...And Economic Justice for All: Welfare Reform for the 21st Century

By Michael L. Murray | Go to book overview
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7
The History of Guaranteed Income Plans

Although I would like to take credit for it, the idea of a guaranteed income is not something I dreamed up. By now there is a substantial conceptual history behind it. There follows an overview of some of the conceptual parents of my plan. Each of these plans deserves more space than I can allot in this book. I'll try to give you a sense of each.


SPEENHAMLAND SYSTEM

Often cited as the first attempt at a guaranteed income, this late eighteenth-centuryprogram in eighteen English counties guaranteed to each person an income equal to at least the price of two loaves of bread a week. It was essentially an income supplement plan. Its great shortcoming was the one-for-one offset (or 100 percent tax rate) for earned income just above the guarantee level. Since low-income workers were guaranteed a minimum income by the government, employers had little incentive to pay adequate wages (in those days there were no minimum wage laws). Eventually most of the pay for low-income workers was provided by the government. This system did not last long.


EDWARD BELLAMY'S FORWARD LOOK

In his 1888 novel Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy projected a society which would provide an absolute guarantee to "abundant maintenance." His views, which became fairly influential at the time and are still regarded as seminal on this issue, were founded on the notion that society can and must retreat from the economic theories of scarcity. He suggested that men would look back from the late

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