Every problem, the saying goes, has a well-known solution: neat, plausible and wrong. The resurgence of interest in the “universal basic income” puts this dictum to the test. Making unconditional cash payments to all citizens is trumpeted as a visionary solution to inequality, poverty and job insecurity. But away from countries with weak social safety nets and low poverty thresholds, the numbers do not add up. Either the basic income has to be unrealistically low or the tax rate to finance it is unacceptably high. Suppose the US provided its 327-million inhabitants with $10,000 a year. That would be less than the 2018 official poverty threshold of $13,064. But it would cost 96% of the 2019 federal tax take. Yet no amount of Gradgrindian analysis is dulling the enthusiasm for universal basic income. Britain’s Labour party wants to trial it. Some notable business leaders are also keen. Richemont boss Johann Rupert is interested. So are Silicon Valley tycoons Mark Zuckerberg and Elon ...

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