Free money and pigeons

Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Robert Knight - Guest Columnist

Robert KnightIn a classic California move, the leaders of a city that's broke have decided it's a good idea to hand out $500/month to some residents for two years – with no limits on how it's spent ... and evidently no concern for how it might affect people's self-esteem.

According to the Washington Post, which should know, Democrats are moving even farther left in an effort to appeal to more Americans.

Several dozen Stockton families will be given $500 a month with no strings while researchers study the "economic and social impacts" on the families and the effect on their "self-esteem and identity." The families just have to be willing to be watched. Come to think of it, that might be worse than working. 

A new role model for them might be Stockton, California Mayor Michael Tubbs, who is masterminding a plan to give away free money to see what happens.

Stockton declared bankruptcy in 2012 and still has a fourth of its residents living below the poverty line, according to Fox News. According to the private foundation pushing the project, foreign-born residents make up 26 percent of Stockton's population. About 45 percent of households speak a language other than English.

Stockton is a model city when it comes to unrestricted immigration and the very image of America's future if the open borders Democrats have their way.

Mr. Tubbs and his city are partnering with the Economic Security Project (ESC), which is providing $1 million for a yearlong pilot program to provide a "Universal Basic Income." It's unclear how much, if any, tax money will be involved. The ESC's website says it is "committed to advancing the debate on unconditional cash and basic income." Among the leftist luminaries at ESC are SEIU president emeritus Andy Stern and MoveOn's Adam Ruben.

Several dozen Stockton families will be given $500 a month with no strings while researchers study the "economic and social impacts" on the families and the effect on their "self-esteem and identity."

This is classic California, where in the late 1980s, taxpayers were dunned for a state Self Esteem Commission, whose goal was to make people feel better about themselves. You know, coming up with ideas like handing out "participation trophies" that kids toss into the corner of their bedrooms after finishing last in Little League or soccer.

In a psychology course in college years ago, I and other students were subjected to the theories of behavioral psychologists like B.F. Skinner. The author of the appropriately titled classic Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner put his own daughter in a "Skinner box" with a glass pane when she was a baby. She later said she turned out okay, and no, it wasn't like he was experimenting on her. He was just trying to keep her warm without blankets. Well, okay.

We had glass boxes with pigeons that were fed via a little gizmo that dispensed a pellet of food when they pecked on it. The experiments are not perfectly analogous to the Stockton cash recipients, since the pigeons had to work to get their pellets. No pecking, no pellet.

The families just have to be willing to be watched. Come to think of it, that might be worse than working. It's reminiscent of that "Twilight Zone" episode in which hapless humans wake to find themselves in cages for the benefit of zoo-visiting alien spectators.

Mayor Tubbs is excited about how getting something for nothing will affect the families, and he pooh-poohed the notion that it might discourage people from working.

Against all evidence across the centuries and today in socialist Venezuela, he said, "I think it will make people work better and smarter and harder and also be able to do things like spend time with their families because we're not robots. We're not just designed just to work all day and run a rat race," he told National Public Radio.

No, indeed. But when the money runs out, will the good mayor run to the rat racers and ask them to pony up? Count on it.

"Nothing is said of the potential impact on the poor schlubs who will have to keep on working while the layabout next door collects $6,000 a year for playing video games and producing out-of-wedlock children," wrote blogger and author Lee Duigon. "Do you think it might be just a tad demoralizing?"

Mr. Duigon is one of those heartless conservatives who think that welfare without work is uncompassionate because it corrupts people economically and spiritually by fostering dependency. He says that Stockton's experiment will end badly, and predicts that:

"When they discover, to their surprise, that no one can actually live on $500 a month, they'll throw in food stamps, subsidized housing, and other costly goodies. And the first city to make this an actual public policy will find the world beating a path to its door."

According to Fox News, the experiment is being shepherded by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. He and other Silicon Valley cyber barons are talking about a future in which robots and other high-tech innovations will eliminate jobs in the tech and manufacturing sectors. Their proffered solution is a universal guaranteed income, regardless of effort.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in 2017 that such an arrangement could mark a "new contract" between the government and its citizens.

It sounds to me like a surefire way to move very quickly beyond freedom and dignity.

Robert Knight is an author and Washington Times contributor. This column first appeared on The Washington Times' website.

This column is printed with permission. Opinions expressed in 'Perspectives' columns published by are the sole responsibility of the article's author(s), or of the person(s) or organization(s) quoted therein, and do not necessarily represent those of the staff or management of, or advertisers who support the American Family News Network,, our parent organization or its other affiliates.

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