Basic income — the idea of just giving everyone in a given country a regular, guaranteed cash payment, no strings attached — is still pretty far from being adopted in the US. But it's been gaining steam as an idea for a while now, most recently garnering praise from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his widely viewed Harvard commencement speech last week. But no one quite agrees on what the term “basic income” means.
And in particular, no one agrees on how such a plan would be funded. Conservative and libertarian proponents tend to want to pay for it by eliminating the entire welfare state, including health programs like Medicare and Medicaid and social insurance programs such as Social Security. More cautious center-left or moderate libertarian proponents — who are loath to cut those aspects of the safety net, endanger people's retirements, and let uninsured sick people die in the streets — tend to only propose funding through eliminating means-tested programs like food stamps and the earned income tax credit, as well as tax benefits such as the health care exclusion and mortgage interest deduction. The most ambitious lefty proponents want to finance the program entirely through new tax revenue.