In Our Hands: a Plan to Replace The Welfare State by Charles Murray is the best place to start. Dr. Murray makes the pitch to libertarians and conservatives to replace the welfare state with free money and backs it up with some hard numbers. His numbers are more detailed than what you will find on this site, as are his analyses of the problems of the current welfare system. Read this book! In fact, one can reasonably ask: why have this site at all when there’s Charles Murray’s book? Several reasons:
- Dr. Murray intentionally does not try to craft a politically viable proposal. No pork, no transitions. He presents his ideal (including a constitutional amendment!) and leaves it up to the politicians to turn it into something that could get through Congress. Here, we shall present several options, including various incremental steps.
- Dr. Murray stays away (mostly) from the tax issue, preferring to focus on alleviating poverty and restoring civil society. Here, we consider tax reform to be a key component of our proposals.
- Dr. Murray’s Plan requires a tax surcharge on the lower middle classes in order to make the numbers work. We think this a hard sell, even if his plan is a net gift to same. If we are going to need a regressive tax to take back some of the free money, then let’s do a carbon tax or consumption tax.
- Policy books like In Our Hands reach a limited, albeit important, audience. We’re targeting a different market. You! Would you have heard of this book if you weren’t looking for free money from the government?
Charles Murray cites Milton Friedman’s negative income tax as one of his inspirations. Milton Friedman described the idea in Chapter 4 of his book Free to Choose, which is based on his video series of the same name.
For those who dislike income taxes, the Fair Tax Tax people present their own free money proposal as a “prebate” to make their national sales tax proposal somewhat progressive. Once again, you will see quite a bit of overlap between the ideas here and their statement of benefits. Alas, we cannot advocate the Fair Tax as is. Replacing all the income taxes with a consumption tax with prebate would clobber the upper middle class as it favors the poor and the rich. Also, a sales tax of the size they propose would be an enforcement nightmare. That said, a smaller national sales tax could be part of a larger plan to replace today’s income and labor taxes. Nonetheless, you might want to read Neal Boortz and John Linder’s The Fair Tax Book and compare their arguments to those herein.
The idea of guaranteed income predates either Charles Murray’s Plan or the Fair Tax. Thomas Paine proposed something along these lines in his Agrarian Justice. He proposed a lump sum (of 15 pounds sterling) upon reaching the age of 21 as a universal inheritance and 10 pounds sterling per year upon reaching age 50 as retirement money. But unlike the above proposals, Paine wanted the funds to come from “ground rent,” that is, taxes on the unimproved value of land.
The idea of alleviating poverty by distributing ground rent had its loudest advocate in Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty. I have yet to read this work, but have read much from his followers. Search “Henry George” or go to the Progress Report web site and follow the links therein.
Science fiction author Robert Heinlein advocated a Citizen’s Dividend in his early utopian works. His very first work, For Us, the Living, spells out the case for a dividend in great detail. Be forewarned, this book is quite bad as fiction, and was not published until after Heinlein’s death. His later writings are much better as fiction.
Since I first wrote this page I have been notified of a whole network of organizations/sites promoting variations of a basic income guarantee. See Basic Income Earth Network for an international network and The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network for a more U.S. centric view.