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Libertarian Welfare: The Concept of an Unconditional Basic Income in U.S. Public Debate and Policy, 1960-1972

Axel Jansen

Pages 635 - 650



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

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This paper focuses on intellectual debates and policy proposals in the United States during the 1960s and early 1970s. Various forms of a guaranteed income, including concepts of an unconditional basic income and a negative income tax, were discussed by intellectuals, economists, and civil rights advocates. After 1969, the Nixon administration considered introducing a negative income tax as an income floor for two-parent families without a means test or work requirements. At the time, such a radical policy was discussed in an open debate that may seem surprising today. While libertarian conservatives appreciated the proposal’s efficiency and restraining effect on government, progressives cherished the prospect of alleviating poverty. The problem was that Nixon, seeking to sell his policy to limited constituencies, denied or ignored his own proposal’s progressive core and instead advanced a racialized perception of welfare policy. The failure of guaranteed-income proposals in the early 1970s ossified a normative commitment to work-derived income that remains in place today.

Keywords: unconditional basic income; negative income tax; race; welfare; United States

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