To the Left of Karl Marx

An article in the today’s Wall Street Journal, “Innovationville, USA,” writes approvingly of universal incomes, citing no-strings-attached pilot programs in Stockton, Calif., Peterson, N.J., and… (drum roll)… Richmond, Va. The Richmond Resilience Initiative provides $500 per month to 18 working families who don’t qualify for other aid but who, in Mayor Levar Stoney’s estimation, don’t make a living wage.

I’ll concede that $500 a month isn’t a lot of money. And I’ll credit backers of the Richmond program for acknowledging that handing out too much moolah would dampen the incentive to work. However, many people back a more expansive program. For instance, Andrew Yang, an unsuccessful candidate for president and now a contender for mayor of New York, proposed a “freedom dividend” consisting of $1,000 monthly for each American adult.

I suppose it’s OK to conduct social experiments to see what families do with the extra money. We might learn something useful. But the famous admonition of Karl Marx comes to mind: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

As we’ve seen with COVID-19 relief that pays people not to work, many Americans now stand to the left of Marx. They love the “to each according to his needs” part of the mantra, but don’t have much to say about the “from each according to his abilities” part.

What was Marx’s phrase for people who contributed nothing of their labor? The term “social parasite” comes to mind.