Nixon’s Guaranteed Basic Income Proposal


Imagine my recent surprise on learning Republican president Richard Nixon, in 1968, was on the verge of enacting an unconditional income for all poor families. It would have guaranteed a family of four $1,600 a year, equivalent to roughly $10,000 in 2016. Here we have yet another historical event that’s been conveniently erased from US history books.

Nixon began by commissioning a study involving a little over 8,500 Americans in cities around the country. Researchers attempted to answer three questions: (1) Would people work significantly less with a guaranteed income? (2) Would the program cost too much? (3) Would it prove politically unfeasible?

Outcomes were surprisingly favorable. Hours of work decreased only slightly and allowed for an increase in other useful activities, such as searching for better jobs or working in the home. Among youth, almost all the reduced work hours were used for education. In New Jersey, the rate of high school graduation for participants rose thirty percent.

Polls showed that 90 percent of US newspapers were enthusiastic about unconditional income for poor families. The Chicago Sun Times called it “A Giant Leap Forward,” the Los Angeles Times “a bold new blueprint.” The National Council of Churches, the labor unions, and even the corporate sector were also all in favor.

In 1970 it seemed that the time for a basic income had well and truly arrived.

With 243 votes for and 155 against, the House of Representative approved President Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan (FAP) on April 16, 1970. Most expected the plan to pass the Senate, too, which was even more progressive than the House. Sadly the Senate killed it.

Writing in Jacobin,Rutger Bregman describes how Nixon adviser Martin Anderson cunningly scuttled Nixon’s guaranteed basic income proposal. A great admirer of libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand, Anderson widely circulated excerpts from sociologist Karl Polanyi’s 1944 book The Great Transformation. The latter describes a historical system similar to Nixon’s proposed basic income: the Speenhamland system enacted in 1795 to alleviate rural poverty in Britain.

In addition to summarizing a Royal Commission Report highlighting Speenhamland’s adverse effects  on both the poor and the community, Polyani cites prominent 19th century economists, such as Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo and Karl Marx, who all roundly condemned the Speenhamland experiment.

It now turns out the Royal Commission Report was based on flawed methodology and essentially fabricated.

Read more about Nixon’s guaranteed income plan, the Royal Commission Report and the devastating impact of dismantling Speenhamland and replacing it with the heinous 1834 Poor Law.


11 thoughts on “Nixon’s Guaranteed Basic Income Proposal

  1. Pingback: DAS KAPITAL: ‘The Shadow of Speenhamland’, Why Richard Nixon once advocated for basic income, then turned against it – By Rutger Bregman | RIELPOLITIK

  2. Come back Tricky Dicky! Where are you when America needs you? 😉 Just goes to show how far to the RIGHT the entire world has moved since the good old days of the 70s! When even Richard Nixon is starting to look like a socialist!!


  3. I tend to agree with Michael Parenti that there are no true conservatives any more. The people who currently run the Republican Party aren’t conservatives – they’re radical reactionaries – only a hair removed from outright fascists.


  4. Amazing post.

    I slightly disagree with your comment that modern “conservatives” are a hair removed from being Fascists. I believe that the ruling elite keep that perception of a difference because they learned from the Fascists of Germany and Italy – particularly how much of your agenda you can allow the masses to be aware of without losing enough support to continue ruling. I believe they know just how far they can push and they continue moving that line slowly but inexorably closer to their ideal system of control. They have virtual complete control without the ignorant masses realizing it here in the U.S. Look at how well “we” not only obey police state tactics, but actually applaud them (then pick up a slave wage, foreign-made U.S. flag and wave it for all to see – and laugh).

    Thanks for a great post.


    • In my view, the main difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives are quite open about their belief that people who are innately “inferior” don’t deserve to survive. I think liberals are also driven by similar beliefs but are more cagey about concealing it. Mainly owing to to his paranoia about mass protests, Nixon was forced to conceal (for the most part) his true thoughts.


  5. To me , that sounds more like comparing republicans and democrats, specifically. Both major parties are corporate-controlled, though the democrats actually have a few members who care more about people than corporate profits.

    Among the population, there is a large number of people who care about others and see what’s going on. The problem right now is that they haven’t been able to inspire the masses to rise above the indoctrination. They don’t seem to be able to keep up with the corporate media’s tight grip on the minds of U.S. citizens. Fair-minded people in government are either ousted through rigged elections or scandals (real or perceived) and, if they retain a semblance of respect after being thrown out of office, continue as victims of character assassination. So far, this has been effective in controlling dissident opinion.

    The corporate grip is very cleverly maintained. They actually draw the boundaries of what’s acceptable as far as dissident opinion in this country. They tell us how far we can go and most people, even well-intentioned, obey these rules. They believe they are expressing a fair assessment of what’s going on.

    We can NEVER speak the truth about the economic terrorism inherent in Capitalism or about the horrific war crimes of the state of Israel. These are two untouchable subjects in mainstream media that are treated with reverence. (The subject of Israel is aimed at the obedience of democrats, Capitalism at everyone). The dominant culture has seen to it that all obey the state religion.

    Thanks for allowing me to vent.


  6. Pingback: Nixon’s Guaranteed Basic Income Proposal | ashiftinconsciousness

  7. Pingback: One of The Most Pressing Issues that No One Is Talking About – Things I Have Read Recently

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