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Noah Smith

Pandemic Aid Helps Make the Case for Basic Income

Generous benefits don’t seem to be discouraging work.

It’s not because of the government check.

It’s not because of the government check.

Photographer: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive

The relief programs supporting Americans through the pandemic are also demonstrating the viability of a bold proposal for reducing poverty: basic income.

The idea of basic income -- paying a monthly fixed amount to each person in the country -- has been around for a long time. Recently it has gained more attention and support. It has the advantages of simplicity and universality, but one big question has always loomed: What if it stopped people from working? Ultimately, society’s wealth is based on human beings producing things, and if people feel that a basic income means they don’t need to work, they might stop producing altogether, leaving society poorer.