Cooper: Nixon's guaranteed income plan

Cooper: Nixon's guaranteed income plan

August 4th, 2019 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Former President Richard Nixon, right, shown with three other former U.S. presidents and then-President George Bush at the 1991 dedication of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, once proposed a guaranteed minimum income.


Fifty years ago this week, President Richard Nixon announced to the nation a sweeping new welfare reform plan that would include a guaranteed minimum income.

Say what? A Republican president proposed a guaranteed income?

It indeed happened, but we know from the renewed clamor for such today by far left 2020 Democratic presidential candidates that it never saw the light of day.

The original announcement was for $1,500 ($10,469.06 in 2019) to the average family of four, but it later was raised to $1,600 ($11,167 in 2019).

Nixon's idea was that a guaranteed income would be a part of his Family Assistance Program (FAP), which would replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a program created by the Social Security Act in 1935.

AFDC, over time, had been criticized for creating disincentives to work, and officials in the White House still had their doubts when the president proposed the plan.

An experiment, according to a 2016 article by Rutger Bregman in the online Jacobin, was set up with 8,500 families in the country, with researchers wanting to learn if people would work less with a guaranteed income, if the cost would be too much, and if the plan would be politically feasible.

Although initial figures showed some falloff in work, researchers later believed education, work in the home and searches for better jobs ultimately would show little reduction in work.

Otherwise, the cost appeared to be doable, but the political feasibility remained uncertain. Still, Martin Anderson, special assistant to the president and a former associate professor of finance at the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University, was opposed. He feared the concept of money being considered a basic right and admired philosopher Ayn Rand's views of the smallest possible government with the greatest individual responsibility.

In an attempt to convince Nixon, he gave him a briefing, "A Short History of a Family Security System," which contained descriptions of what was supposed to have resulted from the 19th-century English Speenhamland plan. The plan, it said, dampened productivity and wages, moved the poor to be more idle, and even threatened the foundations of capitalism.

Though the briefing soured the president on the income proposal, his Family Assistance Plan nevertheless was passed by the Democratic-led House 243-155 in 1970. Passage in the Democratic-led Senate was expected, but the plan fell apart when Democrats insisted on the per annum amount being higher.

In 1971, a slightly tweaked version again passed the House 288-132 — Nixon saying "a floor under the income of every family with children in America" was his most important legislative item — but it died again in the Senate.

Since then, the size of the federal government and what all it pays for have grown enormously, but many Democrats angling for the 2020 presidential nomination believe the idea — now soothingly termed "universal basic income" — is still a good one.

It's the centerpiece of the campaign of businessman and former corporate lawyer Andrew Yang, who would give every American over age 18 $1,000 a month with no strings attached as a hedge against a future in which artificial intelligence and other innovations gobble up jobs. The cost of such a plan, according to an estimate by the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, would be more than $3 trillion a year. Yang would pay for it with "a new tax on the companies benefiting most from automation."

The Green New Deal, embraced by many of the candidates, offers a guaranteed job, which is tantamount to a universal basic income.

Meanwhile, a plan by U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris offers up to $6,000 a year in refundable tax credits for families earning less than $100,000 annually and up to $3,000 for single filers earning below $50,000, and one by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker would give every American child at birth $1,000 in an account managed by the U.S. Treasury Department and up to an additional $2,000 per year, based on family income.

The plan by Harris is estimated to cost more than $270 billion in 2020, according to the Institution on Taxation and Economic Policy, while the type of scheme Booker recommends had a price tag of $80 billion when similar numbers were run in 2015.

Other candidates insist their plans would provide savings for families in so many other areas that a universal basic income would not be immediately necessary.

Even Hillary Clinton, in her 2017 book "What Happened?", indicated that she considered introducing a guaranteed income in her 2016 presidential race but could not make the numbers work.

Indeed, making the numbers work is the crux of the problem in a country nearly $23 trillion in debt. A universal basic income of $1,000 per month would cost around $4 trillion a year, nearly the cost of the entire 2018 federal budget.

Add the cost of proposals such as Medicare for All, free health care for illegal immigrants, free college tuition, free student loan forgiveness and the Green New Deal, and we're talking about amounts in words like quadrillion and quintrillion. It may as well be zillion, though, for all the economic sense it makes.

Just because it was conceivable 50 years ago doesn't mean a guaranteed income is possible today.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315