At the highest level, Zwolinski argues that a BIG is consistent with libertarian theory. And in the alternative, argues that in the real world of practical politics a welfare system of some kind will be with us for a long time, and a BIG is better than the dog’s breakfast of social welfare programs that we have today. Nested within this is another narrower argument in the alternative. He claims that social science evidence indicates that it not clear that a BIG would result in a reduction in work effort. But he argues that even if it did, this would not necessarily be a bad thing.
In other words, Zwolinski and his bleeding-heart ilk on the so-called libertarian left just want to dole out taxpayers’ dollars to satisfy their urge for “social justice.” Liberty has nothing to do with it. If it did, they’d care about the liberty of those taxpayers who would be forced to subsidize the indolent.
Yes, the indolent. Manzi explains:
It is fairly extraordinary to claim [as Zwolinski does] that the government could guarantee every adult in America an income even if they did zero work of any kind, and that somehow this would not reduce work effort. Zwolinksi should be able to provide strong evidence for such a claim. But we have scientific gold standard evidence that runs exactly the other way. A series of randomized experiments offered a version of Zwolinski’s proposal between 1968 and 1980. These tested a wide variety of program variants among the urban and rural poor, in better and worse macroeconomic periods, and in geographies from New Jersey to Seattle. They consistently found that the tested programs reduce the number of hours worked versus the existing welfare system, and the tested levels of progressivity of implicit tax rates did not get around this problem by encouraging work, as Zwolinski’s theoretical argument asserts they should.
But that doesn’t bother Zwolinski. In fact, he seems rather proud to be a proponent of indolence:
[S]uppose that a BIG actually would, on net, increase unemployment somewhat…. [S]o what? Is it so obviously a flaw in the system if it leads more parents to take time off work to stay home with their children? Or college graduates to take a year off before beginning to work? Or if, among the population as a whole, the balance between work and leisure is slightly shifted toward the latter? My point is not that there isn’t any story that could be told about why work disincentives might be a problem. My point is simply that, even if they were guaranteed to occur, they wouldn’t obviously be a problem.
Well, they obviously would be a problem, as Manzi points out. And, anyway, who is Zwolinksi to decide that my tax dollars should subsidize parental leave, gap years, or more leisure. Those are personal decisions to be made by the persons involved, not by Zwolinski.
One more thing. Zwolinkski’s defense of BIG on the ground that it might promote leisure is a faithful echo of the defense mounted by the left when confronted by a CBO study that estimates the work disincentives of Obamacare’s premium subsidies. Their defense? Those who work less will simply “choose more leisure.” The inconvenient fact that more leisure comes at taxpayers’ expense goes unmentioned.
I repeat what I say here. Zwolinski and his bleeding-heart brethren are birds of a feather with left-statists like Barack Obama, most Democrats in Congress, most professors of the so-called liberal arts, and most members of the media.
ADDENDUM (09/10/14): Just to put another nail in the coffin, I refer you to Stella Morabito’s “Licensing Parents: A Statist Idea in Libertarian Drag” (The Federalist, September 10, 2014). Excerpts:
Imagine you cannot raise your own child without special permission from the state. In this matrix, getting permission means getting a license. And getting a license means the state performs psychological evaluations and background checks and passes judgment on your fitness to be a parent. That’s that. No license, no kid—you are forcibly separated from your baby.
Now, who do you think would come up with a scheme? Marxists, you say? Of course, and for nearly two centuries. Gender theorists? Oh, yes, and for decades on end. Population control fanatics? No question. How about meddlesome, brain-dead bureaucrats? Check.
But what if I told you this idea came out recently, all dressed up as a “libertarian” essay?…
The essay in question is entitled, directly enough: “Licensing Parents,” authored by one Andrew Cohen, a philosophy professor. It was posted on a website that claims to be searching for common ground between free markets and far-Left statism, er, “social justice.” The blog goes by the name “Bleeding Heart Libertarians.” (For those who aren’t former Episcopalians or negotiators with communists, you’ll need to understand that a “search for common ground” is generally a time tested camel’s-nose-in-the-tent ploy. The more gracious the host, the more quickly the camel takes over the tent…)…
…[A]ccording to Cohen, parenting is merely another “service,” i.e., caregiving. And he believes we ought to license it as we do any other service, like practicing medicine or law or pharmacy. Actually, he doesn’t think we should license medicine, law, or pharmacy. You’re an adult, see, and you can make your own choices there. But because children can’t make their own choices and you might do the child harm, you must be licensed. Cohen provides some anecdotes about child abuse, and says the state should always step in before any such thing can ever even happen. Hence, this scheme to entrust all-knowing, always benevolent, deeply caring state bureaucrats to dictate the lifelong relationships of all vulnerable beings.
There’s much more. Read the whole thing and weep for liberty at the hands of bleeding-heart libertarians. They love liberty, you see, as long as it yields outcomes of which they approve.
* * *
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
On Self-Ownership and Desert
Corporations, Unions, and the State
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Why Conservatism Works
Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left Statists
Enough with the Bleeding Hearts, Already
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Getting Liberty Wrong