On universal basic income.

The first mailbag post in a while– first of any type of post in a while– is brought to us from “F.A.”, who writes:

Hey Mr. V, I don’t know if you’ve been following the Democratic party and all that jazz at all but since you have a background in economics, I wanted to hear your take on Andrew Yang’s platform, namely his policies and ideas on universal basic income? I’m doing some research and listening to a lot of what he has to say and it sounds great on the surface level but I wonder if its actually a good idea from an economist’s perspective.

I’m opposed. I am against any proposal that creates any new tax without eliminating old taxes. I am also against any proposal that creates new social programs without eliminating old social programs. Yang’s proposal creates new taxes (e.g, the VAT) and a new type of social program (the Freedom Dividend) without eliminating anything, so I am opposed.

Reducing some taxes and social programs while consolidating others isn’t good enough. Nothing in Yang’s proposal would actually keep the old taxes low or restrain spending on the old social programs. And those old taxes would eventually go back up, guaranteed, and the spending on the old social programs would eventually go back up, guaranteed. And then we’d be stuck with higher taxes and higher spending on social programs.

My position on this matter is supported by the entire history of federal taxation and spending. Every major social program in American history has cost more than originally projected. And every tax aimed at funding those programs is higher than originally promised. The same would be true of Yang’s proposal. There is absolutely no reason not to believe this.

Look back at this poorly written post from ten years ago to get a sense of a UBI plan that I might sorta kinda be willing to support. Seriously, read it. I’ll wait here.

Back? Good. Today I’d probably oppose even Murray’s plan because I have virtually no faith that the costs would be controllable, but set that aside for now. The reason I might sorta kinda be willing to support it is that it would replace every form of federal social spending without raising taxes. But that’s assuming projections go to plan, and that’s assuming the pressure to raise the payout is somehow structurally and constitutionally contained, and that’s assuming we ratify a constitutional amendment restricting federal social spending to this one program.

I won’t belabor that point anymore. I have other concerns.

I don’t think automation will be as dangerous or disruptive as Yang and others do. I think interfering with market processes will be more dangerous than Yang and others do. The more they tinker, the faster labor is replaced by capital. I’m too tired to explain that right now, and I’m trying to watch the Patriots-Steelers game. I actually like Belichick a lot due to his background in Economics.

I think it is socially and psychologically dangerous to give people something for nothing. Workfare programs have the virtue of giving a dollar to someone who’s earned it, and thus are relatively popular in the US. But giving UBI to a bunch of no-good soy-latte-sipping cravat-wearing goateed neo-Gramscian beatniks who vape fair trade vegan CBD oil in their rent-controlled solar safe space hippy communes and snap their soft fingers to laments about the evils of earning money? That wouldn’t play in Peoria. Neither would giving UBI to a bunch of lazy Nazis. If someone can work, you really shouldn’t incentivize them not to work.

In short, Yang’s take on UBI looks nice on paper but would be very, very bad.

I appreciate your question, because I’ve been far too slack with the blog for far too long.

Fourth of July, 2019!

Happy 243rd birthday to the sweet land of liberty!

And happy 146th birthday to President Coolidge, who by all accounts would have appreciated it, but would have mumbled his thanks in Belichickian brevity!

Normally when posting on the 4th, I like to express an appreciation for this great country and remind the reader to celebrate its blessings and be mindful of its sins. There’s upside and downside to all things, and the Fourth is the day we laud America’s upside.

But on this particular Fourth of July, I am distressed enough by recent developments in the sporting world that I must direct attention there. But I direct it not to Nike’s Betsy Ross Kaepernick public relations stupidity. Nor do I direct to the battle of tweets and soundbites between President Trump and likely future Senator Rapinoe (which I strongly suspect is a cover-up for a torrid affair betwixt the two). But I do direct it towards the women’s national team.

As many are aware, the US women’s team is, as usual, doing pretty darn well in the World Cup and really should win it this coming Sunday. Two days ago, on the anniversary of the day John Adams thought should have been celebrated, the US beat England 2-1 in the semifinal. In celebration of scoring what would eventually prove to be the game-winning goal, Alex Morgan simulated sipping a cup of tea, which, apparently, unstiffened the reputedly stiff upper lips of the English.

I will grant that the manner in which she mock-sipped the cup was a bit off. At first I thought she was Juuling poorly, because her thumb and forefinger were way too close to her lips. A quick glance at Wikipedia revealed that she is not originally from The North, which might’ve explained her unfamiliarity with proper tea-sipping technique, but then I saw the extended pinky finger, which delivered the undeniable message that this– this— was a cup of tea.

So some English folks found this offensive.

Well… too bad. That’s what you get for losing the war, and that’s what you get for giving up a goal. Try winning in the future.

I hereby propose the following:

  1. That whenever the US plays England in any form of football, that our equipment manager prepare several chests full of tea and leave them in a location convenient to our players, and
  2. That whenever the US scores a goal, touchdown, or try in any form of football, the US players shall celebrate by opening one chest of tea and dumping it near, or better yet, all over the English bench.

We can adapt this to other sports as necessary. Say LeBron posterizes some pitiful English excuse for a big in the Olympics. We dump the tea all over them, and then he can do his chalk toss with some of the loose leaves.

Anyhow, God Bless America and the women’s team, and England needs to stop whining.

Happy 109th!

Today would’ve been my grandmother’s 109th birthday. Here she is, on the right– I think– with one of her sisters and one of their friends or cousins who, as this goes to press, is yet unknown to me:


I say “I think” because I’ve mis-identified her sisters as her before in some of these older pictures. If I’m wrong, correction will occur soon enough. Either way, this is a good picture. I have no idea what park she’s in, assuming it’s a park, or what the occasion of this visit was, but it looks like she had a nice day.

Happy 119th!

Still not keeping up with the blog very well, but today is my grandfather’s birthday, and I always post a digital card of sorts. Here he is with a daughter and the Easter Bunny, none of whom look pleased.


Candy must’ve been lacking that year, what with the Depression and the War and all.

Grampa would’ve turned 119 today if he hadn’t died re-transcendentalizing pi.

A letter to President Trump.

Dear President Trump,

I honestly haven’t checked the internet to if this idea is out there already, so I’m not saying this is original. In fact, I hope it already is out there so more people get on board as soon as possible. Bear with me, sir (that means be patient, I’ll get to the point eventually).

Mr. Trump, you’re going on national TV tonight, presumably to say something-or-other about building a southern border wall. I’d like to go on record in opposition to your wall. The wall would be inefficient. The wall would be ineffective. And the wall would be immoral.

Instead, I propose that we take every last penny (those are the tiny bronze ones) you want to spend on the wall and invest them in the rapid development and deployment of alternative energy generation. To be more specific, it should all be spent on solar power.

The Sun is the source of all energy on this planet, one way or another. “We are all made of stars,” as Herman Melville or somebody once put it. Let me give you a for instance:

The Sun blasts out photons– which are, like, the tiny little things that light is made of– and the photons get absorbed by plants, the plants get eaten by animals, and the animals die and decompose and eventually turn into fossil fuels like oil. I’m glossing over and perhaps completely misstating some details, but that’s OK because you’re used to it and this is the internet. Converting photons into 87 octane takes a bazillion years, is essentially non-reversible unless they invent replicators like on Star Trek, and is just plain dirty.

So we must develop solar power as quickly and as bigly as possible. It is faster, more renewable, and cleaner than relying on those filthy, very dirty, very environmentally very bad fossil fuels. Sure, we’re still working on making the batteries and the panels, but this is America and we’re going to get Elon Musk and Bill Gates, great guys as you know, working on a solution. Great guys. The best guys.

So we should invest many, many billions of dollars and other monies in massive solar farms, and build them as quickly as we can. To get as much energy as possible, the solar panels need to be huge. Let’s say at least 50 feet tall. That is, the solar part itself should be 50 feet tall, the whole thing would have to be taller so you could plant it firmly in the ground. To catch as many photons as possible, the solar panels would have to be side-by-side, with virtually no gaps between them. For this to be useful, and to speed up the switch to solar energy, we would need probably need 3,000 miles or so of these panels, and place them in the most solar-friendly parts of the country. I took the following screenshot from the US Department of Energy’s really cool Solar Energy Potential website:


I say build the farms in southern California, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and southern Texas, along the northern side of that orange and yellow line. And given that these farms are going to lead us into a clean, efficient, environmentally safe future, we need to protect the farms. No unauthorized walking across the farms, no digging under the panels, and definitely no climbing on the panels. We can’t afford to have them scratched, because they don’t make Gorilla Glass that big. In fact, we should probably fence off the farms and bring in some federal agents to guard them.

Of course, people could still legally walk between these solar farms using officially designated roads, bridges, and so on.

So President Trump, don’t waste our hard-earned money on a useless, inefficient boondoggle like a wall. Instead, please invest that money in solar farms. We must do it for the environment. We must do it for America. And we must do it for the children.

Just make sure those farms are big and beautiful.


Vincent D. Viscariello