This week I read that Switzerland is voting on a proposal to guaranteed every Swiss person an income of about $2800 a month. I will probably be writing more about the idea of a guaranteed income later, but for now I just want to address one criticism I've seen that is particularly annoying to me. Specifically, people look at this proposal and ask, "Hey, why would anybody work for minimum wage if they can get paid the same amount for just sitting at home doing nothing?"
I am annoyed by stupid questions, and this is a stupid question, because it is based on the stupid assumption the only reason anyone works at all is just to make enough to survive. That is a stupid assumption to make when it is made by people who object to being taxed because they feel they should be allowed to earn as much as they like beyond what they need to survive.
Stop and consider for a moment: once your basic needs are met, Mr. Hardworkingtaxpayer, are you content to stop working and enjoy your basic rations, watch TV and produce no more? No, of course not. You're the motivated go-getter who creates value for society, thriftily and prudently investing surplus for your retirement, and treating yourself to some of the finer things you've earned through your initiative and sweat. And good for you.
So why, then, would you expect anyone else to be content with mere subsistence? Why would you assume that someone endowed with a basic income -- and now, some free time -- wouldn't choose to spend some of that free time to earn a bit more? And, given that basic survival was already provided for, wouldn't that free up employers and employees to negotiate wages without the need for an arbitrary minimum? For some extra spending money, accepting $1 an hour might be a rational choice; if you need to earn enough to survive, the opportunity cost of that hour is far too high.
And secondly, let's suppose that someone would choose to sit around and do nothing with a guaranteed income. So what? Does it make you similarly angry when lottery winners quit their jobs? Are we facing a critical labour shortage right now, because urgently needed workers are insufficiently hungry? Or are workers sitting idle and hungry because nobody wants to pay them to do stuff? Unless you have some job you urgently need workers for, you have no right to complain about the inefficiency of labour resources going unused, because those labour resources do not belong to you. And even if you do have some urgent need for labour, here's how you address it: offer someone enough money to work for you! That's all, really. Negotiate a mutually acceptable price.
There are other reasons one might criticize a guaranteed income scheme, but moral indignation that someone else is getting money "for nothing" is just silly, especially when it is so selectively and inconsistently applied.