Friday, January 16, 2015

16/1/2015: Universal Basic Income v Unemployment Insurance


The idea of a universal basic income (UBI) has been in the news recently primarily because of the Swiss referendum on the topic, but also because it is gang traction as a functional substitute for the existent systems of social welfare provision.

An interesting recent paper by Fabre, Alice and Pallage, Stephane and Zimmermann, Christian, titled "Universal Basic Income versus Unemployment Insurance" (December 18, 2014, CESifo Working Paper Series No. 5106: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2540055) compared "…the welfare effects of unemployment insurance (UI) with an universal basic income (UBI) system in an economy with idiosyncratic shocks to employment."

On positive side, both policies "provide a safety net in the face of idiosyncratic shocks. While the unemployment insurance program should do a better job at protecting the unemployed, it suffers from moral hazard and substantial monitoring costs, which may threaten its usefulness." Much of these effects are addressed through rather disruptive and painful 'labour market activation reforms' that commonly coincide with periods of elevated unemployment, thus inducing even greater personal, social and economic hardship.

The authors conjecture, in line with much of theoretical and empirical literature, that "The universal basic income, which is simpler to manage and immune to moral hazard, may represent an interesting alternative in this context."

The study calibrates an equilibrium model with savings to data for the United States for 1990 and 2011. The results "…show that UI beats UBI for insurance purposes because it is better targeted towards those in need."
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