The Instigator
Pro (for)
4 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Universal Basic Income

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Post Voting Period
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after 2 votes the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/27/2016 Category: Economics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,339 times Debate No: 85370
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (26)
Votes (2)




Full resolution: The United States should begin to convert existing welfare programs into a universal basic income (UBI).

There are about 126 different welfare programs that are currently on the books.1

I am arguing that we should begin to replace these programs with a UBI. Note that I do not need to argue that these existing 126 welfare programs must be eliminated immediately, but rather I will argue that these programs should eventually be phased out and a transition to a universal basic income should begin.

First round is for acceptance. No new arguments in the final round. I will outline my UBI proposal in the arguments section.I have made this debate impossible to accept. Accepting without permission will result in a forfeit of all seven points.



Yo accepto el debate
Debate Round No. 1


There are multiple objectives a welfare program should achieve. Economist Ed Dolan offers the following four criteria in which to evaluate welfare programs:1

1) A good welfare program leaves few, if any, people below the poverty line;

2) Whether or not the program is targeted for those who need it most;

3) A good welfare program would keep work incentives intact, at least as much as possible;

4) A good welfare program would reduce administrative costs and waste.

The UBI accomplishes all of these goals except for one, but I will explain this in a moment.

M specific UBI involves a minimum income of $10,000—unconditional, you earn it whether or not you are working—and all welfare programs (even EITC!) except social security (would be phased out, I will elaborate if my opponent brings up costs), medicare, and medicaid. This would eliminate all poverty for families of two or more, and eliminate poverty for the vast majority of single person households.

The reason I would not abolish medicare and medicaid is because the UBI would likely not be high enough to cover both their welfare and medical needs. We would also eliminate most middle class and upper class loopholes and tax credits in order to increase the UBI funding pool. The UBI benefit will outweigh the loss in credits for most middle class families.

1. A UBI would leave few, if any, people below the poverty line

A properly crafted UBI would leave virtually everyone above the poverty line. My proposed UBI would keep anyone who earns just a few thousands dollars a year—something that can easily be done doing odd jobs occasionally—above the poverty line, and people who earn $0 would be only a little shy of it. All households with more than one person would be lifted above the poverty line. A UBI would fulfill this goal.

2. A UBI would not be targeted—and that’s a good thing!

This is the only criteria a UBI does not meet, but this is actually a good thing. Why? Because means-tested programs focus on targeting. It focuses on giving aid to only those who need it. But the consequence of this is a decline in work incentives because means tested programs phase out over time and impose high marginal tax rates on the next dollar earned, thus discouraging work effort. Not only that, but an untargeted welfare program increases administrative efficiency because you do not need workers to make sure each family receiving benefits needs it—the untargeted aspect of the UBI means it can be administered through the tax system and be calculated by a computer algorithm.

3. A UBI would preserve work incentives overall, and do so better than any means tested system

Implementing a UBI to a society where welfare did not exist at all would reduce work incentives. But a society without assistance for the needy is not desirable. Free markets have made us so wealthy that it is not only feasible to eliminate poverty, it is desirable because no one should starve in a wealthy society like as ours.

The UBI would significantly increase work incentives compared to a means-tested welfare system because there is no phase-out of benefits. Phase-outs work the same as high marginal tax rates. In other words, for every extra dollar a poor person earns, they gain less than a dollar of disposable income. Let me give an example.

Say we have a phase out of 0.75 cents per dollar earned. This means if I make one extra dollar from work, I lose 0.75 cents in benefits, and only get 25 cents. This means my marginal tax rate is 75%, which clearly disincentivizes work. Is the extra 25 cents worth it? Is it worth working for an extra dollar to only receive 25 cents? For some people, the answer is yes. But for others, the extra work may be worth one dollar, but the extra work is not worth 25 cents. Thus, a means tested system is destined to significantly reduce work incentives.

This is not the case under a UBI. People will obtain the $10,000 benefit no matter what—if they earn a million dollars or $2,000 dollars, they will still get $10,000 in benefits each year. There is no phase out. No tax levied on every extra dollar earned.

To further analyze this, let's look at economic theory. There are two effects of a UBI (and welfare in general) on work incentives: the income effect and the substitution effect.

The income effect generally reduces work. As disposable income rises, people tend to use more of that money to go on vacation and work less.

The substitution effect generally increases work effort. As disposable income rises, the opportunity cost of not working grows larger. This increases work effort.

Both of these effects work simultaneously. How would it work under a UBI? Look at the following graphic.2

Now assume we are at arrow one before the red and green lines cross (green = UBI, red = means tested, blue = no welfare). For this group of people, the income effect and the substitution effect simultaneously increase work incentives because the opportunity cost of not working grows with an added UBI and the income effect increases work effort. The reason the income effect actually increases work effort here is because having more disposable income means more leisure time in the future, but as you are poor in this part of the graph you cannot afford to take time off. So both of these effects under a UBI serve to increase work effort more than they do under a means tested program.

Now look at arrow 2: a person’s income a little above the crossover point. The substitution effect is stronger under a UBI than under a means tested regime because there is no longer a 0.75 cent reduction in benefits for each dollar earned (in fact, the marginal tax rates under the current welfare system often exceed 100%, so by using 75% I am being generous).3 Now the income effect is greater under a UBI at this point of the graph than under a means-tested regime, but the substitution effect is likely much larger than the income effect at this point because it will only be as large as the difference between the UBI and the means tested regime—the income effect between no welfare and a UBI is fairly large here, but that is because earned income is a lot higher under UBI than under nothing. At this point in the graph, the difference in disposable income between a UBI and means tested is not very large, so the positive work incentives will outweigh the negative ones here.

Now look at arrow 3. This represents people who wish to work less and qualify for government assistance instead of losing benefits and hopping onto the blue line (which is how it works in the U.S. right now because the phase out eventually ends up being zero). The UBI would remedy this because no phase out means no working less in order to qualify for a benefit—you always get the benefit—so, at this part of the graph, the UBI would enhance work incentives.

Now jump to arrow 4. At this point, a means tested system ceases to offer benefits because they have been phased out—the individual at arrow 4 is middle to upper class. At this point, a UBI only has an income effect compared to a means tested system. This means, for the upper and middle class, a UBI would reduce work effort. However, the effects are going to be small because the higher the income, the smaller percentage of that income will come to a UBI. So while it will disincentivize work for these people, the effect will be small, and virtually zero for the rich.

Thus, economic theory dictates that a UBI would increase work incentives compared to a means tested system. As Ed Dolan argues, a UBI “would substantially increase work incentives for low-income households while having small disincentive effects, if any, for middle- and upper-income households.”2 For this reason, Dolan believes work effort will be higher on aggregate under a UBI than under a means-tested system.

4. A UBI would reduce administrative waste

This is the clearest and least disputable benefit of the UBI.

A UBI would require no verification of personal characteristics. A means tested system would: you have to determine whether or not a person actually needs assistance. A UBI would just be integrated into the tax code and calculated by a computer. A person who made $0 would receive the money no questions asked.

For people who earn $1 - infinity, you would receive the $10,000 minus taxes due. So a person earning $1 owes essentially no taxes, so he would get $10,001. But a person earning $100,000 will earn $110,000 minus taxes due.

The only welfare program that is simple enough to virtually eliminate administrative costs is the UBI.

Failures of the current welfare system

A UBI is so important because the current system does not work. The poverty rate has remained virtually the same since the War on Poverty was declared, despite trillions in welfare spending.4 As noted in round 1, we have 126 different welfare programs. Each of these programs simply add to the red tape, and with no decrease in poverty since the late 1960s, these programs seem to add little to no benefit.

My opponent will likely be providing a counterplan, as the failure of the current welfare state is fairly obvious.

The failures of the current welfare system require that we get something done, and an unconditional UBI best protects work incentives, reduces administrative waste, and reduces the number of people below the poverty line







As my opponent predicted, I will be running a counter-plan:

Replace the current welfare system -- implement a federal "Workfare" system for the unemployed, and rely on Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs) to subsidize the salaries of the employed.

There is a single, crucial difference between Workfare and UBI -- the $10,000 will not be granted unconditionally. Under the Workfare system, the unemployed recipients will be required to either (1) work on government-sponsored community service & public works projects, (2) receive government-sponsored vocational education, or (3) engage in some combination of both. For the purposes of this debate, it is unnecessary to formulate a detailed system of specific requirements, but that is the general framework which the requirements will follow. If the requirements are met, then the recipient will receive $10,000 for each member of his/her household. If the requirements are not met, then no hand-out is granted.

As for employed people, we already have an EITC system in place, although I advocate making it substantially more generous, so that no employed household will be earning less than $15,000 per member. Note that EITC *does* target people who actually need their salaries subsidized, but also contains a specialized system for calculating the amount paid in order to minimize phase-out work disincentive effect my opponent described [1].

With that established, I will now proceed to go over the benefits of my counter-plan.

(1) Welfare Dependency

My plan would vastly reduce dependency. Under both the UBI and the status quo, unemployed people are faced with a choice. Either (1) they don't work but still receive enough money to survive, or (2) they DO work and earn/receive substantially more money. Ideally, welfare recipients will be motivated to choose Option 2 due to the financial opportunity cost of Option 1. However, in reality, many people value the benefit of leisure time over the cost of a lower income, and the result of that is welfare dependency -- a social malady which needlessly eats up tax dollars, creates a large population of economically unproductive people, and has been empirically proven to exacerbate crime rates. And it's a widespread problem too -- in the United States, there are *14 million* Americans who are classified as welfare-dependent [2].

Both UBI and Workfare significantly increase the costs of not working (because $10,000 is way less than even a minimum wage salary). However, Workfare also eliminates the *benefits* of not working -- by forcing recipients to spend the majority of their time either working or getting trained, there is no leisure time to be found in remaining unemployed. Therefore, under my plan, the choice that unemployed people face becomes a simple one between an income of $10,000, and an income of at least $15,000 -- they will have to work either way. This creates a much stronger work incentive than UBI does.

No rational person who is capable of getting a job is going to abstain from doing so, and that alone will cause an enormous reduction in welfare dependency. Look to Bill Clinton's 1996 welfare reforms as a case-study in the efficacy of Workfare -- as soon as work requirements were implemented, welfare caseloads declined by an astonishing 60% [3]. Some critics of work requirements attribute that decline to favorable macroeconomic conditions, but a carefully-controlled analysis by the NBER revealed that Clinton's welfare reforms were, in fact, directly responsible for the decline [4]. It is obvious that the Workfare system will result in a drastic reduction in welfare dependency and its associated harms.

(2) Public Works

A major part of Workfare is employing people in the construction of public works, and public works (as the name implies) benefit the public. Look to President FDR's Works Progress Administration another case-study in the efficacy of Workfare -- it employed 3.3 million people, bringing about the construction of "roads, bridges, schools, courthouses, hospitals, sidewalks, waterworks, and post-offices ... museums, swimming pools, parks, community centers, playgrounds, coliseums, markets, fairgrounds, tennis courts, zoos, botanical gardens, auditoriums, waterfronts, city halls, gyms, and university unions. Most of these are still in use today" [5]. Not only do such endeavors make society a more generally pleasant place to live in, but they also create jobs (from their maintenance and operation), and can serve as sources of government revenue.

Moreover, Workfare provides a means for the US to start working on the declining quality of its infrastructure -- "The American Society of Civil Engineers has released its annual infrastructure report card, and the prognosis for the country's roads, bridges, and public facilities isn't good. America's infrastructure has been in bad shape for years, and things don't seem like they will get better anytime soon. Of the 16 categories ASCE graded, all but one got Cs and Ds" [6]. There is more than enough work which needs to be done, and implementing Workfare is an ideal way to go about doing it.

(3) Vocational Education

Another big part of Workfare is having unemployed people receive vocational education -- in other words, providing them with the skills they need to become employed, rather than just throwing money at them. Not only is this better for the long-term interests of the recipients, but it's also crucial for the future of the economy. It's quite well-known that we are currently facing a trade skills shortage due to the decline of vocational education -- far too many people are getting trained for high-skilled jobs thanks to our undue emphasis on collegiate education, and as a result, there aren't nearly enough of the medium-skilled workers which trade schools used to produce [7]. One study from Northeastern University reported that employers in manufacturing & service industries "overwhelmingly prefer to hire graduates from VTE schools or vocational programs ... More than 90% of employers see a need to increase the number of vocational high school graduates" [8].

Workfare is a potential solution to this problem -- it may not be possible to convince college-bound students to settle for a trade school certification, but unemployed people will gladly go for such an offer. By making government-sponsored vocational education one of the options that unemployed people can choose from, Workfare will inevitably produce a large number of the medium-skilled workers which there is so much demand for, thereby filling in the job market's void.


My counter-plan is clearly preferable to Pro's UBI plan.

-- It keeps most people above the poverty line
-- It minimizes wasteful government spending by reducing welfare dependency & targeting EITC hand-outs
-- It maximizes society's economic productivity by producing skilled workers & reducing welfare dependency
-- It keeps unemployed people occupied (i.e. away from crime)
-- It benefits society by providing a variety of public works & improving the quality of its infrastructure

Out of all of these, only the first benefit can be said to apply to UBI.
The resolution is negated.

Debate Round No. 2


His plan increases the “income effect” compared to a UBI

The entire premise of my opponent’s argument is that everyone will get at least $15,000 and full employment.

The differences between a UBI and a means tested program are not significant under the current system, as far as income effects go, for poor people, and both programs retain work efforts at the lowest income levels. My opponent’s plan, however, provides an extra $5,000 in income at this level for those in the private sector. The difference between no assistance and assistance under Con’s plan is more than it would be under a UBI, meaning his plan would reduce work incentives compared to a UBI.

EITC reduces work incentives for many groups

Con claims the EITC has mechanisms which reduce the negative effects of the phase-ou. Economic research has demonstrated that the EITC significantly discourages work for many demographics, especially women.

Women in the phase-out portion of the EITC become 5% less likely to work, and for women who are already working, women work 20% fewer hours per year.[1]

Another study came to the same conclusion, and discovered evidence of a negative impact on many females. “[T]he EITC explains 71 percent of the decline in low-educated married mothers’ desire to work between 1988-1993 and 1994-2010…While the “welfare to work” reform was designed to do bring welfare recipients into the labor force, the reform could have had the opposite effect on the “weaker” nonparticipants by shifting them from a program with some connection to the labor force (welfare) to a program with no connection to the labor force (disability insurance).”[2]

Wage subsidies, like the EITC, introduce multiple distortions in the labor market. These distortions are favorable to low-wage industries, making domestic production costs lower. This means imports are negatively affected, which distorts trade, and hurts the economy.[3]

By making the EITC more generous, we would be increasing the work disincentives for women. A more generous EITC would also increase distortions in the labor market.

The issue with public works and education

Con’s plan is trying to create a quasi-universal basic income system, but instead through providing employment and job training. This solution is problematic.

The way Con sets up his plan would negatively affect the private sector. There are two scenarios for poor people: either they get nothing, work for the government/educate and get a $10,000 UBI, or work for the private sector and at least earn $15,000. This plan creates a whole new level of bureaucracy and would drastically increase spending--Con’s claim that this would somehow reduce spending is insane. The plan causes thousands if not millions of new people to work for the public sector. The issue with this is that there would be a “crowd out” effect. Many tasks the government completes could be provided for by the private sector if the government wasn’t providing them. While government expands, the private sector retreats.[12] We must weigh the two effects.

The crowd out effect would affect all industries, because my opponent’s plan has to be able to, at full capacity, be able to employ the entire country. Every industry will experience some type of crowd out.

The cost of his job guarantee for low-income people in order for them to obtain welfare is extremely large. This is essentially his plan:

People are poor. People need assistance. They must work in order to get assistance. The government should offer work to those who are currently idle.

Thus, he basically is ensuring work for anyone who wants it. It is implied that the government should be able to, at maximum capacity, provide work for 300 million people. But this means the government would have to get involved in all industries: fast food, technology, yard work, etc. The reason is because we only have so many construction projects, and many construction projects are already done efficiently by the private sector. When public roads are fixed, all public buildings repaired, and all museums erected, what then? What if the demand for these new products (like museums) wane over time? Or a recession strains the system and it cannot handle the influx of workers? The simple fact is these public works programs would not be doing traditional public construction jobs after a period of time, and the government would be forced to distort the market by entering formerly private industries in order to ensure employment.

The cost of such a program would be enormous. Under a UBI, you simply hand over the check. Under a job guarantee/workfare regime, you have to pay managers, supervisors, and other bureaucrats in order to supervise work projects. You would have to pay for the education programs, the teachers, and administrators. You would require a large number of other employees to make sure everyone receiving benefits needs it; the increase in administrative complexity and costs would be enormous. Under a UBI, administrative costs would be virtually zero.

Nothing about the UBI restricts or inhibits public work programs. As I already explained, the UBI increases work incentives, on balance, even for those who are at the bottom of the income ladder. This means implementing a UBI would expand the size of the labor market and it would be easier to staff public work programs. A study in Germany predicts a UBI would increase the labor supply and increase work incentives.[4]

The U.S. is considered the most innovative economy because of its “cut throat” capitalism and private sector innovation.[9] By making the government the largest employer and heavily distorting private markets, the U.S. economy would be destined to become less innovative and productive.

It would be much more efficient to allow the private sector to deal with education and employment. Marco Rubio has an education plan that promotes and encourages vocational training using private sector mechanisms.[5]

The research on vocational training is ambiguous, with the GAO saying any “positive impacts [from vocational training tend] to be small, inconclusive, or restricted to short-term impacts.”[17] A 2008 study found no difference in employment, wage, and economic outcomes for those who have gone through work training programs compared to those who had not.[18]

Did workfare work in the past?

Con claims the welfare reform act of 1996 dramatically reduced welfare rolls and increased work incentives. This argument is flawed because welfare rolls were falling before the implementation of workfare. One study found only “15 percent of the decline [in welfare rolls] is due to welfare reform, the rest to the significant expansion of low-wage work during the 1990s.”[6] In other words, economic growth reduced welfare rolls.

Another study published in the American Economic Review argues 50% of the decline in welfare roles was due to a reduction in number of people receiving welfare.[7] This has important implications for those who interpret welfare reform as a success. A reduction in the number of families receiving welfare may have negative impacts on those at the bottom of the income ladder. Indeed, of those who have been kicked off of or became ineligible for welfare, “most are in poverty.”[6]

Economists who have reviewed the literature also note how only about one third, at best, of the reduction in caseloads is due to welfare reform.[8]

The benefits of my opponent’s counterplan are overstated

Keeping people out of poverty is a benefit of both of these plans, according to Con. But as I noted, the significant distortions in the labor market caused by his plan may make the situation worse, and require that the U.S. becomes the largest employer in the country. In the long term, this would reduce not only U.S. but also global economic growth and innovation.

His plan would not reduce wasteful spending. A UBI would eliminate administrative costs. His plan increases costs, because not only are you giving money to people, you are also doling out paychecks to thousands of extra unnecessary employees that oversee the public works. A UBI program is affordable.[10][11] My opponent’s plan would undoubtedly increase costs.

The production of skilled workers is much better suited for the private sector, mainly due to the massive public costs of ensuring education for every poor person if they wish to pursue it (and by artificially increasing the amount of skilled workers, the value of education would fall and reduce wages for those who are already educated).

Crime rediction is nonunique. Poor people, who are more likely to commit crime, often do so in order to make a living. One way to fix this, as my opponent notes, is to give them a job. But a UBI would have the same effect: by reducing financial hardship, a motive for crime would be substantially weakened; a UBI would also increase social cohesion. In Nambia after a UBI was implemented, crime fell by 42% due to an increase in cohesion.[13] In India, UBIs increased economic activity and school attendance.[14]

Obtaining unearned income makes people more sociable. When people earn small lottery winnings, the ones close to UBI level, it has been found “that unearned income improves traits that predict pro-social and cooperative behaviours… as well as reduce individuals' tendency to experience negative emotional states.”[15] A UBI would have the same effect, meaning a UBI would positively impact our society.

When the government does more, the private sector does less, and oftentimes the crowd out effect is larger than the benefits of increased public works. An research suggests increased infrastructure spending is a poor economic stimulus and the crowd out effect more than cancels out the benefits of increased infrastructure spending.[16] Creating other public goods, if there is no demand for them, is a net-negative because the taxpayer has to pay for these institutions.



spacetime forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


My opponent has forfeited. As adding new arguments in the last round is generally considered unethical, my opponent has thus dropped my case--conceding it as true--and has dropped my rebuttals, again conceding their truthfulness.

Vote Pro.


spacetime forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
26 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by ColeTrain 2 years ago
Of course, you never know what might have come up. :/
Posted by ColeTrain 2 years ago
Forfeits are SO dumb.... I was really enjoying this debate. The irony is that spacetime was complaining earlier about no one "competent" wanting to debate him... []
Posted by spacetime 2 years ago
In case anyone else had similar concerns, this is what I said to 16k via PM:

"In this Workfare plan, there's only two options ... either they're unemployed and receiving $10,000 in return for fulfilling the requirements, or they're employed and receiving EITC. Once they start earning any income at all, they shift over to 'employed' status. It's simpler than you're making it out to be, lol."
Posted by ColeTrain 2 years ago
Following. :)
Posted by 16kadams 2 years ago
Actually, all I need to know is if there is a phase out or not
Posted by 16kadams 2 years ago
Your plan has almost zero specifics, lol. Is there a phase out, as there is with most workfare programs? Or is it only means tested in the sense that you have to be employed, and you continue to get a universal credit even as your income increases?
Posted by 16kadams 2 years ago
accept it whenever m8, ima get rekt because I am just gonna yolo my proposal lelelel
Posted by spacetime 2 years ago
Looks fine to me.

I can accept the challenge whenever.
Posted by 16kadams 2 years ago
ima just send the challenge to you and we can keep talkin
Posted by spacetime 2 years ago
I'm fine either way. My counter-plan will probably just be like "yeah all the tax reform stuff is fine, but here's what we should do instead of the UBI part... "
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by U.n 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:10 
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeiture
Vote Placed by kkjnay 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Concession via forfeit by Con.