Here I'm exploring how big the BIG (Basic Income Guarantee) needs to be to be an effective anti-poverty benefit in the US – that is, to cover the basic necessities of food, housing, clothing, healthcare, and transportation. Food and housing were discussed in the last post. Let’s move on to clothing. Clothing is an increasingly small part of the American budget and I’m going to assume that there is no right to anything more than what could be bought through really cheap discounters and used clothing stores.
Then there’s healthcare. I’m going to say for the purpose of this discussion that with Obamacare – between the expansion of Medicaid, subsidies and tax credits - health insurance for the poor and near-poor is pretty much taken care of. It’s another matter whether individuals take advantage of government-sponsored healthcare benefits.
Regarding transportation; no one has the right to a functioning car, car insurance and fuel. Of course, lack thereof may make some people poor – but a basic income can’t be conceived as sufficient for all circumstances. The amount calculated for BIG inclusion should be sufficient for public transportation. Again, the size of the BIG can’t be determined by the expenses of a subset of the whole, or the temporary circumstances of given individuals. BIG should not be conceived as the exclusive remedy covering all contingencies.
Basically, then, my version of a BIG would help with housing, transportation and clothing, with the lion’s share going to housing. Healthcare and food needs would continue to be provided through existing programs.
How much would such a BIG cost? The answer depends in part on what the government and economy can afford. Some argue that the BIG would be affordable because it would be funded mostly by replacing existing safety net programs. Is that a good idea?