My thoughts on government welfare programs

13 minute read

(My own words, because this program seems to be useful): help your voice be heard by policy-makers and lawmakers. If you’re not signed up for VOCA yet, please go sign up. It’s free and easy. Just requires a phone number so they can send you a weekly survey question, which results they share with your lawmakers: https://www.voca.vote/.

The Question

This week’s VOCA question, from here: https://www.voca.vote/r/ca_ubi:

Universal Basic Income pilot program in CA

California

Hi, it’s VOCA. This week’s question is about universal basic income.

BACKGROUND:
Universal basic income (UBI) is a form of government assistance where recipients get money directly from the government each month with no rules about how they spend it. Last week Gov. Newsom proposed $35 million that would fund a 5-year initiative to pilot local UBI programs across CA. If approved, selected low-income Californians would receive monthly checks (usually $500-$1000) from their participating city or county government. The State would then study the impacts of UBI on health, employment and other elements of well-being and societal impact to determine if UBI programs should be modified, expanded, or discontinued.

QUESTION: From 1 (strongly oppose) to 5 (strongly support) what is your opinion of a universal basic income pilot program for low-income Californians?

LEARN MORE: Visit https://voc.as/ca_ubi to read an article about the governor’s proposal.

My Vote and Opinion

I just voted “strongly oppose”, yet, I proudly voted for Biden this election, and I believe strongly in helping others. So, why did I oppose this initiative?

Here is my current opinion (which could change with further study on the matter):

All welfare systems should promote productivity. As far as I know, this system would remove the amount people receive once their own income exceeds a certain level, thereby incentivizing people to intentionally make LESS THAN the threshold required to receive this income. The law needs to be written such that they are motivated to make MORE MONEY, not less. Perhaps this could be done by INCREASING the payment amount the more someone makes, until they make a certain amount, then GRADUALLY decreasing it towards zero as they make more and more of their own money, according to a linear equation1. Perhaps this should be based on a linear (or other curve shape which makes sense) equation of gradual decrease, NOT on a threshold or system of income “buckets” or “brackets”. Let’s motivate people to make MORE money by paying them MORE the more they make, not more the LESS they make! INCENTIVIZE SELF-SUFFICIENT BEHAVIOR.

The thing I hate seeing the most is a low-income person or other person receiving aid intentionally remaining low-income so they don’t exceed some arbitrary “low income” threshold, or intentionally doing some aberrant behavior so they can still qualify for some aid program. If government programs cause these people to lose ALL of their benefits all at once and make LESS money overall (gov’t subsidy + their own income) once their own income exceeds a certain level, or once a certain aberrant behavior or condition is resolved, then these people are accidentally incentivized BY the program to do all they can to remain IN the program. In such cases, the government program must be reformed. The goal should be to get to where one no longer needs the program–to “graduate” from it so to speak, rather than to remain in it indefinitely. So, instead, pay recipients MORE GOV’T SUBSIDY THE MORE THEY MAKE! Again, then gradually decrease it according to a linear equation beyond a certain point. BUT, the key here is that as their own work income goes up, their TOTAL MONEY (gov’t aid + own work income) MUST ALSO GO UP so that they are ALWAYS incentivized and motivated to make MORE of their own money, NOT less, and to have FEWER aberrant behaviors, NOT more.

Note 1: I propose laws and financial programs should use basic algebra, rather than buckets and brackets and thresholds, like I have seen in so many government programs, to determine when and how much money someone should receive. Ex: instead of: “below $X you get $Y, and above $X you get nothing”, we should use algebraic equations which map these values in a continuous fashion onto a straight line or whatever curve makes sense. We have modern computers–we are no longer in a day and age when brackets are done by necessity in order to accomplish the calculation.

The Christian (Christlike) perspective

Even God’s inspired word, from the Bible here, seems to agree with this, and as I make observations in life I find this to be truly inspired:

Matthew 13:12:

12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

READ THE FOLLOWING! THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS (see the links just below) IS SOOOO IMPORTANT AND APPLICABLE HERE (to the application and management of government welfare programs)!

Note that a “talent” is a unit of money! Wikipedia states “a single talent was therefore worth 16 years of labor.” To put that in perspective, perhaps that is $100k/yr x 16 yrs = $1.6M (1.6 million dollars!). This parable, from Jesus Christ himself, proclaims boldly (and I agree with this!) that those who have received money, use it, and make more money with it, should be given MORE money, and those who have not money, lose it, and do NOT use it should have even less (“shall be taken away even that which he hath”). However, this concept and teaching must be taken into consideration with all the scriptures, not isolated and read alone. Hence, my opinion above: help the poor, while creating proper incentives to motivate them to become richer. And, initially, as they become richer, give them MORE MONEY from the government in order to create proper rewards and incentives, NOT less. Then, when it is time to wean them off of the program and give them less, give them less gradually, according to their work income, and as their work income increases, so that the extra total income (their work income + gov’t subsidy) they make as their own work income goes up is MUCH MORE THAN the losses of the government subsidy as the government subsidy is slowly removed.

Matthew 25:28-29

28 Take therefore the talent [$1.6M] from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents ($16M).

29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

Luke 19:23-26

23 Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?

24 And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.

25 (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.)

26 For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.

As I said, however, the above must not be taken out of context with the rest of Christ’s teachings in mind too. For example, in the Bible we are also taught that we all require God’s grace:

Romans 3:23-24:

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

Read more about the Parable of the Talents here (READ AND STUDY THESE!):

  1. Wikipedia: Parable of the talents or minas
  2. Matthew 25:14–30 - The Parable of the Talents
  3. Luke 19:11–27 - The Parable of the Talents

Are we not all beggars?

The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, re-iterates and expounds upon the above concept. In Mosiah Chapter 4 we learn from the prophet-king Mosiah (in about 124 BC, in the American continent), the following: we are all beggars and depend upon God. So, just as God gives His Spirit and Son to us, “unworthy” beggars, so too must we give to those who stand in need of our substance:

Mosiah 4:16-20 (emphasis added):

16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

17 **Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.**

19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.

So, we are all beggars and must not harshly judge the poor and the needy and those who literally or figuratively beg, but we must give what we can. Verses 17 and 18 above are especially potent and pertinent, for who has not had that thought pass through their mind?

Let us also not forget the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. You can read about it in Matthew 20:1-16. Essentially, a vineyard owner hires a bunch of workers, some who work all day (from the 1st hour) to the end of the day (the 12th hour), some who work only from the 3rd hour until the end of the day (12th hour), and others still who work only from the 6th, 9th, or even 11th hour until the end of the day at the 12th hour. Then, they all get the same payment–each and every one of them, regardless of the fact that some had worked far longer than others. The point is that no matter the hour we come unto Christ, so long as we come unto Christ in the end, we receive the same reward. Now, does that seem fair? Perhaps not to us, but it is the teaching of Christ. So too must we consider how to be generous to those we see as unworthy of receiving aid, as we are perhaps all 11th-hour workers and unworthy of receiving aid ourselves.

Additional Reading:

  1. Book of Mormon Study Notes: Are We Not All Beggars? – Mosiah 4:16-19. I especially need to remember this author’s words to pay attention to my kids when my kids ask for help. How often do I ignore them or brush them off when I should look them in the eye and give them more time and consideration? If not then, then that evening. Certainly I can do better to spend more time with my kids. Just as we beg for God’s attention and help, so to my children beg for mine. We are all beggars.

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