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I was reading a question about universal basic income and it seemed to me that there are basic flaws that are seldom or never mentioned.

First, some people are not capable of managing money, second, they may be subject to extortion, and third, they may try to defraud the state into giving more than they are entitled to.

Would it not be better to provide the necessary facilities directly? For example, suppose a government were to provide basic accommodation - a room just barely big enough for one person, with toilet and communication facilities. Ensuring that people in large hives of such cells are safe and secure would be difficult but probably not impossible. Basic but nutritious food would be provided on demand.

Such facilities, sufficient to meet the demand, would be provided where ever there is demand.

No one can occupy more than one room, and there is a limit to what anyone can eat, so there would be no need for a bureaucracy to prevent cheating.

People would be fed far more cheaply than they could feed themselves, so, unless people are to be allowed to starve in their homes or on the streets, it would be cheaper than giving them cash.

It would increase the mobility of labour, as people would be able to move to a new area to look for work without making a major commitment. It would also make it possible for people doing low skill labour to live in high-cost areas that need such labour but where they would otherwise be unable to afford to live.

In short, the idea seems to have at least some benefits, yet I don't think I have ever heard of anything like it being proposed, so I wondered what the arguments against it were.

marked as duplicate by JJJ, Paul Johnson, Giter, Philipp Mar 23 at 16:49

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  • 2
    Please try to rephrase your question to be less opinion-based. As it stands, it seems more like a comment than a question. – JJJ Mar 23 at 12:54
  • It is, of course, entirely opinion but nonetheless it is a genuine question. In effect I am saying "Here is a hypothetical policy and some apparent (to me) benefits. Why is the policy rejected and how are the benefits refuted or discredited?". I don't think that I could leave out any part without making it less likely that I get the answer I am looking for. – Chris Barry Mar 23 at 13:25
  • You can make it more objective by asking what reasons opponents have put forward. Generally, opinion-only questions will be closed as indeed any opinion can answer it. – JJJ Mar 23 at 13:26
  • George Orwell's "Road To Wigan Pier" addresses this kind of question in great depth; basically, the lack of autonomy and choice is itself an extreme kind of poverty and reductive of human dignity. – pjc50 Mar 23 at 15:42
  • This has been actually proposed as "universal basic services" independent.co.uk/news/business/news/… (Yes, they treat housing as a service). Obviously those who think the state shouldn't have much to do with people's lives or welfare (mostly the laissez-faire proponents) will oppose this (and most other state welfare programs) on obvious grounds. So a better question would have been how is it worse than another, concrete welfare program. – Fizz Mar 23 at 17:26
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With regard to refugees, Germany has found that providing facilities, goods, and services is much more expensive than providing cash allowances.

Apart from that:

  • People who cannot manage cash need a legal custodian, not just a basic apartment with a full fridge.

  • People who are being extorted need an effective police force, not a regular schedule of free government-issue groceries. And what if someone takes their winter coat? Do they get a free one every time, no questions asked? Surely not.

  • People who want to defraud the government will be able to sell their government-issue toilet paper and pajamas if they somehow manage do get a double ration.

  • And humans being humans, students with government-issue lunchboxes may become victim to bullying in school. Jobseekers in government-issue clothing may be discriminated against during the interviews.

  • Can you provide a reference for the German refugee example? – Chris Barry Mar 23 at 14:31
  • @ChrisBarry, are German language sources OK or should it be English? – o.m. Mar 23 at 15:34
  • @ChrisBarry, tagesspiegel.de/politik/… – o.m. Mar 23 at 16:09
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People's needs are not simple.

How do you decide what is needed and what is not? Is television a necessity? What about the following?

  • A daily newspaper
  • Television
  • Textbooks
  • Mobile phone
  • Personal computer with MS Office license.
  • Internet access: how much and to what sites?
  • Smart clothes
  • A car to get to work in
  • Pictures to hang on the walls
  • Trashy romance novels

This puts the government in charge of deciding what people should have instead of letting them set their own priorities. That never works well.

Those who live in such a place will become an underclass, separated from those who do not. This is implicit in the design of such a system; anyone with resources to live elsewhere will not be permitted to become a resident, even if they wanted to, while those who have wound up in such a place will find themselves unable to leave because they lack the resources to do so.

  • I don't think that deciding what facilities to provide is much different from deciding how much money to provide as welfare support. From your list I would exclude everything but Internet access, restricted only by bandwidth, as this would provide communication, education and entertainment to those who want them at moderate cost. – Chris Barry Mar 23 at 15:04
  • I've lived all my adult life without owning a television. MS Office would be doubly useless to me - I use Linux, and don't do anything that Office would do. OTOH, I'd sure miss gcc and LaTeX :-) – jamesqf Mar 23 at 17:35

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