calculates that today the richest 1 percent
owns about half the planet’s wealth.
According to Mr. Piketty’s calculations, the immutable
dynamic of returns on capital being greater than the rate of economic growth
will concentrate half the planet’s wealth in the hands of the richest 0.1
percent within 30 years, impoverishing not only the middle, but also the
APRIL 20, 2014
America’s social welfare system has denuded the civic
culture that immigrants to America helped shape. That’s according to
libertarian economist Charles Murray, who thinks the guaranteed basic income
can restore that culture.
Editor’s Note: Switzerland is considering a ballot
referendum on an unconditional income of 30,000 Francs
for all Swiss
citizens. As the leader of the Swiss movement for a basic income, artist Enno
Schmidt, told us, a guaranteed basic income would deconstruct the link
between work and income.
An economy under this system, he said, would be
more about working with and helping each other. That may be easy to dismiss as
a Swiss, if not European, way of thinking. But even though the guaranteed basic
income hasn’t generated the same mainstream buzz in the United States, it has plenty
of American proponents on both sides of the political aisle.
Perhaps most outspoken among them is libertarian economist
Charles Murray, who argues that a guaranteed income administered by the
government would take the government out of people’s lives, and consequently,
restore the fabric of American culture — a culture where people are responsible
for each other. Murray, a longtime friend of Making Sen$e, spoke to us about
his last book, “Coming Apart,” in 2012 and is the architect of our popular
The following transcript of Paul Solman’s extended conversation
with Murray about the guaranteed income has been edited and condensed for
length and clarity. Murray also appears in our Making Sen$e segment about the
basic income [...]
– Simone Pathe, Making Sen$e Editor
Paul Solman: What’s the case for a minimum income?
Charles Murray: From a libertarian’s point of view, we’re
going to be spending a lot of money on income transfers, no matter what.
Paul Solman: Why?
Charles Murray: The society is too rich to stand aside and
say, “We aren’t going to do anything for people in need.” I understand that; I
accept that; I sympathize with it.
What I want is a grand compromise between the left and the
right. We on the right say, “We will give you huge government, in terms of the
amount of money we spend. You give us small government, in terms of the ability
of government to mess around with people’s lives.”
So you have a system whereby every month, a check goes
into an electronic bank account for everybody over the age of 21, which they
can use as they see fit. They can get together with other people and then
combine their resources. But they live their own lives. We put their lives back
in their hands.
Paul Solman: So this has similarities with the voucher
movement; that is, give the money to people because they will know better how
to spend it.
Charles Murray: In that sense, it’s similar to a voucher
program, but my real goal with all of this is to revive civil society. Here’s
what I mean by that: You have a guy who gets a check every month, alright. He
is dissolute; he drinks it up and he’s got 10 days to go before the next check
comes in and he’s destitute. He now has to go to friends, relatives, neighbors
or the Salvation Army, and say, “I really need to survive.” He will get help.
But under a guaranteed basic income, he can no longer
portray himself as a victim who’s helpless to do anything about it. And you’ve
got to set up feedback loops where people say, “Okay, we’re not going to let
you starve on the streets, but it’s time for you to get your act together. And
don’t tell us that you can’t do it because we know you’ve got another check
coming in in a couple of days.”
A guaranteed basic income has the potential
for making civic organizations, families and neighborhoods much more vital,
helpful and responsive than they have been in decades.
Libertarian CharlesMurray: The welfare state has denuded our civic culture
April 10, 2014
Whereas before the
problem of identity had been one of meagreness and poverty, it has now become the
problem of abundance and superfluity
. We are individually overwhelmed by
corporate consciousness and by the
inclusive experience of mankind both past and present. It would be a cosmic irony if men
unable to cope with abundance and riches
in both the economic and psychic
order. It is not likely to happen. The most persistent habits of penury are
bound to yield before the onslaught of largesse and abundant life.