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February 8, 2018

STEVEN GREENHUT: A Progressive Experiment That’s Doomed to Fail. “Formerly bankrupt Stockton teams up with foundation to see what happens when some residents are given a ‘universal basic income’.”

Mayor Michael Tubbs, an enthusiastic 27-year-old Democrat, has shown a keen interest in trying “new” things in the city. Last summer, for instance, he proposed paying people not to commit gun crimes, and now he’s working with some Bay Area entrepreneurs who are providing the funds to give some families $500 a month with no restrictions on how they spend the cash.

The Economic Security Project is backing the Stockton Experiment, based on its belief that “cash is an effective way” to rebuild the middle class and fight poverty. “Automation, globalization, and financialization are changing the nature of work, and these shifts require us to rethink how to create economic opportunity for all,” the group explains on its website.

Some conservatives have actually pitched a guaranteed-income concept. The thinking, advanced by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, is to “replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash  —  a negative income tax.” Such an idea, he added, “provides comprehensive reform which would do more efficiently and humanely what our present welfare system does so inefficiently and inhumanely.”

This is one of those cases where the concept makes a certain amount of sense in the philosophical realm, while being borderline crazy in the real world.

My inclination is to side with Friedman. If we must have a welfare state — and it seems politically that we must — it makes sense to make it as lean as possible. That said, I’m not sure the government of Stockton is competent enough to make anything work, sensible or not.

Either way, Stockton’s experiment might provide useful lessons about bad government, improved welfare, or both.

I have more on this over at Hot Mic.