Don’t surrender the next 300 years for the next 15

I am not in the business of political discourse to achieve some utopian vision for the sake of some distant future generation. The worst outcome I would be happy with is a substantial improvement in the conditions of life for my child by the time it’s my age. 30 years is soon enough for a baby due in June to really enjoy adulthood, and soon enough for me to have a great retirement too. That is my reward for all the hard work I’m doing now.


Yesterday at Liberty League’s Freedom Forum I saw pro-liberty activists giving the time of day to the Citizen’s Basic Income. The policy promises, not implausibly, to fix some of the stupid consequences, as James Bartholemew put it, of the current welfare system which are ample, real and serious. Could it work? Perhaps. The most serious practical obstacle to the policy is that it would incentivise idleness and reduce the tax base available to pay for it, and it would be expensive. I am, however, utterly uninterested in the detail because engaging in such talk is to consider the terms of your surrender.

You might consider the CBI to be a tactical and pragmatic retreat from dogmatic principle that would save lives and achieve some short term improvement in the social condition. I do not dispute that, but it is also a strategic blunder that surrenders the core principles of this movement: self-ownership and non-aggression. Not only do you risk an epic schism, but if you concede that self-ownership is open to compromise, then the only remaining matter for negotiation is the tax rate. You’ve lost the argument already, and it will take hundreds of years to get back into the ascendancy and have another go.

It is also an unnecessary retreat. From the principled high-ground we are on now, several other policies might achieve similar ends without involving any retreat from principle:

Some of those are not what we normally think of as welfare, others are, but all of them are possible without retreating from principle, all are possible for a rag tag army of individuals to make progress on, and all will show the weakness of state solutions.

Later: Andy Bolton has more detail. TL;DR, but promising.


  1. CBI is a topic I have long thought about and discussed many times.

    I have to say that I concur with your stance on pretty much each and every point.

    I would also point out that all those people who want CBI are free to fund the programme voluntarily. I would see no reason not to make it tax deductible.



  2. I am glad I was not at the event, it would have depressed me.

    Watching a group of people argue that people should be paid (by the taxpayers) for doing nothing, is not something that would have pleased me.

    I was at work before 0530 this morning. And I sometimes spend 12 hours in a coffin sized box (I have a cardboard cup to urninate in – I am a middle aged man and we have problems in that regard) dealing with angry (very angry) people (no time to read or anything like that).

    Now, if I was paid a “Citizen’s Income” why should I go to work? Why should the vast number of other people in jobs like mine? Till we are made redundent by the advance of technology and have to find an even worse job. No violin playing – these are just the facts of life (I am NOT calling upon the government to “do something” about it – I am not Dick Dastardly, if any of you can remember that cartoon character “do something Mutley, do something!”).

    People who support a “simple basic income” (paid by the taxpayer) for doing NOTHING have no experence of the real world. Offer something like that and half the country would quit their jobs.

    This would mean national bankruptcy (not in a few years time – right now). That might lead to libertarianism – but, more likely, it would lead to very bad things instead.



    1. Oh, but the citizen’s income will certainly replace all those other benefits. It’s not like it’ll just be another benefit added to all the others. And it’ll certainly never rise above a fairly low minimum. Certainly it’ll never be enough to live comfortably on, because – unlike all those other nasty benefits – the citizens income will be immune to political pressures somehow.

      Plus, it sounds nice.



      1. It sounds nice indeed, but I don’t think it will work. McDonalds pays workers let’s say 6gbp/hour to do not the most interesting work and such employees would prefer to stay at home for the same amount X of money. Now McDonalds have to either pay more or automate jobs, in both cases additional costs will increase price of a burger. Therefore it will cause inflation, so for amount X you can buy less stuff and as in every democracy, amount X will be increased. Therefore McDonalds will have to pay even more to attract people to yet un-automatable jobs and it will cause even higher inflation..
        The only nice thing about basic income is the market for software developers. I like my profession anyway, I’d love to automate as many jobs as possible before the country collapses due to hyperinflation.


      2. Also – just a small point, Pavel – you are confused as to what inflation is. Higher prices do not cause inflation, inflation causes higher prices.


      3. The speaker was explicit that he wanted a citizens income at “the highest sustainable level”. He repeated that several times. I don’t recall if he called his idea “basic”, if he did then the obvious contradiction went unchallenged.


      4. In this case I think it is realistic to have a basic income at the highest sustainable level. Let’s introduce it as one pound per month and it should replace all benefits and surely we should review the amount, let’s say every 30 years. I’d consider it to be the most sustainable thing in our unstable world…


      5. Naturally. To paraphrase lovely, lovely Ludwig von: they’re all bunch of socialists!

        (On an unconnected note, I assume there was a strong ASI presence?)


      6. Oh, that word, “sustainable”.

        How about “income safeguarding” while one is at it?

        You can see the pressure to make the national – it has to be, to allow it to do its dastardly deed – CBI “adequate” even in the most expensive areas. The result will be almost impossible to employ people in many roles and geographies.

        The pressure to raise the rate will grow from various sectors.

        Elections are already a grotesque bidding war of vote buying. Imagine how if would become with CBI.


  3. Of course the “citizens income” would be added to the other benefits – in already has been What do people think “earned income tax credits” (pushed by President Nixon and others – and now firmly in place) is?

    Or Mr Brown’s “tax credits”?

    But this is more radical – it is money no work. And would the supporters get rid of the other government things (such as the NHS)? I do not believe that would happen – it would all be added on top.

    The money from taxpayers in return for no work – that is the principle that is being pushed here. It is not a principle that is compatible with libertarianism.

    A century ago liberalism (especially in the United States) was taken over by the statists (turned round 100 degrees) – I have long feared that the same thing is happening to libertarianism.

    “Libertarians” who oppose the non aggression principle, even libertarians who praise John Rawls (the leading statist of American academic political philosophy in the 20th century). These “libertarians” are not just misguided. they are mortal threat – they are foes and must be fought.

    Instead they are invited on to panel discussions and given nice jobs. I fear it may already be too late to prevent libertarianism treading the same path that American (and, to a slightly lesser extent, British) liberalism trod a century ago. Going from a defender of liberty to an active enemy of liberty.



  4. I don’t see anything new in this. Even strict libertarians will argue about how to get out of the morass of a very centralised, state-dominated society. The Thatcher years shut down a lot of nationalised industries and sold the remnants to private interests, but was this a move towards a more libertarian society? In many ways it seems to me to have been a step back towards the mercantilist system rather than free enterprise, where a small group of oligarchs make a great deal of money and the people get a small benefit, if indeed they get any benefit at all. During this period, a point noted by Peter Hitchens, the number of people employed by the state did not decrease, just instead of people building cars, ships, digging coal etc. we got legions of pen-pushers and paper-shufflers.

    I’m not going to go into bat for the ‘citizen’s income’. It may be as bad as others have said. Rothbard pointed out its flaws decades ago when Milton Friedman was espousing it, and Ii expect nothing has changed.

    Personally, I think libertarians should focus on breaking up the central state via localism and the principle of subsidiarity as a means to the libertarian end, rather than trying to convert the central state to more libertarian ways, which seems to be what the ‘citizen’s income’ would be.



    1. Is there a role for both approaches – localism as well as more rational taxation?

      It’s easy to convince people with the same principles as ones self but in order to create change there needs to be benefits in the system for all, not just those we agree with. Is this approach possible or should libertarian change only happen if core principles are not diluted?

      ps I feel like I’ve stepped out in front of West Indian fast bowlers now with no pads, no hat and no box for my bits…



  5. The general principle is that interim steps are fine, as long as they are in the right direction. Core principles need not be diluted in this way.

    Certainly there’s no reason against various different agendas. I don’t mean that de-centralisation is all we should seek. It’s also true that localism per se would not lead to libertarianism.



  6. There were no real restrictions on what State governments in the United States could spend money on. Yes there was no increase in government spending as proportion of the economy for a very long time – why?

    Because it a State started to tax-and-spend more productive people would move to other States (they still do). What changed in the United States was that the Tenth Amendment restrictions on what the FEDERAL government could spend money on collapsed (with the Supreme Court “interpreting” the PURPOSE of government spending “the common defence and general welfare of the United States” as a catch-all “general welfare spending power” thus reducing the American Constitution to a nullity).

    Unless people want to leave the whole country (and renounce their citizenship) there is no way to avoid the tax-and-spend of the Federal government – so it could expand without limit (from some 3% of the economy as late 1928 to what it is today).

    In Britain the problem started earlier – as early as 1875 Central government was not only spending money itself but passing Acts of Parliament compelling all local governments to spend money on all sorts of things – whether local taxpayers wanted to or not.

    True “localism” must include the option NOT to tax-and-spend – otherwise people “voting with their feet” can not really occur.



  7. For libertarianism to exist civil society must exist – if the government just hands out money to anyone who wants it (in return for no work) as a “citizens income” (which they have a “right” to) then civil society will collapse over a period of only a few years.

    It is that simple – and that brutal.

    If done on the level of a town or city it would not work (the town or city would turn into Detroit very quickly) – why do people think it would be different on a national scale?



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