Recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave the commencement address at Harvard University, where he advocated the Universal Basic Income (UBI), a concept in which the government gives every adult a check — not for working, but for merely existing. Following his trip to Alaska this week, Zuckerberg announced that the UBI is a “bipartisan idea” worth exploring. But is it?
Zuckerberg is a Harvard drop-out billionaire who made his money from a technology concept that leverages the basic human need to be heard by others. It thrives upon social pressure and the desire to prove oneself and one’s worthiness to the world.
He attributes his success to “luck” and wants others to have access to capital via the UBI as a “cushion to try new ideas” so that they might achieve their dreams. Yet rather than starting an entrepreneurship training organization, or contributing his own billions to a UBI fund, Zuckerberg tasks this job to the government. “People like me should pay for it,” he did say, but through taxes that he can pay accountants to avoid.
Zuckerberg essentially wants a pension system, without one basic requirement: a pension fund. He fails to acknowledge a core problem — that the government has no money. The only way the government makes money is to tax those who work hard.
American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholar Charles Murray, a conservative, also advocates the UBI — as a replacement for current subsidy programs like Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, welfare programs and the agencies that manage them. Murray believes that the UBI will get rid of bureaucracy, but the real way to get rid of bureaucracy is to just get rid of it, not to create a new, different agency.
Murray advocates that an annual stipend would begin at age 21 with $13,000, $3,000 of which would be required for health care. $10,000 could then be spent freely. The stipend begins to lower once the recipient earns $30,000 or more per year. The lowest yearly stipend would be $6,500 per year for those who make $60,000 per year. In addition to being extremely expensive, the plan rewards the lazy and penalizes the hard-working. It subsidizes vice, rather than promoting human flourishing through hard work.
Murray also supports the UBI because he fears that people will lose their jobs to technological innovation, and that the great technological shifts will make many Americans jobless. However, historically people shift as technology shifts. Take, for example, the whaling industry. In the 19th century, most of the world burned whale blubber for fuel — for lamps, lights and lighthouses. With the invention of electricity, no one needed whale blubber anymore, and consequently, no one needed whalers or lighthouse keepers. The whalers and the lighthouse keepers had obsolete jobs, but did that mean they needed a check from the government? No, the people in those jobs found new jobs and history moved on.
This concept also assumes that people freed from the slavery of work will simply act in love and charity, or as Fortune’s Kevin O’ Marah says, have “the freedom to realize our personal best.” The key flaw in this thinking is that work somehow stifles our personal best, while leisure allows us to achieve it. However, if work presented a barrier to altruism and realizing one’s “personal best,” then public housing communities would be places of love, safety and entrepreneurial ventures. Instead, they are cesspools of violence, disintegrated families and crime.
Zuckerberg decries income inequality as wrong and suggests a “new social contract” including a UBI as a solution. Taken to its logical conclusion, however, the “solution” to income inequality involves everyone having the exact same life. There is, in fact, an existing system in which people are all given the same clothes to wear, fed the same food, and given the same life. It’s extremely fair. It’s called prison.
The Founders of this country pledged their “lives and fortunes” not for the prison of lifestyle “equality” but rather for the opportunity to work diligently and to achieve their dreams through ingenuity and hard work. Holding fast to the concept of America as the place of opportunity, rather than the land of subsidies, reacquaints us with the core values that make this country and her people truly flourish.
Originally published on Patriot Post, July 6, 2017.
Photo credit: igorstevanovic/bigstock
Imagine being a child from a poor neighborhood. Imagine having to go to the school in your zip code, which, of course, is also in a poor neighborhood. Imagine knowing that in your educational future, you have no choice, no say and no options. Now imagine that you suddenly could choose your school instead of your zip code choosing for you. The school choice movement gives parents and students these options.
While 59 school choice programs now operate in 28 states and the District of Columbia, nearly 90% of U.S. children still attend public schools, most of which are assigned based on the antiquated zip code model. Based upon the understanding that parents, not the government, know the best place for their children to thrive, the “school choice” movement seeks to empower parents and students to obtain the best education to fit their particular needs. School choice includes a variety of options from vouchers, to Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs), tax credit scholarships, charter schools (independently run, publically funded schools) homeschooling and others. The concept not only empowers parents and students, but applies the market principles of competition and innovation to the education sector.
Market principles already exist within the private school sector. Dallas, Texas boasts of great private schools spanning from religious and non-religious, Catholic, Jewish, Montessori, international schools and college-prep. Each option, like a product, has distinctives: uniforms, no uniforms, great sports teams, no sports teams, all-girls, all-boys, and co-ed. There are schools for children with learning disabilities, schools that use classic texts and schools that don’t. Parents investigate graduation rates, teacher-student ratios and whether the school has a strong arts or athletic program. Competition continues to incentivize schools to fit their educational niche. In addition to being a school, these institutions are businesses which need to please their customers (parents) and submit to a governing board. Schools therefore fire bad teachers and administrators. Over the years, some private schools do well while some go out of business.
No such dynamic exists in the public school system because, as a government-run monopoly, they have no competitors, and therefore no incentive for innovation. Sure they boast of new “programs” which require massive tax-payer funding, but no incentive exists to make sure that the students really achieve. Most parents, however, can’t afford to stop “buying” the bad public education product. Thomas J. DiLorenzo, professor of economics at Loyola University, Maryland and author of The Problem with Socialism states: “…as with all monopolies, the convenience of the administrators and employees comes before the needs of the customers, because the customers will always be there. They have no choice.”
Moving to a new home, may be the only real “choice” available to many parents. Some argue that public schools in wealthy neighborhoods are better because they have more money. Di Lorenzo, however, observes that public schools in wealthy neighborhoods are better because they have to compete with private schools. Yet only the wealthy can afford to pay both the school property tax and private school tuition. In a way, this renders the zip code driven public school model as elitist because it remains the only option for low-income residents.
Why, then, do those who claim to be for giving the poor a chance, the same ones who oppose giving the poor a choice? In reality, the issue has less to do with children than it does with self-interest. If parents have a choice and failing schools close, teachers and administrators fear losing their jobs. Take a look at the numbers: from 1970-2015 the number of students in public schools increased just 9 percent. Yet over the same time period, public school employees increased 83 percent (non-teaching—administrative staff increased 113 percent and teaching staff increased 52 percent). Teachers now make up only half of all public school employees. Bloated bureaucracy makes up the rest.
While school choice should be a bi-partisan effort to help children receive a good education, Democrat politicians routinely oppose the issue. Why? Follow the money. Rhonda Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of the nation’s largest teachers unions, makes $497,118 per year. Additionally, the AFT’s 2016 political donations exceeded $45 million in federal donations to Democrats. Evidently, teachers union has a codependent relationship with the Democratic Party: the teachers need their jobs and the Democrats need the money. The Democrats protect the teachers, while the teachers give the Democrats cash. And the students? Not in the equation.
School choice puts students first, not educational bureaucrats or politicians. If we want an America filled with opportunity for children, we need to stop allowing the government monopoly of public education to enable the codependent relationship between teacher’s unions and the Democratic Party. Restoring market principles and competition to education will make all schools, even public schools, better. We need to restore market principles to education and give parents, not education bureaucrats, the government or union bosses, a choice in their child’s education.