For more than a decade, there's been a more pragmatic approach to homelessness: giving people homes. The housing first movement has repeatedly shown that the best way to make homeless people not homeless is to give. them. a. home.
After all, if you are struggling with addiction, mental illness, etc, or if you eed structure in your life, the chaos of not having a home only makes this a thousand times worse.
(Oh, and giving homeless people homes is MUCH cheaper than treating homelessness as a crime)
In a similar vein, the Foundations for Social Change's New Leaf Project tried simply giving homeless people money (CAD7500). If the right is correct and homelessness is a moral failing, then this should make everything worse ("they'll just blow it on drugs").
So this experiment isn't just a test of the best way to address homelessness; it's also a test of whether the right's frame of homelessness as an individual failing is correct, or whether the left's conception of homelessness as a system problem is right.
The results are definitive: 18 months on, grant recipients found housing a year earlier than the control group; 70% experienced less food insecurity. Money went to food, clothes and rent, with a 39% decline in spending on booze, drugs and cigarettes.
The randomized, controlled study had 115 subjects aged 19-64, all of whom had experienced homelessness for at least six months. On average, they saved CAD1000 of the initial grant over the 12-month study. Participants spent more on their kids and other family members.
The participants' 12-month, $7500 cash grants amounted to less than half of what it costs to billet a person in a homeless shelter over the same period.
This is both amazing and obvious. The best cure for homelessness is a home. The best cure for poverty is money.
It's a very powerful argument for a basic income, too.
But not necessarily for a *universal* basic income.
Here's the problem with UBI: imagine two people, one of whom is in the 10% or 1% or 0.1% and has all their needs met every month; the other person does not.
Give each of them $1000/month. The poor person experiences a huge difference in their life: they go from not having their needs met - that is, not having a home or food or utilities - to having them met. This is transformative.
What about the rich person? Well, they put the money in a 401(k) or other tax-advantaged savings.
Fast forward a decade.
10 years later, the poor person still has their needs met. They have better health outcomes, their kids have better educational outcomes. *Success!*
The rich person, meanwhile, is *a quarter million dollars richer*, thanks to the miracle of compound interest.
We have reduced one of the worst aspects of inequality, but inequality itself remains intact, along with all the toxic, corrosive problems it creates.
The system remains rotten to the core.
Can we get the benefits of UBI while still addressing inequality?
Yes. Basic income remains a no-brainer. The problem is universality. We shouldn't give subsidies to rich people.
But that doesn't mean we should do means-testing.
Means-testing is humiliating and cruel. Universal services promote solidarity. Means-tested services are a form of Apartheid.
Imagine if you had to prove your poverty before you could go to a public library, or let your kid play in a public park or attend a public school.
But public parks, schools and libraries are a subsidy to the wealthy. We could insist they use country clubs, private schools and subscription libraries instead.
It's easy to understand how this ends: wealthy people use their political power to defund the public sphere.
The money they'd lose by having to pay for country clubs and private schools wouldn't reduce their spending power enough to prevent them from accumulating outsized political power.
To do that, we need to tax them.
That's what taxes are for: to reduce the private sector's spending power so that when the government creates new money to fund the programs we need, the new money isn't competing with the money that's already in circulation for the same goods, which creates inflation.
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