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UBI and open borders


Another thought on the work and freedom discussion that didn’t really fit into my post last night.

The BHL crowd are fans of a policy known as Universal Basic Income (UBI), which they believe will go a long way (indeed, pretty much all the way) in rectifying abusive employment practices by enhancing the capacity of anyone to exit. (Here’s Flanigan on the glories of UBI; what’s misleading about this post is the implication that it’s primarily a libertarian idea. It also has a number of socialist and left-liberal defenders like Van Parijs and Wright; republicans are also attracted to the idea. It even has some appeal to white nationalists). Flanigan rather badly misreads BRG when she says they’re “hostile” to UBI. I have no idea what Robin and Gourevitch think about it, but Bertram’s on record as a fan. BRG do not argue against UBI, but rather make two arguments: that it is insufficient to prevent employer abuse, and that BHL underestimate or don’t address the costs such a program would require.

I think BRG are correct on both fronts (although the accounting on the costs of UBI in their original post may contain some assumptions that drive up the cost a bit higher than it is). I’m ambivalent about UBI as a matter of ideal policy, but I’m certainly open to it. As a political matter, it seems worth noting that I can’t think of a policy whose advocates are less likely to have a PhD, and that probably doesn’t bode well. (Flanigan seems bored by any discussion of political feasibility, and difficult to pin down on what she thinks should be done when her ideal policy isn’t an option). At any rate, I want to set all that aside, and pretend for a minute that a coalition of socialists and libertarians have convinced the voting public and a majority of politicians that we ought to enact a sufficiently generous UBI policy. In such a circumstance, I’d like to hear how libertarians think such a policy would interact with their stated preference for open borders. (This has been less of a theme than I thought it would be on their blog, but I’m assuming this Zwolinski post from last year is representative of their views on immigration until I’m told otherwise.) A lot of liberal nationalists have argued that robust welfare states (and a UBI generous enough to make work optional would certainly qualify as a variant of that) depend on a fair amount of latitude to restrict immigration. I think they’re often wrong about this in terms of incremental change–in the US, for example, greater immigration might make many people less sympathetic to robust welfare states, but it would also increase in size the political coalition against those people. But it’s difficult to see how these two radical policy innovations wouldn’t lead to a potentially serious problem.

I don’t mean this post as a gotcha. I’m in favor of both open borders and a robust welfare state, quite possible organized as a UBI. But BHLs (and libertarians more generally) tend to be a lot more confident their preferred policies will work together nicely than I am.

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