Imagine that a progressive American city creates a financial incentive for residents to “transition” from man to woman or from woman to man.
That’s exactly what San Francisco has just done with a program called Guaranteed Income for Transgender People, or GIFT.
This is like using a fire hose to spray a burning skyscraper with gasoline. Talk about perverse incentives.
Anyone want to bet that, if this program expands, the number of San Francisco’s poor who say they identify as transgender also will expand?
Of course, San Francisco already is a lab for bad policy ideas. But giving guaranteed income to low-income residents who say they identify as transgender is surely next-level dumb.
The GIFT pilot program “will provide 55 eligible residents with $1,200 per month for 18 months, as well as health care and financial coaching,” the Los Angeles Times explains.
This scheme fuses bad fiscal policy with bad social policy. And the whole will be worse than the sum of its parts.
To see why, let’s look at the details.
First, note that this program doesn’t provide so-called universal basic income. It doesn’t target the whole population or even those in greatest financial need, but rather those with the greatest status in the intersectional hierarchy. In this case, that means residents, including minors, living at the intersection of economic poverty and transgender identity.
The announcement says:
"The program will prioritize enrollment of transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and intersex (TGI) people who are also black, indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), experiencing homelessness, living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, youth and elders, monolingual Spanish-speakers, and those who are legally vulnerable such as TGI people who are undocumented, engaging in survival sex trades, or are formerly incarcerated."
To keep this gift of $1,200 a month from hindering eligibility for other programs, San Francisco claims that it’s simply a research pilot program. This is likely a ruse, however, since the city’s treasurer claims “there is no need to replicate broad-based ‘does it work?’ pilots or research studies.”
In fact, San Francisco seeks to focus “on qualitative research that can tell the human stories about people receiving guaranteed income,” as we learn from the fine print. “Storytelling and narrative change are essential to build public will and debunk false narratives about poverty and deservedness.”
In other words, the purpose of the GIFT pilot program is to get moving stories that can serve for an ad campaign to expand the program. We can assume, then, that San Francisco will avoid the sort of rigorous scientific evaluation that might expose the program’s failures. And we can assume that it will expand.
Of course, we already have evidence that this scheme won’t reduce poverty in San Francisco. Over more than a decade, the federal government financed research on “guaranteed income” schemes. It supported randomized, controlled trials across six states conducted from 1968 to 1980.
Guess what the U.S. government found? Recipients’ motivation to work dropped, regardless of their sex, marital status, or status as a parent. In fact, for every dollar in transfer payments, earnings fell by 66 cents.
At that rate, it would take three dollars of taxpayer money to raise a recipient’s net income by one dollar. These results were a disaster for fans of guaranteed minimum income, universal basic income, negative income tax, or an unconditional cash transfer by any other name.
But such facts don’t stand in the way of Aria Sa’id, executive director of San Francisco’s legally recognized Transgender District. After learning of the GIFT program, the transgender activist longed for more.
“My dream,” Sa’id said, “is to take a firetruck with millions of dollars of cash and have a wind blower and say, ‘Have at it.’”
Thankfully, most Americans have more common sense than to hose down city streets with twenty-dollar bills. More than 90% of the public agrees that “able-bodied adults who receive cash, food, housing, and medical assistance should be required to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving those government benefits.”
This lack of public support is no doubt why national politicians don’t push such “guaranteed income” schemes with much zeal. San Francisco voters, however, are far to the left of the average American voter. So, the city’s politicians respond to different incentives.
Nevertheless, the bad outcome of this policy is still easy to envision.
Just consider: The number of people identifying as transgender, nonbinary, and so forth, has exploded in the last several years, especially among young people. This growth has been so alarming that it led Dr. Lisa Littman, a physician and researcher, to suggest a new diagnosis in 2017 that she called “rapid onset gender dysphoria.”
This pandemic among the young has gotten far worse in the past five years. As a result, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service has been overwhelmed and recently chose to press pause on cross-sex hormones and related surgeries on minors.
Anyone who studies the rise of gender ideology in schools, culture, and social media is bound to suspect that we are dealing with a new social contagion, not the rare gender dysphoria of the previous century.
Gender transitioning is now, for many minors, a trend.
But it so happens that this trend, unlike goth or grunge, leads to sterilizing cross-sex hormones and disfiguring surgery.
Originally published at The Daily Signal.
Dr. Jay W. Richards is director of the DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at The Heritage Foundation, as well as the think tank's William E. Simon senior research fellow in religious liberty and civil society.
Jamie Hall is a senior policy analyst in empirical studies at The Heritage Foundation.