Hayek is a staunch free market capitalist, small government - bordering on 'taxation is theft' economist.

How did he explain his support for universal basic income?

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    – Philipp
    Oct 26, 2017 at 8:28
  • @Philipp For what it's worth, I would have taken the OP's edited wording ("How do you explain...") not as soliciting personal opinion, but as an informal version of "How does one explain...".
    – owjburnham
    Oct 31, 2017 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


Hayek never explained his support for UBS outright. However, it's unquestionable that he firmly supported UBS.

The closest we come to an explanation is a quote from "The Public Sector and the Private Sector" in "Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 3: The Political Order of a Free People":

The assurance of a certain minimum income for everyone, or a sort of floor below which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself, appears not only to be a wholly legitimate protection against a risk common to all, but a necessary part of the Great Society in which the individual no longer has specific claims on the members of the particular small group into which he was born.

But why is UBI a necessity? How did Hayek arrive at the above conclusion?

libertarianism.org has a pretty detailed essay by Matt Zwolinski (who is a Philosophy professor and a left-wing Libertarian popular on Bleeding Heart Libertarians resource) asking himself the same question you did: "Why Did Hayek Support a Basic Income?"

He attempts to reconstruct the reasoning based on other points made by Hayek elsewhere in his writings. The essay is pretty long and I recommend reading it in detail, but I will attempt to distill the main salient points.

In first part of the essay, he covers the libertarian case for why UBI is needed/desirable from libertarian standpoint:

  • ... political freedom mean freedom from coercion by the arbitrary will of others. (See his Constitution of Liberty, p. 58)

  • To be free, in contrast, is to be able to act according to one’s own decisions and plans, without having to seek the approval of any higher authority (CL p. 59)

  • In employer-employee relationship, there's a possibility that employer will place un-freedom restrictions on employee.

    • On one hand, as the employer does not possess monopoly on force that government does, in theory, free markets mitigate that risk; since an employee who does not like employer's rules is free to quit and find another job.

    • On the other hand, there is a risk of imbalance of power in that relationship, which an employer may leverage into excercising undue power over employee.

    Zwolinski himself does not elaborate on why such an imbalance can exist, but it's easy to find out scenarios that provide it. The job market overall may be tight (labor supply greatly outweight labor demand). Even barring that, an employee is likely to need the job more than employer needs the employee for a variety of factors; for example the fact that loss of wages constitute far more of a percentage loss of employee's needs than loss of his labor being a fraction of loss of employer's needs.

  • As such, we are forced to conclude that some of the restrictions of freedom of employee is NOT the product of workers’ free choice, but rather something imposed on workers against their will by those who wield power over them.

  • Zwolinsky thus concludes:

    Cases such as these point the way to a freedom-based case for a Basic Income Guarantee, of the sort that Hayek might very well have had in mind. A basic income gives people an option – to exit the labor market, to relocate to a more competitive market, to invest in training, to take an entrepreneurial risk, and so on. And the existence of that option allows them to escape subjection to the will of others. It enables them to say “no” to proposals that only extreme desperation would ever drive them to accept. It allows them to govern their lives according to their own plans, their own goals, and their own desires. It enables them to be free.

In the second part of the essay, Zwolinsky also addressed the (obvious) question as to why Hayek would support UBI despite the fact that it would be supported by taxation (which is a form of coersion against tax-payers)

  • The main argument is that this is basically a choice between two evils (coersions), and the balance of more freedom lies in favor of UBI, not lack of taxation:

    In a perfect world, Hayek thought, we would be able to eliminate coercion altogether, including even the relatively mild kind of coercion that a modest form of taxation involves.

    But in our world, coercion can only be minimized, not eliminated, and the coercion of some individuals by others can often be held in check only by the use of coercion itself (CL, p. 59).

Zwolinsky concludes:

The point of a basic income isn’t to give everyone the same amount of wealth. It is to ensure that everyone has enough access to material wealth to render them immune to the coercive power of others.


Milton Friedman's support for UBI was edited out of the question so I won't cover that in detail, but if genuinely interested, some resources explaining it:

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    Further support for UBI from libertarian middle-weights: Cato's Matthew Feeney; Zwolinsky himself
    – user4012
    Oct 25, 2017 at 22:45
  • That's a great detailed response - thanks. I haven't investigated it too thoroughly, but i used to be a libertarian. After i left (for other reasons) I saw that hayek and friedman both supported UBI, it kind of blew my mind. I get the whole 'limiting coercion' thing - but it is incredibly hypocritical nonetheless, given the majority of the arguments they make against government. I also think they fail to understand that to limit coercion requires coercion. Oct 26, 2017 at 0:35
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    It is not coercion libertarians object to but the claim of a "legitimate" monopoly on coercion. All rights are based on the right to defend oneself and by extension one's possessions. Coercion is implied in defense. Jan 22, 2018 at 17:20
  • You might want to add that a UBI does not have to be funded by taxes if it takes the form of a citizen's dividend funded by economic rents (e.g. land values resulting from collective investment). There would hence be no coercion involved in funding the UBI. Did Hayek consider that?
    – sba222
    Jan 14, 2021 at 23:50

Hayek is a staunch free market capitalist, small government - bordering on 'taxation is theft' economist.

Hayek was nowhere near bordering on the tax-is-theft position. Although he was broadly in favour of a free-market capitalist society, he made many allowances for intervention by government. He held an extremely moderate position that is arguably not even libertarian. Among the tax-is-theft crowd he is generally referred to as a borderline socialist.

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