Mincome: A Guaranteed Income for All Americans

Eliminating poverty or the incentive to work?

People standing on line for free food at a 1920s soup kitchen.
Soup Kitchen Line. PhotoQuest / Getty Images

Forget about needing unemployment benefits. Heck, forget about even needing to have a job. Under the “mincome” plan, all you would need to do to get a nice monthly check from the government is stay out of jail.

As explained by co-host Krystal Ball of MSNBCs’ “The Cycle,” the theory behind mincome is simple. By eliminating all other income safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare, the federal government could afford to simply give every “non-incarcerated adult citizen” in the nation a “monthly minimum income.”

In his book In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State, libertarian author Charles Murray estimates that by implementing mincome, the federal government could give every adult American monthly checks totaling $10,000 a year.

This, claimed Ball, would be enough to completely “eliminate poverty” in the United States.

Hard to Sell to Social Security Beneficiaries

Of course, it would also mean convincing over 63 million Social Security retirement benefit recipients to happily give up their nearly $15,000 a year in return for a $10,000 “mincome.” Might not be an easy sell, there.

Acknowledging that many people would find the mincome plan a “crazy left-wing utopian idea that only Marxists like Krystal Ball and Pope Francis could possibly support,” Ball went on to note that the plan “has found support on the right,” from the likes of Reason’s Matthew Freeney, a fiscal conservative who once suggested giving “free money” to the poor.

The Canadian Mincome Experiment

Ball also cited an experiment conducted in the Canadian town of Dauphin, Manitoba, in which 30% of the town’s population was given a “mincome” from 1974 to 1978. At a cost of $17 million to the Canadian government, the experiment was supposed to determine whether providing a guaranteed, tax-free income would improve health and community life.

According to Ball, the Canadian mincome experiment had been a roaring success. “Not only was poverty eliminated, but the disincentives to work had a minimal effect on productivity,” she said.

To reduce those “disincentives to work” test participants who worked had their mincome supplement reduced by 50 cents for every dollar they earned by working.

However, the Canadian government said that mincome had only a modest impact on labor markets, with working hours dropping 1% for men, 3% for married women, and 5% for unmarried women.

While the Canadian government never issued a final report on the experiment, an analysis published in 2011 by Dr. Evelyn Forget of the University of Manitoba concluded that mincome had resulted in an overall 8.5% reduction in hospitalizations in the town during the test.

In addition, said Dr. Forget, reports of accidents and injuries also declined during the experiment. “You can argue that accident and injury hospitalizations are strongly related to poverty,” she said.

When it came to taking the mincome instead or working, Dr. Forget reported that mainly new mothers and teenagers worked less or quit their jobs during the experiment. New mothers, she said, stayed home to take care of their babies, and teenagers worked less so they could stay in school, rather than help support their families. As a result, high school graduation rates improved during the test.

But perhaps the most significant results of the Canadian mincome test are that is has never been repeated and that mincome has never been implemented in Canada or anywhere else in the world.

However, in his book, author Charles Murray concedes that a mincome-like plan may not be realistic… yet. “I began this thought experiment by asking you to ignore that the Plan was politically impossible today,” he wrote. “I end proposing that something like the Plan is politically inevitable -- not next year, but sometime.”