What are some alternatives to the Universal Basic Income?

Here at PARTYSHEEPHATS, we get a lot of comments from readers.[1] Using a complicated system of codewords and pulleys these comments are presented to our Executive Editor, who carefully reads them,[2] thinks about them deeply,[3] and sends out a thoughtful response.[4]


For obvious reasons this post has pictures of mailboxes. These are all the mailboxes used at PARTYSHEEPHATS HQ.

A recent communique from a non-anonymous reader:

Dear Executive Editor,

I thoroughly hated your piece on the Universal Basic Income [UBI]. I hate everything to do with the Universal Basic Income. My [so-called] friends are all big fans of the UBI and it gets very annoying to hear them prattle on about it. However, I am in favor of the basic goals of the UBI, I would like to be able to suggest a major policy change that accomplishes similar goals as the UBI, but that isn’t the UBI. Do you Know of any?


Anne Anonymous Reader


This mailbox was once used to convey mail. Now it is mostly used to impress senior executives.

Anne, here are a couple possibilities, along with the UBI for comparison.

Universal Basic Income

See this post for more info. 

Basic Idea

Provide a low-level income to all members of society, regardless of financial status or employment. Most of the examples I have seen use an annual payment of around $12,000.


A universal basic income could reduce or even eliminate poverty. It might replace current government welfare programs, possibly in a way that would be more efficient. It would give people flexibility to pursue education, or other non-remunerative interests.


Critics say that the UBI could reduce willingness to work. The fact that everyone gets it means that many of the benefits would go to people who do not need them. It is also very expensive.


About $3.4T.


Usually walls are built to keep mailboxes out. This one was built to keep mailboxes in.

Job Guarantee

Basic Idea

Anyone who wants a job, can have one. If someone cannot find a job with a private employer the government would be obligated to employ them. The US has had elements of this in the past, notably the Works Progress Administration which employed up to 3.3 Million people during the Great Depression.


A job guarantee could result in drastically reduced or no unemployment. There could be strong anti-cyclical effects in terms of moderating the impacts of recessions.

A job guarantee could provide an alternative to the minimum wage, if the Guaranteed job had a minimum wage, that might be sufficient competition to ensure competition across all jobs. A job program might be able to replace some existing government welfare programs. Having something certain they could fall back on might make workers more willing to take risks like moving or starting a business.


Unlike the Universal Basic Income, which just requires a checkbook, running a job program requires substantial management. Someone will need to decide how to hire people, how to assign people to jobs, manage their work, and everything else that employing people involves. There are other management issues as well, what happens if someone gets fired from their guaranteed job. These would likely be jobs that the private sector would not be willing to do, and the value of the work might not merit the costs.


This depends on how much workers are paid, how many people worked for the program, and how much it would cost to run. William Darity estimates it would cost $750 Billion to provide work for 15 million people, at a cost per person (salary, benefits, and other costs) of $50,000 per worker.

This seems a little optimistic. If a fifth of this cost was required to run the program (a share I’ve just entirely made up) that would leave each worker with $40K in wages and benefits. Not bad at all. At this rate, it seems likely that more than 15 Million people would want to take up the job. According to the first thing I found on the internet, an income of $30K puts you in the 39th percentile.  Employing 30% of the 160M labor force would involve employing 48Million people, a cost of (at 50K per worker) is about 2.4 Trillion Dollars. This is still less than the UBI costs at about 3.4T, but it is still a large amount of money.

It would probably be possible to guarantee everyone a (relatively low paying) job for something like a trillion dollars (Something like 33M people at a cost of 30K per person). A job guarantee program could also be done as a short term stimulus during a recession, or as a boost to a depressed locale, these smaller scale programs could be done for a much lower cost than a universal  job guarantee.


This mailbox thinks it is a racecar.

Universal Basic Capital

Basic Idea

Like the universal basic income this gives everyone money, unlike the universal basic income it only happens once, not annually or monthly. Imagine that on their 18th birthday each citizen received $100,000. This could be in the form of something less immediately spendable such as some sort of bond, which might nudge people away from spending it all at once.

This could be used for education, savings, investing, purchasing a home, or for one hell of a party. It targets wealth inequality more than it does income inequality, and would end up being a huge intergenerational transfer to the young.


Many of the same complaints that afflict the UBI would also be valid here, it could discourage work, and the money might be poorly spent(especially if people having differing abilities or skills to spend it effectively). It lacks some of the benefits of UBI: It would not be able to replace Social programs to the same extent as the basic income, nor would it suffice in the event of the robot/AI jobpoclypse.

It is possible it would change parental behavior. Parents might be less likely to save for their children’s education, and may be more inclined to have children. Nineteen-year-olds would be super pissed. Lack of saving for education might or might not be beneficial, while pissing off Nineteen-year-olds would certainly be.


There are about four million 18-year-olds in the United States. Giving each one of them $100,000 would cost $400 billion. As an annual spend this is a massive amount of money, but it is tiny compared to the UBI or the Job Guarantee. It is less than we spend each year on the military, social security, or Medicare.


This is used exclusively for mail within the greater Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area.

Boring Options

If you want to be boring, you could support things like expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, or a negative income tax, or any number of other increasingly redistributive tax policies. None of these are likely to impress your UBI loving friends.



How much would the Universal Basic Income Cost?

Can the gains from trade be redistributed?

Do Social Impact Bonds Work?



[1] We don’t.

[2] Skims some of them, to see if they are offering money.

[3] None of this happens.

[4] Our executive editor has never responded to anything. Some of us are starting to doubt his very existence.




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