Cartoon: Are you GENUINELY Poor?


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This cartoon is based on a cliche I’ve heard so many times – that poor people aren’t “really” poor, and so don’t deserve help, if they have a phone/big TV/smartphone/microwave etc. Basically, any consumer durable. (“Consumer durables are a category of consumer products that do not have to be purchased frequently because they last for an extended period of time (typically more than three years”)). It’s not enough to be food insecure, in danger of eviction, and not knowing where the money for utility bills will come from – if you’re not suffering in every single way, this thinking goes, you’re not really poor and don’t really deserve help.

For example, the Heritage Foundation grouched that “the typical poor household, as defined by the government, has a car and air conditioning, two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR.”

(Color televisions! I love that they specify “color.” How does the Heritage Foundation think poor people could even find the black and white TVs that they presumably think are all poor people should have? I guess they could use a time machine, except probably Heritage wouldn’t approve of poor people owning that, either.)

It’s particularly ridiculous to hear people complaining about cars and phones – two items that are actual necessities for many people who’d like to be part of society. And they’re often necessities for being able to find a job, or to find a better job.

Hence, this cartoon.

The most interesting challenge about drawing this cartoon was the need for change without changing: To see these two characters on three different days, but with their personalities, social roles and circumstances unchanged. So each of them had to have three sets of clothes, and I needed to draw what looked like three slightly different parts of the same general area. My collaborator Frank Young, who did the colors, did a really bang-up job on making the panels look like different times of day.

In hindsight, I think I could have done it better – really, there’s no reason all three locations had to be on the same sidewalk – and hopefully I’ll take that and do better next time this comes up. But I’m still pleased with how this came out.

The figures were fun to draw. The villain is a perfect Barry character – super exaggerated expressions and a huge mouth. The other character was more of a challenge, since he had to be downbeat and restrained without being boring to look at.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows two men: A not-wealthy looking man with shaggy hair and some stubble, and a bald man in glasses, wearing a business suit and tie. Each panel shows them at a sidewalk with grass growing in the background.

PANEL 1

Shaggy is wearing a wrinkled collared shirt and jeans. Necktie is wearing a gray suit with a tie with a dot pattern.

It’s bright daytime. Shaggy, with his back turned to Necktie, is looking at and poking a smartphone, and, in the helpful way people so often do in the first panel of my cartoons, talking aloud to himself. Necktie is turning to look at, and yell at, Shaggy.

SHAGGY: I can’t find a job and I’m out of money… Time to google “food stamps.”

NECKTIE: Food stamps are for people who are genuinely poor. If you were poor, you wouldn’t own a smartphone, would you?

PANEL 2

A caption says “one week later.”

From the light, it appears to be early evening. Shaggy is wearing a plaid shirt and Black pants, and has a backpack; Necktie is wearing a pinstripe suit and a tie with horizontal stripes.

Shaggy is looking worried and has a hand on his chest; Necktie is sternly talking to, and pointing at, Shaggy.

SHAGGY: I sold my phone, but now I’m out of money again.

NECKTIE: So sell your car. No one who owns a car is poor.

PANEL 3

A caption says “one month later.”

The same two men, on a similar patch of sidewalk. Shaggy is wearing sweatpants with a stripe down the side, and a hole in one knee, and a tee shirt. Necktie is wearing a dark blue suit, a black shirt, and a light-colored necktie.

Shaggy is sitting on the curb, slumping, looking down both literally and metaphorically. Necktie, talking to Shaggy, looks very cheerful.

SHAGGY: Now I’ve got no money for food, no phone for job hunting, and no car to get to a job!

NECKTIE: Excellent! Now you’re genuinely poor!

PANEL 4

The same scene, a moment later. Shaggy, looking hopeful, is looking up at Necktie. Necktie folds his arms and grins even more.

SHAGGY: So now you’re okay with me getting food stamps?

NECKTIE: Nope!

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41 Responses to Cartoon: Are you GENUINELY Poor?

  1. 1
    JohnW says:

    You may not have intended it, but the villain, Necktie, rather reminds in appearance of the Heritage conservative’s go-to authority on All Things Economics, Milton Friedman

  2. 2
    Corso says:

    I routinely volunteer with an organization that operates a drop-in center, free meal program, clothing donation center and food bank. The experience of attending the first time was almost spiritual.

    The first time you volunteer, they take you for a tour of the facility before the doors open; “this is where we do this, this is where we do this, these are the classrooms, these are the programs we offer, we feed about 500 people a night…” The last place they take you is the dorm. And up to that point, it doesn’t seem that bad. The kitchen looks like you’d expect any industrial kitchen, the clothes “shop” looks similar to any other clothes shop, the classrooms look like community campus classrooms, the dorms hit you in the feels. Row after row of single cots, no bedside tables, no walls, a single pillow, a couple of sheets, a scratchy blanket. I was in the cadets in my younger years, literal military camp wasn’t that bad. And people line up for a block in the middle of winter on the hope that the mission might have room.

    The first time you volunteer, you’re given kitchen duty. that involves doing a whole lot of prep work for the next day’s meals, and then acting kind of like a lunchlady for the people coming through. So you get facetime with the people. Some of them look like the stereotypical examples of what people think of as poor people, disheveled people, obvious alcoholism, obvious mental health issues… You steel yourself for that. You expect that. The ones that hurt are the ones that look like you. People with good haircuts and good clothes, looking like they just came from the office, having the worst day of their lives. The people who were laid off suddenly, the people who had a breadwinner die and the insurance isn’t paid out yet, the people who had a large, unexpected expense hit, and they can’t afford food. The people who just need a hand. Every single one of them has a story. There but for the grace of God go I. Every single one of them thanks you.

    Once done, you walk out of the facility, cross the road to your car, get in, and then have a long drive home to digest it. You’ve just been face to face with so much need. The realization hit me. I can’t fix that. Even if I volunteered every waking hour I wasn’t working, donated my entire paycheque and ate with the people, I couldn’t make a dent in that. I cried on my drive home, like… full on, pulled over at one point, ugly cried.

    Are some people asking for handouts “faking it”? Probably. People are diverse, some of them are evil. But there is no doubt in my mind that most people would avoid that process if they had any other choice, and I can’t think of any way to weed the assholes out of the system, so I’ve chosen not to care. The thing is, I could see a younger me parroting the lines necktie is using in this strip, particularly about the cellphone. There’s so much that you don’t understand about poverty until you interact with it.

  3. 3
    Dianne says:

    @Corso: At some point I decided that anyone who is actually cheating on welfare and other individual handouts is welcome to it, as far as I’m concerned. Getting welfare is a lot of work for not much money. Same with someone “scamming” people by spare changing. It’s a lot of work in bad conditions. You want my quarter badly enough to do that without need? Take it!

  4. 4
    Eva says:

    Thanks Barry for the cartoon. Well done.

    Thanks also to Corso for your comment.

    I’ve been using the food pantry in my town regularly for a couple years. Last fall the director asked me if I wanted to join the board, partly because someone who had been a pantry consumer was leaving and they wanted to replace that board member with another consumer, and partly, I think, because I don’t fit expected profile of a pantry consumer. I’d been keeping my use of the pantry close to my chest up to that point, but have gotten more open about it over the past year, especially after joining the board. There’s no shame in needing help, now more than ever. So if my being out about needing help, helps other people realize it’s OK to ask for help, then I feel I am serving my community. I am self employed, my expenses are low, but even so it’s good to have support so that I can pay my bills and not worry too much about groceries. In April I also applied for SNAP benefits (aka food stamps) and that’s been another big help in making sure I meet all my expenses. I have a cell phone for emergencies, the way I use it it costs about $6/month. If I didn’t have a car I wouldn’t be able to work, or my work options would be greatly reduced, as I live in a rural area with inadequate public transportation. My largest expense is rent, and that averages about 50% of my monthly income, sometimes more, sometimes less. And I’ve lived in the same place for 20+ years, so my rent is lower than younger or newer renters in my neighborhood and town. I don’t know how I’d manage if I had to pay the market rate for rent. So it’s not surprising to me who I see at the food pantry. People just like me, just trying to get by. And the people who have a problem that? They know where they can go and what to do when they get there.

    Thanks again for the cartoon and supportive comments. It’s good to feel seen.

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    JohnW: That wasn’t intentional, but I don’t have a problem with it!

    Corso: Out of curiosity, what country are you in? (You may have already mentioned – I have an awfully bad memory).
    In the U.S., much of the welfare system seems designed to shame people and discourage them from seeking aid. I really need to do a cartoon on that.)

  6. 6
    a says:

    I see two different models on this board:

    (1) I get the feeling from Ampersand that wealth should be distributed (regardless of whatever) or that a minimum for everyone should be redistributed. Is that fair of me to assume? If not, I won’t comment on that as a first approximation.

    (2) As to people who can’t compete in today’s society above the poverty level (I know … poorly phrased, but to me it hits to the heart of the matter – otherwise people also owe an obligation to society): Instead of the stupid mix-and-max and poorly combined type of welfare in the United States, I think the German model would be better (and probably available for the same taxpayer cost as the model in the US): The social office decides if you have the minimum of necessities in life, a small place to live, food etc., and, if not, provides you with the necessities. For whatever reason, there are still lots of homeless in Germany. Probably because there are people who don’t want a “soziale Tante” (social busybody) determining their life.

    Social welfare fraud exists. Really poor people exist. I am not against helping really needy people, but if obvious gullibility exists in extending funding, I am not favor of that either.

    By the way, I have also worked in the trenches of the poor, so to speak, and I have also seen the utter greed of people posting as the helpers of the poor. It’s maybe not as simple as “being for the poor” if you have no skin in the game.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    1) It’s accurate. I think there should be a “floor” that no one is allowed to fall below. I like the idea of a universal basic income, but there are other ways to achieve this, as well.

  8. 8
    Corso says:

    @4

    No worries, I don’t think I’ve said. Currently, Canada. But I’ve lived time in Italy, France and Mexico. Never lived in America, but I’ve been a couple of times visiting friends.

    As an outsider looking in, American systems almost seem almost schizophrenically designed to foster continued use, but make that usage as miserable as possible. As an example, because it’s topical: Welfare. It depends on where you are, but it’s almost never sufficient to make a serious go of getting ahead, and if you try and you get a job, your welfare benefit is usually immediately curtailed, even if what you were making was less than your welfare benefit. That doesn’t make sense…. It traps people in welfare. And it’s almost like instead of making the welfare system scale with income to allow people to escape naturally, the system is designed to try to guilt people out of it, or make it so miserable to interact with they quit, not realizing that almost no one on welfare would be on welfare if they saw a way out. It’s a self-fueling misery engine.

    To juxtapose that, when I went back to school at 25, I was on Canadian welfare for 18 months, while receiving enough to cover rent and food, I was able to work and earn about $500 a month before my benefits decreased, and they would decrease dollar for dollar earned down to zero. I doubt I could have afforded school without the program. And I’ve certainly paid it back since.

  9. 9
    a says:

    If you’re going to have a welfare system, it should be done right, meaning that a minimum living standard should be set and then benefits given on that basis. As I understand the current US system, there is just a patchwork of food stamps here, Section 8 there, donated stuff in another place etc.

    If there is a universal basic income, the rest of the social welfare stuff should be completely eliminated. If every person got the minimum income (not just “the poor”), I would vastly prefer that system to a social welfare patchwork that can easily be unfairly milked.

    I think the issue about just giving money out to people who already have a certain standard of living is an area where the left and right will never understand each other. I saw a comment, as an example, on a different message board once from a social worker who had a very low standard of living because he didn’t earn much in his job, and he would routinely go out on calls to people who never worked but had much more than him in terms of material possessions. There’s something unfair about that, and the reality that quitting work and learning to milk the system is more lucrative in some cases is disheartening to some. There is also the connection between “free money” and the destruction of communities, pride in work and the like.

  10. 10
    Grace Annam says:

    Corso:

    As an outsider looking in, American systems almost seem almost schizophrenically designed to foster continued use, but make that usage as miserable as possible. As an example, because it’s topical: Welfare. It depends on where you are, but it’s almost never sufficient to make a serious go of getting ahead, and if you try and you get a job, your welfare benefit is usually immediately curtailed, even if what you were making was less than your welfare benefit. That doesn’t make sense…. It traps people in welfare. And it’s almost like instead of making the welfare system scale with income to allow people to escape naturally, the system is designed to try to guilt people out of it, or make it so miserable to interact with they quit, not realizing that almost no one on welfare would be on welfare if they saw a way out. It’s a self-fueling misery engine.

    As an insider looking on, that’s the way it seems to me, too.

    American systems fail to ask the question, “How can we get people self-sustaining?” Instead, they ask the question, “What’s the minimum we can give without negative political consequences?”

    Look at how we treat convicts. Often, they are literally kicked out the door without an updated ID or more than $20 and the clothes they’re wearing, out into a society for which they have not been prepared, and which specifically does not want to hire them. And then we wash our hands of them. When people point out that they would do better with free education (since they’re obviously not in a position to purchase it) and support, people ask, “Why should they get education and support?! I didn’t commit crimes, and *I* don’t get free education and support!” Which is true, and a valid equity argument… but they never follow it to the obvious solution: “You’re right! EVERYONE should get free education and support!” Because it founders on the rocks of the principle that everyone should be independently self-supporting. Which may be true in principle, but fails to address the real-world circumstance that sometimes people JUST AREN’T.

    And, when they aren’t, even if you don’t give a damn about them as people and are only bothered about things like the negative impact of homeless people on property values and crime and the healthcare system, the most economical thing to do is get them back on their feet in the most efficient way possible so that they can start paying taxes into the system again. It’s nonsensical to give them a level of “help” which gets them just high enough to make a noise when they fall, because you didn’t get them up to a balanced position. Now you’ve just spent money to perpetuate the problem.

    a:

    If every person got the minimum income (not just “the poor”), I would vastly prefer that system to a social welfare patchwork that can easily be unfairly milked.

    I agree. If means-testing were cost-free, then sure, you could make an argument. But it turns out, in the real world, that means-testing is complicated, produces perverse results, and is more vulnerable to fraud. So stop the means-testing, and give everyone a baseline which enables them to take the next step on their own. If conservatives wanted an actual meritocratic system, this would be the clear course. If someone fails to advance in a system where their basic needs are always met, well, that’s their problem. But conservatives don’t actually want that; they want to conserve the status quo, which is that the people on top get to stay on top with enough plausible deniability to say that they got there on merit.

    Grace

  11. 11
    Petar says:

    In the US, the welfare has many purposes. Getting people back on their feet is not one.

    It serves to humiliate people, it serves to divide voters and steer them toward one of the other brand of the Political Party, it serves to keep people from overt violence to keep their dependents fed, etc. It is all designed for politicians to draw attention, get approval, and avoid propping the wall with their backs.

    As an aside, this is also what the American brand of ‘anti-racism’ is designed to do, in my opinion. Not eliminate racism, and make it the mark of the uneducated idiot, nor remove the cultural difference between whatever ‘races’ are supposed to be. Definitely not that.

    ———-

    Grace would have liked the level one prisons in Commie Bulgaria. Free (compulsory) education, guaranteed (compulsory) employment in existing production facilities at standard wages, standard meals in the factory’s cafeteria, reasonable leeway on getting back from work (credit in sweet shops on the way) and free roaming inside the prisons grounds, with visiting hours and curfew, but not much beyond that. About 85% of the prisoners were in level one prisons.

    Most people would leave with solid savings, and a job they could just keep. And most did keep that job. It’s not as if significantly better ones were available.

    Now, second level prisons (for premeditated recidivists) were a different story. Once you got there, your life as a normal citizen was over.

    And of course, level three incarceration meant your life was over. Why have a death penalty when you have an uranium mine and a swine farm in a swamp?

  12. 12
    Grace Annam says:

    Petar:

    Grace would have liked the level one prisons in Commie Bulgaria.

    I’m uncertain as to what tone you intended there, Petar.

    Grace

  13. 13
    Petar says:

    Does it really matter?

    I think that the level one (maybe first degree is a better translation to Първа Степен) prisons in Bulgaria were a very close approximation to what you are suggesting.

    Education, work training, and a decent salary that is mostly saved. Practically no violence, due to the threat of the next level of punishment. Very little humiliation, and a clear path for integration in society after release – a job you can keep (you just move plant floors) and worker housing if you want it.

    Of course, some people may argue that level one prisons were so benign only because life in the rest of the country was barely freer and only slightly better.

    And you cannot have such minimal security unless the rest of the country is either a police state, like Bulgaria used to be, or a very civilized, advanced society, such as some people may see in Sweden.

    In the US, I do not think it can work. Too much baggage with the whole slavery angle, too easy to disappear after escaping, and way, way too much easily accessible violence.

    You said it yourself – it cannot work unless everyone else gets similar rights, and no one who can pay for it wants to.

    But conservatives don’t actually want that; they want to conserve the status quo, which is that the people on top get to stay on top with enough plausible deniability to say that they got there on merit.

    Not the only reason. You also need to keep the lower classes scared, so that you can hire them for cheap. Trivially cheap gardeners, pool boys, cable guys, electricians, etc. would not exist, with a basic income.

  14. 14
    a says:

    I’d be interested in any opinions:

    In even some former communist countries (I know … socialism spirling towards the perfection of communism), there was the idea that people also had an obligation to contribute to society. One East Block country had community work on some Saturdays, for instance, and there were always people who weren’t going to participate. So the group went over and rang his doorbell until he finally got out of bed.

    With a universal basic income — or even with the social welfare setup today — is there any obligation of (able-bodied) people to also at least try to make an effort to contribute to society or is it just their right to take and that’s that?

  15. 15
    Ampersand says:

    Under a UBI, there’s no obligation to work or anything else.

    Re: “The social welfare setup today,” talking about the status quo in the U.S. is complicated, because there are different programs and because regulations come from both the federal government and the states. (As you said, it’s a patchwork.) But in general, yes there are work requirements, especially for able-bodied people without children. Here’s a description of the requirements for food stamps, for example.

    But what Grace said about means-testing (“But it turns out, in the real world, that means-testing is complicated, produces perverse results, and is more vulnerable to fraud”) is also true of work requirements.

    If there is a universal basic income, the rest of the social welfare stuff should be completely eliminated.

    Some of it can be replaced with a UBI. Some of it – particularly Medicaid and Medicare – a UBI won’t be sufficient to replace. If someone has $500,000 in medical bills due to cancer, a $15,000 annual UBI won’t cover that.

  16. 16
    a says:

    I understand that there is no legal obligation for the universal basic income.

    I guess I wasn’t precise in my question: Is there a moral obligation for people to try to contribute?

    It seems that if everyone just had a “taker mentality” (milk the gov for everything you can get and then work under the table for more money if necessary), there wouldn’t be a whole lot to redistribute from a practical point of view.

  17. 17
    JaneDoh says:

    I am a fan of UBI. I definitely think are limits to where we should allow people to fall. I agree with Grace that means testing is expensive and leads to perverse incentives, so I am very interested in replacing many of the means tested sources of help with UBI. I think most people know best what they need, and I also think that it is very funny that the party of limited government is also the one that refuses to trust people with money. That said, if able-bodied people are happy enough with the life they can live on UBI, I don’t think they are morally obligated to do anything else.

    I think most people will want more than the sort of life they can lead on say $15k per year (since that is the number that was thrown out earlier). None of the (admittedly limited) studies done on UBI have shown that it provides a strong disincentive to work. Sure, some people would accept that amount and hustle to get a little on the side, but I don’t think most people will. Data suggests that the vast majority of currently working people (most of whom take home more than $15k per year) would continue working. Data also suggests that more people would be able to join the workforce if there were UBI. Working people have a legal and moral obligation to pay taxes.

  18. 18
    Polaris says:

    You guys really need to work on your public transports.

  19. 19
    a says:

    By the way, let’s say everyone gets $2000 a month as unversal basic income.

    So each person gets $24,000 a year. Let’s drop it down to $20k a year to be stingy.

    20,000 x 330,000,000 (current approx. US population) = $ 6,600,000,000,000

    So like 6 trillion more per year, with the US already running heavy-duty deficits.

    Add on Medicare for all, toss in the Green New Deal, and maybe a coupon for a free ice cream cone for everyone, and you are talking some serious coin.

    The problem will start when interest rates start going back up, and the US starts having to make massive interest payments to US bond holders on constantly growing deficits. That’s also money that will not go other places that could help people. The problem on the other side – just massively taking it away from rich people – is that there may not be enough rich people (and they may not stick around for round 2).

  20. 20
    JaneDoh says:

    Most proposals for UBI are significantly more modest than $2k per month. More like $500 per month. I picked $15k because Amp mentioned it, but I don’t think UBI would start out there (or even necessarily end up with that much). In the US, that is more like 2 trillion, which is close to what is paid out under the current system.

    As Amp said, there are other ways to help ensure a minimum standard of living. Where I live now (outside the US), there is a functional safety net that works for many, and we have universal health care like most (all?) other non-US wealthy democracies. I am interested in the premise of UBI, but I definitely don’t think it is the only way to accomplish this goal. UBI doesn’t need to be as big as minimum wage (~$15k per year in the US) to act as a safety net, especially since some people are definitely going to pearl-clutch about able-bodied adults lazing about instead of working.

    I think UBI + some form of healthcare reform is particularly interesting in the US because the current system is obviously not working. It is a much harder sell in countries that already have functional support for people who need it.

  21. 21
    Corso says:

    Lots going on here…. I spent time in Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada for a while. In the (and forgive me, I might get details wrong, I’m working from memory, it’s a really neat concept and I can’t do it justice so please do Google this if it interests you) the 70’s they actually experimented with UBI, although they called it “mincome”, it was brought in under an NDP government and ended prematurely under a conservative government, and because of the shrunken window, they weren’t able to compile the kind of data they were looking for, but some really fascinating things happened that people have since looked into, for instance, “There was an 8.5% decline in hospitalisations – primarily because there were fewer alcohol-related accidents and hospitalisations due to mental health issues – and a reduction in visits to family physicians.”

    https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200624-canadas-forgotten-universal-basic-income-experiment

    That mincome was based on $16,000 Canadian per year, it wasn’t given to children, and pensioners either got topped up or didn’t collect, depending on their pension benefits. A’s calculation @19 is the ceiling, but not anywhere close to reasonable. If you just took the people too young to collect out of the equation and adjusted the rest to recognize that a good chunk of America currently works, and the average income is something like $60,000, my assumption would be that the program would probably be significantly less than 6 trillion dollars. And like Jane said @20, America already spends 2 trillion dollars on assistance programs. Depending on usage, there might even be cost savings when you consider that as opposed to managing all these Godforsakenly complicated welfare programs, UBI could be directly tied to your tax filings. This might even be a conservative argument, to an extent, because it would almost certainly reduce the size of government from at least a bureaucracy point of view.

  22. 22
    a says:

    I’m not really convinced that the existing social-services structure would be eliminated if a universal basic income were implemented. I like the idea of just giving people the money directly, letting them sort out their problems themselves, instead of having the big social machinery. But … ain’t gonna happen.

    Especially if only $500 / month were paid out, there would be outrage if single mothers with several children were forced to live on that. Wouldn’t happen. There would have to be a structure to deal with that — and much of the social welfare structure is aimed at women with children, like the WIC Program — and the mentally ill, physically disabled, veterans and many of the groups covered by the current structure would have to still be covered.

    In addition to paying out the money for a basic income, there would also be administrative expenses for the new program.

    I have no idea what the additional total costs would be for even $500 a month, but let’s say a few trillion. The current annual deficits are (I think) very roughly a half a trillion a year, and even that may not be sustainable if continued. Tack on a few trillion a year, let interest rates go up, and a default situation may come into view. Taxes can’t really go above 100% for all that long. You can take away all of the money of the rich, but probably only once. And what’s with Medicare For All, the Green New Deal and all the rest?

    The temptation then always comes up to just print money and not have it covered by issuing government debt. Every time that has been tried, it results in hyperinflation. The last attempt at just printing uncovered money was by the country of Zimbabwe around 2008. There were headlines of “231 million percent inflation” and the like.

  23. 23
    Ampersand says:

    Basically, several of you are looking at the gross cost of a UBI, rather than the net cost. But it seems obvious that net cost is the more important number.

    From The Cost of Basic Income: Back-of-the-Envelope Calculations by Karl Widerquist:

    • The net cost of a roughly poverty-level UBI ($12,000 per adult, $6,000 per child) with a 50% marginal tax rate is $539 billion per year.

    • This UBI would drop the official poverty rate from 13.5% to 0%, eliminating poverty for 43.1 million people (including 14.5 million children).

    • This UBI costs less than 25% of current U.S. entitlement spending, less than 15% of overall federal spending, and about 2.95% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

    • Other countries with similar levels of GDP and inequality can expect similar results for cost as a percent of GDP. More equal nations and wealthier nations can expect lower costs for the same level of UBI. Less equal and less wealthy nations can expect higher costs.

    • This UBI scheme is a net financial benefit to most households with incomes up to $55,000, making it an effective wage subsidy (or tax cut) for tens of millions of working families.

    • The average net beneficiary of this UBI scheme is a household of about two people making about $27,000 per year. Their net benefit is nearly $9,000, which raises their net income to almost $36,000.

    • The net cost of this UBI is less than one-sixth (15.7%) of its often-mentioned but not-very-meaningful gross cost ($3.415 trillion).

    • The difference between gross and net cost will be similar in nations with similar levels of wealth and inequality, but low-income nations with extremely high levels of inequality will have a much smaller difference between gross and net cost.

    • A UBI of $20,000 per adult and $10,000 per child cost $1.816 trillion.

    • The cost of a $20,000 UBI is about 32% of its gross cost ($5.692 trillion), about 85% of current entitlement spending, about 49% of total federal spending, and less than 10% of GDP.

    I think that would provide a better basis for discussion than just looking at the gross expense.

    As I think I said before, current entitlement spending cannot be entirely replaced by a UBI; in particular, Medicare and Medicaid, the biggest parts of US entitlement spending, cannot be replaced by a UBI. Other, less large program can be mostly or entirely replaced by a UBI.

    It seems to me that every large social welfare program is accompanied by people saying the spending will doom the economy; that’s certainly what people said about social security. I think there’s reason to be skeptical about these claims. $500 billion a year is a huge expense, but I’m not convinced it’s an impossible expense. Furthermore, that expense will be partly offset by things like replacing food stamps and some other complex means-tested programs and reducing health care costs, as Corso said.

  24. 24
    Fibi says:

    Amp – unless I am misreading what you wrote the third and final bullets are comparing the net cost of a UBI that is funded through a 50% tax rate to the gross cost of current programs. That seems to me to be a misleading approach to presenting the cost.

    Then there are the questions of whether it will work in the long term. The second bullet is true for year 1. And 0% poverty is a good thing. But the poverty line isn’t static, and if a everyone can afford nicer apartments you could see the cost of housing rise quickly. Before long the UBI might need to be increased in order to be enough to guarantee no poverty.

  25. 25
    Ampersand says:

    Fibi: 1) I didn’t write the bulleted point list, it’s a quote from the article I linked. (I wasn’t intending to steal credit!) But that’s an interesting point.

    2) Any UBI, to be effective, would need to rise – ideally it would be indexed to inflation (or maybe to productivity). Otherwise it would be like the minimum wage, steadily eroding in value every year.

    But I don’t think I agree with your implication that rents would rise so fast as to make a UBI worthless. It’s not like the free market will suddenly stop operating. Landlords can’t say “everyone has $1000 more a month, I’ll raise rents by $1000,” because they’re competing for tenants with other landlords, and landlords who do that will be stuck with either empty apartments, or less desirable tenants. In the end, rents are determined by market forces, not by what landlords wish they were paid.

    But what if there’s such an increased demand that the market raises the cost of rentals? In that case, building new housing will become more profitable. It’ll take a while – especially in places like (sigh) Portland – but eventually new housing will be built to meet increased demand, and rent will fall relative to inflation. (As you said, we need to think beyond year one.)

    The dynamic will be changed, though. The “worst comes to worst” case isn’t as bad. Currently, the worst scenario is being homeless because you can’t afford to live anyplace where it’s possible to work, and if you move to where rents are lower you’ll be homeless and starving for lack of work. Under a basic income scenario, the worst case is being forced to move somewhere where rents are lower, even if that means it’ll be hard to find work, and living off the UBI in the meanwhile. That’s not ideal, but it’s better than status quo.

    I don’t want to sound uncaring – it sucks to be forced to move to live. But there’s no scenario or policy in which everybody’s life is perfect. The proper comparison isn’t perfection, but status quo, and it seems very likely that the UBI’s worst case scenarios would be better than status quo’s worst case scenarios.

  26. 26
    a says:

    It seems to me that every large social welfare program is accompanied by people saying the spending will doom the economy; that’s certainly what people said about social security.

    Maybe (probably) I’m misunderstanding you, but social security is and was paid for by a separate “contribution”, not out of tax receipts, and at the time it was instituted there was an age-wise pyramid of payers with people dying at a relatively young age and a much bigger mass of young people coming up — not the age-wise (kind of) inverted pyramid of today.

  27. 27
    Ampersand says:

    By the way, the evidence we have – which is limited – suggests that basic income style programs don’t cause inflation. (I expect that we’ll have more and better evidence as time goes on.)

    Evidence cash-transfers & basic income don't cause inflation | UBI.EARTH

  28. 28
    Görkem says:

    “In the end, rents are determined by market forces, not by what landlords wish they were paid.”

    This is true, but the market is as much a product of the amount of money available as it is of anything, and it doesn’t seem unlikely that a UBI, which would have the intentional effect of putting more money into the market, would not have this effect.

    Of course there is an element of hypocrisy in this – anything that increases the amount of money in the economy can cause inflation, including the kinds of things that people who criticise UBI usually advocate (e.g. tax cuts have exactly the same effect), but the root of the criticism is not necessarily invalid, although it is hard to say exactly how it would specifically play out.

    It seems to me that the best way to mitigate this would be to couple a UBI with controls on the degree to which prices for necessities (housing, food, utilities, internet access, transport, clothing) can rise. If a UBI drives up the price of holidays or cigarettes or game systems, I don’t think anybody would mind.

  29. 29
    Ampersand says:

    I don’t think a UBI will “increase the amount of money in the economy,” at least not in most proposed forms. It redistributes money; it doesn’t increase money. And there’s a HUGE difference between those things in terms of the expected inflationary effect. I think there are legitimate doubts that increasing the amount of money in the economy inevitably causes inflation. But there’s just no reason to believe that redistributing money, in and of itself, causes inflation. (Inflation is not actually all that easy to cause, as the Federal Reserve has discovered).

    If there were evidence that a UBI would cause high inflation, then it might make sense to discuss price controls. But I don’t think there’s any such evidence.

    (By the way, a certain amount of inflation is desirable in some ways. 10% or more inflation would be terrible, but 2% inflation can have benefits.)

    (Edited to add the word “inevitably.”)

  30. 30
    Mookie says:

    a, do you understand that people on a very limited income (however derived, whether by paid work, stipend, grant, compensation, benefits, or a combination thereof), especially in a country with an exorbitant cost of living and absent a robust and accessible welfare state more or less resembling its peer nations, do not horde money but spend it, usually all of it, each and every month? You talk about taking without mentioning that the taking funds survival, which is an expensive endeavor indeed, but is also a distribution of wealth of sorts (minus the question-begging euphemism inherent in the phrase as used.)

  31. 31
    Mookie says:

    I think this is where the Facts Not Feelings rubber meets the road. Do granny-starvers and fans of austerity understand that the wildly and disproportionately poor quality of life of their fellow Americans has consequences for them, too? Far less wealthy nations have discovered this magic, non zero-sum secret, and prospered by comparison. Poverty exists, but not to this fatal, darkly comical degree. I imagine it comes as a great surprise to some of my neighbors that those egalitarian paradises of the extreme north also, in fact, proudly believe themselves to be bootstrappers. Yet the results are wildly disparate. Curious! It’s almost as if you can market any old sadism with personal responsibility platitudes so long as you strenuously avoid evaluating both methods and outcomes.

  32. 32
    a says:

    a, do you understand that …

    I knew right at the word “understand” that the self-righteousness was coming.

    I’m honestly curious what you think about this incident (I categorized the person as a “taker”) — I asked the question further above as to whether people should have a moral obligation to also help, to the extent they can, in society if they are consciously going to be on the taker side:

    In a city I lived in, they used to have monthly subway tickets where you could pay a bit more to have the option to also take someone with you. Instead of running the card through an entrance (like they do in New York), you just got on the subway and would occasionally be checked by inspection personnel who would suddenly board the train.

    So I get in the subway, and a disheveled guy is sitting stretched out on the bench with his dog on the floor, also stretched out and blocking everyone from moving around. There were garbage wrappers that he had just thrown on the floor. He was randomly cussing at some of the women on the train for no apparent reason.

    So inspection personnel get on the train. Of course he doesn’t have a ticket, which is something like a misdemeanor. One guy, though, who didn’t even know him, said, “he’s with me and I have a two-person card”. So the inspection personnel just left him alone. The disheveled guy didn’t look at the guy who helped him or thank him or acknowledge his existence. He just ate something else and threw the wrapper on the ground and went on cussing at random women.

    That kind of ungrateful taking doesn’t even bother you a bit?

  33. 33
    a says:

    The gentle reader should assume in the exercise in my post above that the disheveled person was not fully psychotic and knew what he was just doing (and was just a mean person).

    I want to stress that mentally ill people who are far gone enough that they don’t know what they are doing should absolutely be cared for. I’m kind of anticipating responses.

  34. 34
    Celeste says:

    That kind of ungrateful taking doesn’t even bother you a bit

    It bothers me quite a bit that you would describe someone who, from your description, sounds like a mentally ill homeless person as an “ungrateful taker,” yes.

    Edited, in response to your post #33: How did you know his mental state?

  35. 35
    Görkem says:

    @a: For me, providing money to the poor is about ensuring health and preventing illness and violence. “Gratitude” does not come into it. Requiring the poor to express some kind of ritual of gratitude doesn’t accomplish anything except provide ritual enforcement for their subjugation, which is already extraordinarily strong.

  36. 36
    JaneDoh says:

    I agree with Görkem 100%. Requiring some sort of demonstration of gratitude doesn’t get rid of the problem of demeaning the poor currently built into the US system that acts a deterrent preventing people from getting the help they need. Sure, it would be great if people gave back to society (to the extent they can), but I don’t think it should be expected or required.

    People need what they need, and I don’t think requiring them to jump extra hoops to get it is desirable (or fair). Poor people are just people, with a normal distribution of personalities. Some people are community-minded and some are self-centered whether they are rich or poor. There will always be people who can’t take care of themselves and there will always be people who are “takers” as a describes. I don’t think engineering the system to stamp out the “takers” to the disadvantage of everyone else is a good idea.

  37. 37
    a says:

    Görkem and JaneDoh,

    I agree with much of what you say, actually 100% about not basing actions on whether you will get gratitude back for it. Help should be given independently of gratitude.

    But have you had the experience of directly (not suggesting that others pay, but you directly) paying substantial amounts of money or in-kind assets — whatever substantial to your financial situation means — over to someone to help them, and they just smirk like you are stupid for falling for it? Or they then screw you over in some way?

    If you have not felt any irritation at that behavior, even if you would have still done it with the given reaction, you are a better person that I am. Nearly godlike.

    I have substantially helped people and I have myself been very poor but felt a lot of gratitude at any help, but I have never been godlike.

  38. 38
    Ampersand says:

    Government support is not me “directly” paying anyone. But of course, if a friend asked me to give them a large amount of money, and I did, and they smirked and said “wow, I can believe you fell for that,” I’d find it irritating. Nearly anyone would.

    But I don’t think that has much of anything to do with either UBI, or any other government welfare policy.

    Of course there are some ungrateful and obnoxious people among the poor. Because there are ungrateful, obnoxious people at every income level. (See: Donald Trump.) But I don’t think it would make sense to base policy on that.

    I’m honestly not sure what you’re arguing at this point, A.

  39. 39
    Grace Annam says:

    a:

    If you have not felt any irritation at that behavior, even if you would have still done it with the given reaction, you are a better person that I am. Nearly godlike.
    I have substantially helped people and I have myself been very poor but felt a lot of gratitude at any help, but I have never been godlike.

    That, actually, is a pretty good argument for depersonalizing charity and systematizing it. Because you’re right that giving something and receiving nothing in return is generally irritating, but it’s also correct that when it comes to basics, there should be nothing predicated on gratitude; if you’re not an asshole, then you provide basics to someone because you think that’s correct moral action or in order to avert a more negative outcome, not because you want your cookie for doing a good deed.

    Grace

  40. 40
    Görkem says:

    a: Personal giving is very different to what we are talking about, though. But when I give people money, it is because I feel that they need it. If they were to act as you describe, that wouldn’t change this calculation. Call me Godlike if you want. I expect it’s just that I see these kinds of interactions through a very different lens to you, one that isn’t about person-to-person interactions.

    I agree with Grace though, depersonalisation of charity is better for everybody – better for the recipients for clear reasons, but also better for the givers, because it means they don’t have to make individual, poorly informed decisions about where the money is best sent.

  41. 41
    Chris says:

    a:

    But have you had the experience of directly (not suggesting that others pay, but you directly) paying substantial amounts of money or in-kind assets — whatever substantial to your financial situation means — over to someone to help them, and they just smirk like you are stupid for falling for it? Or they then screw you over in some way?

    Yes. Or rather, this family member will say in one moment how appreciative they are for my help, and then imply the next that I’m not doing enough to help.

    I think there should be more systems in place to help this person given their unique circumstances. I know I would resent this person a lot less if there were.

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