A libertarian case for a guaranteed minimum income

Guaranteed minimum income has plenty of support on the Canadian political left, and the idea of the federal government widely distributing wealth sure sounds like socialism. But, surprisingly, the idea also has supporters on the far right of the political spectrum. People like Matt Zwolinski.
The idea of a guaranteed minimum income has surfaced again in Canada. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Governments in Canada are suddenly keen on basic income.

A guaranteed basic income can take many forms, but the essential idea is regular cash payments to people, sometimes instead of a host of other social services. Some forms include a payment to everyone, which is then taxed back after a certain level. Others provide a cash payment only to people under a certain income level.

The Ontario Liberals are planning a pilot project. A Liberal-dominated federal committee thinks the idea is worth studying as well. The Manitoba Green Party says if their elected in the province's upcoming election, they'll implement a basic income. The Saskatchewan NDP also support a pilot project for a basic income in that province.

With all its supporters, you may think basic income is an idea from the political left. However, a guaranteed basic income has support from some you might consider rather right-wing, libertarians.

Matt Zwolinski is a self-described libertarian, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Diego, and founder of the website Bleeding Heart Libertarians: Free Markets and Social Justice

He says the basic income concept conforms to the libertarian ideal of economic freedom. Instead of targeted subsidies or other social assistance programs, basic income stops the government from making decisions about what lower income people need, and lets lower income people do that themselves. 

You're not giving them food stamps, you're not giving them housing vouchers, you're giving them cash. (It's) a rejection of this notion of paternalism. The idea that the government knows better than you what's good for you, and they're going to force you to act in a way they think is appropriate.- Matt Zwolinski

Zwolinski prefers a basic income system which replaces, not complements, most other social welfare programs. He does admit, however, that there are other libertarians who would consider him a socialist in disguise.

Listen to the full interview by clicking the button above.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?