Is universal basic income a biblical solution?
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I read more and more people pushing for Universal Basic Income (UBI)? This sounds cool but so does a free condo on the beach. First, what is it? More importantly, is it really a good thing?
Interested in UBI
Thanks for your important and timely question. UBI is being talked about heavily among Silicon Valley tech titans like Mark Zuckerberg. Recently, new presidential candidate Andrew Yang has even made it his central campaign promise.
What Is UBI?
On the surface, UBI does sound intriguing: everyone gets guaranteed monthly income; cash in the bank, no strings attached. This idea has been around for a while and is currently being tried in a number of places around the world:
● Finland: After a two-year-long experiment, the government found that the recipients “were no better or worse than the control groups at finding employment in the open labor market…” The Finnish government chose not to extend the program after the experiment ended.
● Ontario, Canda: Only 15 months into a planned three-year-long Basic Income experiment, the Ontario government shut down the program, citing that it was “not sustainable.”
● Stockton, California: Recently launched, the SEED program will give $500 a month to 130 individuals for 18 months. The recipients can spend the money however they want. Proponents of the experiment are hoping it helps low-income people “work smarter and harder.”
● Andrew Yang, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, calls his version the “Freedom Dividend,” which has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? His proposal would call for a monthly stipend of $1,000 ($12,000/year) for everyone between the ages of 18-64 (working age Americans).
Most every proponent of the free money for all campaign share a common justification for the so-called pressing need to get this done sooner than later. They have a dystopian worldview that believes that technology is going to rapidly replace the lower economic end of the workforce with robots and artificial intelligence which will lead to mass unemployment, crime, poverty, and widespread violence. They assert that jobs in the trucking and retail industries will be the first to go, which are among America’s largest employers.
Is UBI a Good Thing?
The most popular argument for UBI is that:
UBI would give individuals freedom to spend the money in a way they choose. In other words, UBI strengthens economic liberty at an individual level. This would help them to choose the kind of work they want to do, rather than forcing them to do unproductive work to meet their daily requirements.
Two main issues I have with this:
- It’s not incentivizing people to work, it’s enabling them not to. Instead of providing “economic liberty,” UBI only allows people to take from the economy and does not require them to contribute to it.
- The money is not required to be spent wisely. As we’ve seen with welfare and other government programs, handing out money does not always help those who need it.
Is UBI Biblically Supported?
In short, no. I see several reasons UBI is in conflict with biblical principles.
- We are Designed to Work.
Work was created by God to supply our physical needs, and should be a blessing to us. God charged Adam with work to take care of the earth and reign over the animals in Genesis, before sin had ever entered the world. We are designed to work and UBI removes the dignity, necessity, and satisfaction of work.
- Discontentment is Widespread.
One of the main symptoms of discontentment is that you’re unable to experience peace living on what God has provided. You buy into the philosophy that you always need more, better, faster. You compare the things you have to the things you could have. What you currently have is never good enough. If everyone received $1,000 a month from the government, soon they’ll want $1,500, then $2,000. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
- Not a Poverty Solution.
UBI perpetuates this attitude of discontentment by assuming money will solve the problem of poverty and make people happy.
But a lack of finances isn’t the cause of poverty - in the vast majority of cases, mismanagement of what we have is to blame, not only for poverty, but all kinds of debt, corruption, and destitution. Of course, there are extreme circumstances that lead to financial hardships, and those in the top 1% of income earners also mismanage money.
Putting more money into the hands of those who are not equipped to manage it with biblical principles will not solve their long term problems (regardless of their socioeconomic status). Attempting to equally distribute money will not result in equal stewardship of money. Instead, it will slow economic growth, de-incentivize business, and increase the tax burden of the country. Starting with the wrong assumption will always lead to the wrong solution.
- Abundance vs Scarcity Mindset.
The world’s economy promotes a scarcity mindset - that there is never enough. This feeds our sinful nature of greed, dishonesty, and selfishness. It tells us to pursue more, bigger, and better for our own gain. Most who vote for UBI do so to protect their own wealth, not to help less fortunate people.
But the principles of God’s economy are in stark contrast, encouraging us to live fruitful, productive lives, exhibiting generosity, honesty, and selflessness. God’s economy is based on the principles of abundance:
But I do not need the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens. For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. (Psalm 50:9-10)
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. (Deuteronomy 8:12)
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
We serve a good God, a generous Father, who is eager to bless His children (Matthew 6:25-34, Matthew 7:11). Why would we look to the government for our provision when the Creator of all cares about our every need?
A Better Way
Ultimately, I see many more problems with UBI than sustainable solutions. I don’t see it as a realistic escape from poverty, a benefit to the economy, or a program in line with Scripture. I see it as massive tax leading to less freedom and less economic growth. We should reject UBI and promote the solutions that God says will help us: work diligently, steward wisely and provide private charitable help to those unable to work.