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Acton Institute Powerblog

Marx vs. the universal basic income

While a universal basic income has been advocated by everyone from Bernie Sanders to Charles Murray and Pope Francis, the name most associated with wealth redistribution is Marx. However, in a little-known writing Marx specifically opposed the UBI, calling it inefficient and counterproductive. The policy would leave many of its intended beneficiaries worse off, he wrote.

Of course, we’re discussing Ive Marx, an economist and sociology professor at the University of Antwerp.

Marx’s scholarly work focuses on wealth redistribution and anti-poverty programs, both of which he favors. However, he has the honesty to admit that poverty and income inequality are not synonymous. Government programs to “solve” one problem may exacerbate the other.

Marx and a team of researchers tested the effects of introducing a universal basic income in the Netherlands. Their model assumed that the government would give every adult under the age of 65 a monthly check of €700 ($760 U.S.) and €165 a month to minors. The program’s €94 million price tag would have to be paid for with a combination of tax increases and service reductions.

Marx said a UBI would reduce income inequality, but it would increase poverty by 3%. Flanders Today reported:

These measures would result in at least three quarters of 18- to 64-year-olds losing out financially; 30% would lose more than a tenth of their income. …

“There is lots to be said for a basic economic law, given the growing inequality in prosperity. But handing out cash doesn’t seem to be the best way,” said Marx, the head of the university’s sociology department, in De Standaard.

In a message on Twitter, Marx clarified that his study concluded a UBI “is massively inefficient if one cares about the least well-off in society.”

Add his study to the ever-increasing number of tests the universal basic income program has failed. UBI pilot programs from the United States to Finland found that UBI failed to increase the number of people in employment, and it often reduced the number of people working full time. Fewer work hours equates to a shrinking supply of goods and services—that is, less wealth—which gradually depletes the national resources available to everyone, including the truly needy.

These insights are pivotal, as the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church has endorsed a universal basic income, and House Democrats introduced a bill on Tuesday to give $2,000 a month to every American age 16 or older, purportedly as a temporary measure. In the Netherlands, 170 scientists demanded a universal basic income as part of a comprehensive package to undo the supposedly apocalyptic damage caused by “the neo-liberal economic system.”

Marx and his team found that if lawmakers hope to subsidize those in unfortunate circumstances, more targeted programs are preferable to, and more successful than, a UBI.

The conclusion is true as far as it goes. However, Marx makes the mistake of excluding the church and private philanthropy from temporary poverty alleviation. And those who focus on the UBI specifically, and statist wealth redistribution policies in general, ignore the most effective form of poverty reduction: employment. Nonetheless, Marx and his team find that the UBI falters when compared to other, less expansive government policies.

This is one “Marxist” insight everyone should embrace.

(Photo credit: Public domain.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson (@therightswriter) is an Eastern Orthodox priest and served as Executive Editor of the Acton Institute (2016-2021), editing Religion & Liberty, the Powerblog, and its transatlantic website. He has extensively researched the Alt-Right. Previously, he worked for LifeSiteNews and FrontPageMag.com, where he wrote three books including Party of Defeat (with David Horowitz, 2008). His work has appeared at DailyWire.com, National Review, The American Spectator, The Guardian, Daily Caller, National Catholic Register, Spectator USA, FEE Online, RealClear Policy, The Blaze, The Stream, American Greatness, Aleteia, Providence Magazine, Charisma, Jewish World Review, Human Events, Intellectual Takeout, CatholicVote.org, Issues & Insights, The Conservative, Rare.us, and The American Orthodox Institute. His personal websites are therightswriter.com and RevBenJohnson.com. His views are his own.