Famed free-market economist Thomas Sowell once remarked that “Although the big word on the left is ‘compassion,’ the big agenda on the left is dependency.” Sowell’s insight is not only correct, but it’s also a fitting lens through which to view Harris County’s new guaranteed income pilot program, Uplift Harris.
To start, Uplift Harris is a county government program that aims to: “distribute $500 per month to over 1,900 eligible households for 18 months.” Funding for the program comes courtesy of Washington D.C.’s American Rescue Plan Act and totals $20.5 million. The county begins accepting applications on Jan. 8, which interestingly enough is War on Poverty Day, a day set aside to honor LBJ’s failed welfare state experiment.
Supporters justify Uplift Harris on the basis that it might help the poor, especially as “individuals that are at the poverty level or below the poverty level are just one paycheck away from falling into homelessness.” Still others claim there are non-financial gains to be had. According to Harris County commissioner Rodney Ellis: “Families report improvements to their physical and mental health, being able to spend more time with their children and a greater sense of self-determination when they are trusted with the resources they need to build a better life.”
Considering these financial and non-financial advantages, who could be against it?
Well, here’s the thing. The government cannot give people money for nothing without consequences. There are tax consequences, i.e. everyone bears a higher burden so as to benefit a few, as well as possible economic consequences, i.e. it adds more spending capacity to an already high inflationary environment. But perhaps worst of all, guaranteed income programs foster a culture of dependency that corrodes productive behavior. That is, these programs incentivize people to become less self-reliant and lean more heavily on government instead.
That these programs foster government dependency was a key finding from a 2018 Heritage Foundation research paper. It states:
“In four controlled random assignment experiments across six states between 1968 and 1980, the comparable policy was shown to reduce yearly hours worked among recipients significantly. For each $1,000 in added benefits, there was an average $660 reduction in earnings, meaning that $3,000 in government benefits was required for a net increase of $1,000 in family income.”
As one might imagine, such an outcome is undesirable for both the individual, who is discouraged from taking initiative and gaining independence, as well as society, who experiences a decline in productive activity.
Hence, while guaranteed income programs, like Uplift Harris and others, might be sold to the public on compassionate grounds, the truth is that these programs foster a culture of government dependency that is bad for individuals and society alike. And that is something that should concern us all.