A better way than welfare

We all want a society in which we can get more work done with less.

Unlike our ancestors, who had no choice but to toil in the fields, many of us spend our working days in comfortable climate-controlled buildings. This positive development occurred primarily due to two factors: increases in productivity and the division of labor. We should continue to welcome further developments in this area so that people are able to produce more with less, leaving more time for leisure, family, education, or creating new inventions.

However, unlike the healthy process of productivity and labor improvements, a new, potentially harmful type of labor phenomenon is occurring: The government is paying people not to work. This has happened for decades through many well-meaning but largely ineffective social welfare programs. But it has significantly intensified in the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns. The government has passed several rounds of stimulus packages to give additional unemployment benefits to millions of people.

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While few are opposed to reasonable unemployment benefits in cases of true hardship, the COVID-19 benefits go far beyond that threshold. They pay millions of people who are perfectly capable of finding a job and working to stay home and stay out of the labor market. Through this, the government has managed stealthily, or perhaps not so stealthily, to introduce a preliminary version of Universal Basic Income. This oft-touted idea proposes to pay citizens a guaranteed monthly stipend without the requirement to work. It is intended as a way to improve quality of life and reduce poverty, at least according to its proponents. The scientific literature is mixed on the efficacy of UBI, but one troubling development following the provision of generous COVID-19 benefits is that employers are having nearly unprecedented difficulty in finding workers.



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