and I expect this avenue is just wishful thinking. More of a bleg really?

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