Last month, the United States issued roughly $1200 to every American as part of a stimulus package to help stymie the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 coronovirus. Before that, various sociopolitical commentators like Robert Reich and presidential candidate Andrew Yang espoused the idea of Universal Basic Income. The idea being that all citizens or residents or even people within a country are given a basic amount of money every month, regardless of their productivity or output. It’s a fascinating idea with some really intriguing implications, and complications.
I don’t want to explore UBI, however. More qualified and informed people than I have dealt with the myriad of topics surrounding it in other areas. No, I want to address one small aspect which I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else discuss: kids’ allowances.
If the UBI is implemented, then I think it would be similar to the stimulus package passed in April of 2020. That’s to say, it would be a lump sum of money to every adult, with additional money issued to families/parents with children.
Well, what if the kids want some of that money?
Children occupy a strange legal territory in the United States, and the world at large. They are simultaneously a protected group but also one without many of the rights and privileges of every other group. There are special laws to protect them specifically, but there are also statues and standards that deprive them of many of the opportunities available to adults.
So if UBI was instituted, should the kids get some of that money? Should kids have access to controlling it, or would that be left entirely to the parents? Do we assume that kids should (as far as the government is concerned) have no control over money until they suddenly have complete control over their money?
I think it would be worth exploring a gradual distribution system. Starting at age 12 (let’s say), children are issued a government debit card. Of the $500 that was given to parents of children, they are issued $50 a month, with that amount raising by $150 every two years (so $50 for 12 and 13 years, $200 for 14 and 15 years, $350 for 16 and 17 years, and then full adult status at 18).
Parents could dictate how the money be spent, I suppose. Or they could leave it to the child to figure it out, and learn how to use money that is issued directly to them. I think this becomes especially important when you consider the idea of school expenses and similar matters.
I don’t particularly like the idea of the government ‘meddling’ in the affairs of raising a family, but I also know too many horror stories of parents exploiting their own children’s resources. It seems that giving children direct control over even a fraction of their money has a lot of benefits. Plus, if a majority of parents would provide their children with an allowance every month, it seems like this could be streamlined or even institutionalized.
I don’t know that this is a ‘good’ idea. I do know it’s not perfect. No idea is perfect. Every idea – especially those concerning money – will always be fertile ground for abuse and exploitation. But if we take abuse and/or waste as something of a given, you can then begin to search for the route that allows for the least harm and/or the most good. If we set a goal for effectiveness and a similar goal for ineffectiveness or counterproductivity, then we can find I think more substantial and real-world metrics for success.
If we implemented a government allowance to children 12 and older, and found it was beneficial at least 90% of the time, with less than 5% abuse/waste, I’d consider that pretty damn successful. We could then work out laws and rules, changes of whatever sorts needed, to raise that beneficial quotient while also lowering the waste.
No protocol will be perfect. Any system involving humans will have flaws and failures. But fear of failure shouldn’t stop us from at least exploring novel ideas. And I think providing an allowance to every child alongside a universal basic income to every adult is an idea worth exploring.