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

Universal Basic Income

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 3/31/2018 Category: Economics
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,546 times Debate No: 112057
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (8)
Votes (1)




This debate is for 1harder's Spring Regular Tournament. All the settings of this debate are in accordance with the tournament's rules.

Resolution: The U.S. should replace existing welfare programs with a universal basic income (UBI).

I propose that every adult receive an annual, basic income of $10,000. This income would be unconditional, earned whether one is employed or not. Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare would be exempt as they aren't really considered welfare.

First round is for acceptance. No new arguments in the last round.
Debate Round No. 1



An unconditional, individual, and universal basic income would indisputably boost the economy and allow many low-income Americans to climb the ladder of social mobility. It would not only lift people above the poverty line and reduce income inequality, but create jobs, lower school dropout rates, improve health, and raise overall economic output. A UBI would enable, rather than trap, those with unfortunate financial situations as it would provide *everyone* money to work with; all would have the fiscal leverage to progress forward when they otherwise wouldn’t.

Our current welfare programs, in contrast, do the opposite of what they’re intended for. They encourage passive behavior and inhibit productivity. The means-tested programs withdraw benefits as soon as a certain income is reached, and are burdened with high marginal tax rates so long as their income is below a certain level. Others require people to exhaust nearly all their assets until they become eligible for aid. With so many strings attached, and the overall counter-productive nature, welfare programs simply are inferior to a UBI, and have too many downfalls.

Economic/Societal Impacts

There are several instances of cash transfers, or UBI trials, working. The following examples turn up multiple benefits:

Namibia tried out a UBI program, the Basic Income Grant, in 2007-2012. After just one year into the program, household poverty rates dropped from 76% to 37%. Other effects were noted too: income-generating activities rose from 44% to 55% over the time period. Parents were enabled to purchase school uniforms, afford school fees, and encourage attendance because of this problem, and as a result, school dropout rates dropped from 40% to nearly 0% in a year [2].

India tried a cash transfer project from 2013-2014 too. The result was that sanitation improved, medicine could be afforded, clean water became more accessible, and participants could eat more regularly [3].

Uganda’s UBI trial enabled participants to invest in skill training. The findings were that “relative to the control group, the program increases business assets by 57%, work hours by 17%, and earnings by 38%” [4]. Kenya has an ongoing trial, and it has so far reportedly let to increased happiness and life satisfaction, and reduced depression and stress [5].

If we are to quantify the effect this would have in the US, we should look at the current poverty levels. Currently, the poverty level is a $12,140 income for individuals [1]. With my proposed UBI of $10,000, this would pull everyone with an income of a few thousand or more above the line. That’s potentially *millions* of people.

The Failure of Welfare Programs

The current welfare programs do *not* provide overall work incentives. Most are means-tested, meaning that if you demonstrate that your income and capital are below specified limits, you’re eligible. This can lead to what some call the “cliff effect”: once someone passes an income threshold, that aid is withdrawn, and climbing further up the income ladder becomes more difficult.

This issue is maximized when we understand how disadvantaged the poor are tax-wise under welfare. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office, “[found] that the marginal tax rate climbs to 40 percent when a worker earns slightly more than about $12,000, and then to nearly 50 percent in the mid-$20,000 range.” [6] These programs impose high marginal tax rates, essentially trapping these recipients into a large income hole that they can’t climb out of. To put this into better perspective, here’s a graph [7] that shows tax-less income in respect to income earned:

These welfare programs are creating a clear poverty trap. Under a universal basic income, this wouldn’t happen. A UBI would extend to *every* person, regardless of what their incomes are, enabling them to have more social mobility than they would under the incredibly flawed welfare programs that are burdening so many lower-income people.

But that’s not all. Many welfare programs also have asset limits, meaning that one must have almost no assets to be eligible for benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) have asset limit ranges from $1,000 in states like Georgia and Texas to $10,000 in Delaware [8]. This is problematic because it discourages the importance of saving and self-reliance; only those who exhaust just about all of their assets become eligible for aid. Savings are very important because they provide cushion against anything that goes wrong. Just having under $2,000, for instance, is enough to protect against eviction, missed meals, or the loss of utilities during a financial setback. To force such recipients to go to the point of being broke to receive benefits in no way incentivizes them to increase their income.

To sum, a UBI would (1) significantly reduce poverty and boost economic output, and (2) incentivize people to work in ways our current welfare programs cannot. Thus, I affirm.




I. Intro
Thank you to Varrack for what promises to be a stimulating discussion, and 1harder for the tournament.

II. Cost
As of 2012, means-tested welfare in the United States was comprised of 79 programs which cost $927 billion. [1] We can assume it has increased since then, so as a generous figure, we can suppose it currently costs roughly $1.1 trillion. Under Varrack"s plan, each adult in the United States would receive $10,000. Kids Count Data Center estimates that as of 2016, there were approximately 249.5 million adults in the United States. [2] Providing each of these adults with a UBI would cost approximately $2.5 trillion annually, and this excludes all bureaucratic costs. It"s clear to see that the cost is well over double the cost of the current welfare system. Not only does Varrack have to prove that his plan is superior to the current welfare system, he also must prove that it is worth the astronomical increase in the cost of welfare. There is also the negligible harm that it provides an extra $10,000 to individuals who do not need it. Images of Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates receiving this guaranteed income is ridiculous, but the same principle can be applied to individuals making a fraction of what the super-rich make. A family with a combined income of $500,000 may find that an extra $20,000 is nice to have, but hardly necessary. I"m the first to admit that this isn"t a significant harm to the plan, but a harm nevertheless.

III. Capitalism is not compatible with UBI
Proponents of UBI often argue that UBI is the first step on the path toward de-commodifying labor and allowing citizens the freedom from work that a utopian society promises. However, in order to do this, citizens must be paid a sum high enough to allow them freedom from work. If not, they will be forced to continue working to reach a living wage. According to Professor Daniel Zamora of Cambride, employers know this and will be able to drive down wages, effectively turning this plan into a subsidy for businesses. [3] According to David Graeber, Professor at the London School of Economics, implementation of the UBI without first transitioning away from capitalism would only exacerbate many of the issues capitalism presents, and increase in the number of "buIIshit jobs." [3] Rather than working in the intended manner, UBI would cause businesses to pay less, and end up causing Americans to work less fulfilling jobs just to maintain the same level of comfort that they had before the UBI was implemented.

IV. UBI is ineffective
Let"s say we implement UBI in the United States. Though Varrack has provided examples of UBI being implemented in other nations, none are comparable to the market tendencies of the United States. Instead, we should look to the micro-implementation case study done by the think tank "Compass" in the UK. By implementing a smaller version of Varrack"s plan, the impact was devastating. Child poverty actually increased by 10%, poverty among pensioners by 4%, and among working class families by 3%. For Varrack"s more comprehensive plan, the analysis points to slight reductions of poverty (7% for children, 1.9% for working age people, and 0.8% for pensioners.) [3] In order to do this, as stated earlier, the United States would have to pay approximately $2.5 trillion, which is over 12.5% of US GDP. [4] 2012 estimates on the price of eradicating poverty put the cost at around 1% of GDP. [5] If we can do so much more for so much less, why don"t we?

V. The American System and The American Dream
Though individuals on both sides of the aisle attack the current state of welfare (albeit for entirely different reasons) by pointing to poverty rates, what isn"t often taken into account is that this statistic ignores reception of in-kind welfare. It doesn"t consider food stamps, Medicaid, housing vouchers, and the like, when these really put people in a much better situation than what the "poverty rate" implies. Impoverished Americans are, on average, far better off than their European counterparts. [6]
Furthermore, the negative incentives "discouraging impoverished Americans from working" simply does not exist. Americans that earn less actually have a greater incentive to work than those in higher tax brackets. Their "marginal tax rates" or losses of benefits due to increased income, are actually significantly lower than the rest of the workforce. An individual below half the poverty line faces a marginal tax rate of approximately 14%. A person from 50-100% of the poverty line has a marginal tax rate of about 24%. Individuals with higher incomes faced a marginal tax rate of about 34%. [6] This phenomenon that Varrack and many pundits tout is actually nonexistent.

VI. Conclusion
To summarize, our current system works. Critics use inaccurate statistics to discredit a system that is doing wonders. In contrast, the idea of UBI has never been tried in a developed country with a largely market economy, and without first dismantling capitalism, UBI would serve only to subsidize corporations to lower wages. Varrack must prove that 1. UBI is worth the massive increase in welfare costs 2. UBI could be implemented successfully within a capitalist economy and 3. That the limited testing in developing nations would be able to translate into the developed world.

VII. Sources
Debate Round No. 2


Con appears to be interlacing his case with rebuttals of my case; hence, I’ll address them jointly.

R1) Cost

Con states that a UBI would cost $2.5 trillion annually, but none of his sources say this. He references a paper showing the cost of current welfare programs, but there’s absolutely nothing on the cost of a UBI.

Estimates that do put the cost of a UBI as high as in the trillions tend to be about the gross cost as opposed to the net cost. The net cost is the one that matters because it subtracts what the receivers of a UBI would pay for it (taxes) from what they would receive. When we subtract government revenue from the overall cost of a potential program, we find (according to Forbes) that it would be $200 billion less than the current system. Another study found that a poverty-level UBI ($12k per year) would have a net cost of $539 billion [10][11]. That’s less than 3% of the total GDP [10], far lower than Con’s estimate.

R2) Goal of a UBI

Con creates a straw man of what he believes my UBI’s purpose is, but I never stated its purpose was to de-commodify labor. My proposal’s end goal would be to (1) prevent or reduce poverty and (2) increase equality among citizens. There is no need to move away from labor at all to improve peoples’ financial conditions; a UBI would only compliment the market. The rest of Con’s point, that employers would drive down wages, lies on the same faulty assumption that a UBI’s end goal would be to control the market. Moreover, this is a slippery slope fallacy in that it assumes a UBI would lead to such; there’s no reason to say a UBI is a step in the direction of a tightly controlled economy.

R3) Trials

a) The trials I cited are dismissed because “none are comparable to the market tendencies of the United States”, but no explanation is given as to how those countries’ markets differ in meaningful enough ways to suggest that they are not comparable. Why doesn’t the basic principle I’ve highlighted of increasing fiscal ability via a constant, minimum income not apply to these cases as well. I extend these examples.

b) Con’s UK examples would have only given participants a monthly income of $392 and $380, respectively [his 3rd source]. My proposal of $10,000 a year would equate to $833 a month, more than double the incomes his examples used. In that case, it’s not surprising that the first model, which replaced all means-tested welfare programs with that basic income, would result in negative outcomes. The second model, which had existing welfare programs side-by-side with the UBI, did see an improvement in those outcomes, albeit not as strong as they would have been had an income closer to my proposal been implemented.

R4) Current welfare system

This point is just a loose string of bare assertions. Con states that in-kind welfare programs are of a greater benefit than they’re given credit for, but gives no detail as to why this is true. He asserts that Americans are better off than their European counterparts, but his source merely states that we have lower taxes and lower redistribution systems. Neither of those how our welfare systems are “better”, it just means ours are less socialized. Additionally, the U.S. having a better welfare system doesn’t imply that it isn’t in need of reform, or that it doesn’t trap people below the poverty line.

Con states that the poor are in a lower tax bracket, and thus pay less taxes. This isn’t the case because welfare programs tack on more taxes, which cause their effective tax rates to soar. I’ve already demonstrated that the CBO has confirmed that their tax rates are as high as 50% [6], which Con ignored.




I. Intro
Thank you Varrack for the rebuttal. I"d also like to apologize for my constructive having issues with use of apostrophes. I"m not sure why it"s replacing apostrophes with quotation marks. I"ve encountered this issue on mobile but never on my laptop, so I"m not sure how to fix it. Hopefully it won"t continue this round. Regardless, I apologize to Varrack and the readers, since it likely causes at least some minor irritation.

II. Re: Economic/Societal Impacts
As briefly mentioned in my constructive, the examples used in Pro"s case are not indicative of what would occur in the United States, due to the differences between the US and each of the countries. These nations are significantly poorer than the United States. According to the CIA Factbook, the United States poverty rate is 15.1%. The nearest of the three countries Varrack mentioned was Uganda, at 19.7%. [7] This means that each of these nations have significantly more room for improvement than the United States does, so the effects will be amplified. They are all significantly more corrupt than the United States, based on Transparency International"s research. The United States is 16th in the world with a score of 75. Namibia is 53rd with a score of 51, India is 81st with a score of 40, Kenya is ranked 143 with 28 points, and Uganda is 151st with a score of 26. [8] They are also all in more unstable regions and have less developed economies. They"re still developing. Best case scenario, it"s as if you"re looking through a kaleidoscope at the effects of UBI. Worst case scenario, they aren"t comparable at all.

These countries also have very limited trials. We"d have a very difficult time applying the micro tests to a country that is very different, be it in poverty rates (and what the poverty level actually is), corruption, economic development levels, or national sovereignty and security. Prefer my tests from the UK, which is much more similar to the US on every count.

III. Re: Failure of Welfare Programs
Cross-apply Section V. of my case. Though means-based welfare programs have "negative incentives" for earnings, they are at a much lower rate than the rates for individuals who are making more money. I discussed in my case how individuals who make below half the poverty rate (approximately $6,000) have a marginal tax rate of 14%. Individuals who make 50%-100% of the poverty rate (roughly $6,000-$12,000) have a marginal tax rate of 24%. People who make more than that faced a rate of 34%. This means that people that receive means-tested welfare are actually facing far fewer "negative incentives" than those who are making, say, $70,000 a year. To say that they are decentivized due to these marginal tax rates is ludicrous, else we would see the same issues at higher rates among those with greater incomes. We simply do not.

Furthermore, an asset cap isn"t necessarily an issue. If there is no asset cap, we face the issue posed in my case: individuals who don"t need aid will receive it anyway, wasting funds. Again, a person who makes a comfortable wage may find an extra $10,000 nice, it is far from necessary. Even an individual making $30,000 (assuming no dependents) may be fine without an extra $10,000. If Pro wants to argue for a higher asset cap, there is definitely an argument to be made. However, an asset cap is not a bad idea, as it avoids allocation of resources to those who do not need it.
Finally, as stated in case, the issue with considering the "poverty rate" in the United States is that it doesn"t account for in-kind reception of welfare. As an incredibly simplified example, let"s assume I make $11,000 per year and the poverty line is at $12,000. If I receive $1,001 worth of food stamps, my income is effectively $12,001 per year, above the poverty line, but I would still be counted as below the poverty line. Measuring the effectiveness of the current welfare programs by analyzing the poverty rate is absolutely pointless, because most of the welfare programs aren"t accounted for in the measure of the poverty rate.

IV. Conclusion
UBI is a pipe dream in the United States. Without first eradicating capitalism, it will do nothing but drive down wages and act a subsidiary to businesses. There have been no tests of UBI that can be applied to the United States which point toward a success. Each of the studies offers a myriad of issues that separate it from America. Meanwhile, the current welfare system is working, contrary to what analysis of the incomplete poverty rate would indicate. It is putting Americans well above their European counterparts. UBI is neither plausible, needed, or likely to be effective.

V. Sources
Debate Round No. 3


Thanks, Con. I’ll use this round to defend my case and crystallize.


a) Con alleges that the countries that had UBI trials in are incomparable to an American-implemented UBI because they’re considerably poorer, more corrupt, and less stable than the United States is. However, Con doesn’t illustrate *why* this matters, and expects us to assume that, because a country is less developed, any UBI trial conducted is going to be invalid. This string of assumptions is really going to hurt Con, and I’m going to show why.

The underlying principle of a UBI is that an increase an income is inherently beneficial, as money is the basic means that we use to provide for ourselves. This principle doesn’t change in a country with proportionally less poor people. Even if we buy Con’s assumption that “each of these nations have significantly more room for improvement than the United States does, so the effects will be amplified”, there’s no reason to believe that a UBI *won’t* be effective. Given that the U.S. has 43 million people living under the poverty line [12], the U.S. *absolutely* has room for improvement, and indeed has room to see a benefit from a UBI. Con’s premise is essentially that a country needs to be poverty-free in order for a UBI to be ineffective. Because a UBI would exist for the very purpose of reducing poverty, this point is nonsensical.

Con doesn’t show how corruption or instability is relevant to a UBI. How would the basic principle of more income increasing financial leverage be confounded by more corruption or instability? Furthermore, “instability” isn’t defined by Con. He wants us to outright buy his assumptions that such would “amplify” the results of a UBI trial, and that such amplification results in in conclusive evidence that a UBI would have no effect whatsoever in the United States. We have no reason to buy either of these assumptions, so this point is negated.

b) Con contends that my trials are limited, and are thus incomparable to the U.S. on a national level. But again, he gives us very little reason to dismiss my evidence; trials for cash transfers haven’t yet been done on that immense of a level, and in the absence of such, we should buy my pieces of evidence prima facie. Con gives us no instances of a UBI working, beyond a “model” in the UK (which I demonstrated to be flawed in R3), whereas I provide 4 instances of *actual* conducted trials, all of which pointed to UBI benefits. Additionally, Con admits that his model is a micro-implementation of an actual scenario, so *even* if his example is valid, we should dismiss it by Con’s own admission.

Current Welfare Programs

a) Yes, we have a progressive tax system in the sense that the poor pay marginally fewer taxes from their ordinary income. They are, however, taxed more when unrealized capital gains are added [13]. When one considers state and local taxes in addition to ones on the federal level, the illusion of the progressive tax system vanishes. In fact, a study [14] from the Institute on Taxation and economic policy found that “Overall, the poorest 20 percent of Americans paid an average of 10.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes and the middle 20 percent of Americans paid 9.4 percent. The top 1 percent, meanwhile, pay only 5.4 percent of their income to state and local taxes.” [15] The poor simply do not have less incentives to move up the income ladder, contrary to Con’s claim. He also dropped the CBO report I cited, so extend that.

b) My asset cap point is pretty much dodged. Con insists that asset caps exist because some people just don’t need welfare programs. But he concedes that “there is definitely an argument to be made” in raising that cap. That’s exactly the argument I’m making: the caps are dangerously low, which discourage self-reliance and saving. Con is supposed to be defending the welfare programs as they stand right now, yet he admits that they might not be ideal. This can’t be good for him; I don’t see how he can simultaneously defend the status quo and agree that the status quo may not be idea.

c) Con asserts that the poverty rate isn’t taken into consideration for in-kind welfare programs. How is this relevant? They do, in fact, take into consideration things like income and total assets. Con doesn’t show why this matters.

I've shown how (1) multiple examples prove that a UBI works, and that (2) it reduced poverty, which Con has essentially conceded. Thus, I affirm.




I. Intro

This was an excellent debate, and I appreciate Varrack proposing the topic. Admittedly, before the debate I knew very little about UBI. This debate has been a great way to educate myself on a very interesting topic. Varrack, if you win this round, good luck in the rest of the tournament. If I win know that this was, as I said, an excellent debate and I'd like to debate you more in the future. With my remaining round I will be presenting voting issues, why they matter, and why they mean that I have won this debate.

II. UBI and Capitalism

In my case, I demonstrated how without offering a living wage, UBI means that individuals will still have to work. Per Pro's own evidence, the poverty rate is $12,000 per adult. Pro's plan offers $10,000, meaning individuals will continue to be forced to participate in the market. This means that employers will be able to drive down wages and more "buIIshit jobs" will be created, causing many workers to be in worse conditions and have less satisfaction.Pro's attempt to dissuade voters from evaluating this point was to say I created a straw man out of the purpose of a UBI (in decommodification of labor). However, the purpose is irrelevant, the effects will remain the same. Just because Pro isn't attempting to decommodify labor with his plan doesn't mean we won't see the decrease in wages. Prefer my analysis from leading economists from Cambridge and The London School of Economics to Pro's bare assertion.

The ramifications of this are as follows: we strip Americans of their current welfare plans. The government provides a universal basic income of $10,000. Employers see this as supplemental income. Wages are reduced. Americans are far worse off than before. Because UBI will not work unless as a subsidy for a business, this alone is reason to negate. Pro essentially dropped this point, which alone negates the entire case.

III. The Current Welfare System

In my defense of the current welfare system, there were two repeated themes. The first one was that the "negative incentives" of our current system aren't legitimate challenges faced by those receiving welfare in the United States. To challenge this, Pro mentions his CBO analysis. However, I offer my own source, in which a Forbes contributor comments [6] on analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). [9] The CBPP analysis proves that the American poor are encouraged to work (through collectivization) more than their more affluent counterparts, and is based on a more recent CBO report (2015.) [10] Pro literally uses an older publication (2012) [11, Pro's Source 6] from the exact same group to attempt to disprove my argument.

These "negative incentives" don't exist. Prefer my argument because Pro and I use the same source, but mine is more recent, and in turn more accurate.

The second talking point I had was that the poverty rate does not actually reflect what it claims to. It does not account for your income post-welfare reception. I used an incredibly simple example in R3 to show how someone who does end up receiving more than $12,000 a year (between income and welfare) would still be considered "below" the poverty line. This means that any analysis of the current welfare system measuring its effect on the poverty rate is irrelevant. As I have proven, the American system is an excellent safety net with positive incentives toward financial growth. Pro essentially avoided my argument about how inflated our poverty rate was, which is evident in the UC Davis evidence he uses in the closing round.

IV. Conclusion

It is clear that you should be voting Con in this debate. In my opening round, I pointed out that because of the incompatibility between UBI and capitalism, Pro must prove that 1. This is not true or 2. Capitalism will be phased out.
He did neither of those things, therefore failing to fulfill his burden. I win on these grounds alone. However, if you need an additional reason to vote Con, look at the successes of our current system. We have helped far more people than our inflated poverty rates would lead you to believe, all while providing incentives for those below the line to break through it.

Therefore, I negate the resolution. Thank you.

Again, thank you Varrack for this debate. I have learned a lot and have enjoyed a stimulating conversation. Thank you voters for taking the time to read this. Thank you 1harder for hosting.

V. Sources
Debate Round No. 4
8 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Posted by warren42 3 years ago
I'm fine with anyone voting. I feel that if either of us has a problem with a vote, we can discuss and decide whether to flag it. That said, based on your debating ability, I don't see that being a problem.
Posted by Varrack 3 years ago
We are. All votes are welcome, provided they're sufficient.
Posted by tejretics 3 years ago
Looks interesting. I might read/vote, if the debaters are fine with that.
Posted by DeletedUser 3 years ago
I have been asked to vote on this by your tornament organizer. Please remind me tomorrow to do that.
Posted by campbellp10 3 years ago
Great topic and great clash in the debate so far. I would encourage you to lay out some more impacts to your arguments to give them more weight. Con, for example, argues Pro's plan is expensive.........and? Pro is basically promising me he'll solve poverty, why should I care about the cost? Give me an impact to weigh (budget collapse, hyperinflation, whatever) against your opponents. Tell me why I should care.
Posted by Mister_Man 3 years ago
Sorry, as in like 30% for a universal basic income or welfare program, and 70% against it. LOL forgot how to words.
Posted by Mister_Man 3 years ago
Huh. I'm probably 30/70 in favour of welfare/universal basic income, so this will be interesting.

Good luck to both
Posted by Nd2400 3 years ago
This sound like an interesting discussion....
I personally like the idea. But i also know it just not realistic.

Anyways good luck to both...
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Anonymous 3 years ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Not a bad debate, although both debaters show room for improvement.

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