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Wages Without Working

December 20, 2016
Plain English Version


Providing a basic income to workers is a big new idea. Some business people support the idea. It will let them hire and fire as they see fit. It will help them make it less risky to hire a new worker. It will help them make money.

Governments want to stay in power. They are happy to support programs that cushion the loss of a job. Unemployment benefits and welfare payments are such programs. But there is always a catch. The catch is that when you start to earn money, you lose some or all of your benefits. And taxpayers do not enjoy paying taxes for such programs.

This is where the idea of a basic income comes in. A basic income is a financial floor that remains in place even when you have more income. It is like the minimum wage. A raise is on top of the minimum wage. When a woman gets a job, she will keep her basic income.

Critics say people will not look for work. They say people will not try to improve their skills to get work. This remains a valid concern.

If a basic income works as advocates hope it might, the following will happen. Workers will improve themselves to get better jobs. Companies will invest in themselves. They will be able to lay off workers if things do not work out.

Governments all over the world are worrying. Voters are saying the rich are reaping all the benefits of the global economy. Some believe this is one of the reasons that voters elected Donald Trump.

There are reasons for workers to worry about the future. American manufacturing is growing, but with fewer workers. Jobs are going offshore. Everywhere, robots are replacing workers.

A city in Finland is going to try providing a basic income for a test group of unemployed workers. Finland’s program is a small experiment. It may not prove anything.

America is a vast economy. Donald Trump’s Republicans are in charge. They believe competition brings out the best in people. They are not much concerned about people who cannot get jobs.

A basic income is a goal of the political left. Might those on the right see it as a way of protecting capitalism? That is now an emerging question.

What if Trump cannot bring back well-paying jobs? It is a good bet he will not. The idea of basic income may be crossing the line from the left to the right. Stranger things have happened.

Source: The New York Times December 17, 2016

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