Synthesis 2 (Universal Basic Income)

9 min readnovember 16, 2021

AP English Language ✍🏽

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AP English Language Free Response Synthesis for Universal Basic Income

👋 Welcome to the AP English Lang FRQ: Synthesis 2 (Universal Basic Income). These are longer questions, so grab some paper and a pencil, or open up a blank page on your computer.
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A universal basic income is a government program that delivers a guaranteed income to all of its citizens. The potential benefits and drawbacks of a universal basic income have been debated by politicians, economists, and other leaders for centuries.


Carefully read the following six sources, including the introductory information for each source. Write an essay that synthesizes material from at least three of the sources and develops your position on whether or not the United States federal government should create a universal basic income program.
  • Document 1 (Amadeo)
  • Document 2 (Cartoon)
  • Document 3 (Weissmann)
  • Document 4 (Heller)
  • Document 5 (Goldin)
  • Document 6 (Sandler)

Document 1 (Amadeo)

Source: Amadeo, Kimberly. “What Is Universal Basic Income?” thebalance.com. The Balance, 19 August 2020. Web. 1 March 2021.
(The following is excerpted from an online article.)
Universal basic income is a government-guaranteed payment that each citizen receives. It is also called a citizen’s income, guaranteed minimum income, or basic income.
The intention behind the payment is to provide enough to cover the basic cost of living and provide financial security. The concept is also seen as a way to offset job losses caused by technology…
The snapshot below shows some of the program's many pros and cons that exist for countries who wish to implement a basic income.
  • Workers could afford to wait for a better job or better wages
  • People would have the freedom to return to school or stay home to care for a relative
  • May help remove the "poverty trap" from traditional welfare programs
  • Citizens could have simple, straightforward financial assistance that minimizes bureaucracy
  • The government would spend less to administer the program than with traditional welfare
  • Young couples would have more money to start families in countries with low birth rates
  • The payments could help stabilize the economy during recessionary periods
  • Inflation could be triggered because of the increase in demand for goods and services
  • There won't be an increased standard of living in the long run because of inflated prices
  • A reduced program with smaller payments won't make a real difference to poverty-stricken families
  • Free income may not incentivize people to get jobs, and could make work seem optional
  • Free income could perpetuate the falling labor force participation rate
  • There are many opposed to handouts for the unemployed

Document 2 (Baker, Cartoon)

Source: Baker, Christine. “Universal Basic Income: Panacea or Distraction?” strategicnudge.com. Strategic Nudge, 12 December 2017. Web. 1 March 2021.
"Universal Basic Income: Panacea or Distraction?"

Document 3 (Weissman)

Source: Weissmann, Jordan. “Martin Luther King’s Economic Dream: A Guaranteed Income for All Americans.” theatlantic.com. The Atlantic, 28 August 2013. Web. 1 March 2021.
(The following is excerpted from an article from a popular online website.)
One of the more under-appreciated aspects of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy is that by the end of his career, he had fashioned himself into a crusader against poverty, not just among blacks, but all Americans. In the weeks leading to his assassination, the civil rights leader had been hard at work organizing a new march on Washington known as the "Poor People's Campaign." The goal was to erect a tent city on the National Mall, that, as Mark Engler described it for The Nation in 2010, would "dramatize the reality of joblessness and deprivation by bringing those excluded from the economy to the doorstep of the nation's leaders." He was killed before he could see the effort through.
So what, exactly, was King's economic dream? In short, he wanted the government to eradicate poverty by providing every American a guaranteed, middle-class income—an idea that, while light-years beyond the realm of mainstream political conversation today, had actually come into vogue by the late 1960s.
To be crystal clear, a guaranteed income—or a universal basic income, as it's sometimes called today—is not the same as a higher minimum wage. Instead, it's a policy designed to make sure each American has a certain concrete sum of money to spend each year. One modern version of the policy would give every adult a tax credit that would essentially become a cash payment for families that don't pay much tax. Conservative thinker Charles Murray has advocated replacing the whole welfare state by handing every grown American a full $10,000.  
King had an even more expansive vision… It was time, he believed, for a more straightforward approach: the government needed to make sure every American had a reasonable income. 
In part, King's thinking seemed to stem from a sense that no matter how strongly the economy might grow, it would never eliminate poverty entirely, or provide jobs for all. As he put it:
We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.
The problem indicates that our emphasis must be two-fold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available...

Document 4 (Heller)

Source: Heller, Nathan. “Who Really Stands to Win from Universal Basic Income?” newyorker.com. The New Yorker, 2 July 2018. Web. 1 March 2021.
(The following is excerpted from an article from a popular online website.)
Skeptics [of a universal basic income (U.B.I.)] might point out that what was meant to be a floor can easily become a ceiling. This was Marx’s complaint about Speenhamland: a society with a basic income has no pressure to pay employees a good wage, because the bottom constraint, subsistence, has fallen away. We see such an effect already in the gig economy, where companies pay paltry wages by claiming that their endeavors are flexible and part-time and that workers surely have subsistence income from elsewhere.
Supporters of the U.B.I. frequently counter that the raised floor will lift other things. If workers are no longer compelled to take any available job to put food on the table, supporters say, work must be worth their while. Certainly, this will be true for highly undesirable jobs: the latrine cleaner can expect a pay bump and an engraved pen. But for jobs whose appeal goes beyond the paycheck—in other words, most middle-class jobs—the pressures are less clear. Competitive, prestigious industries often pay entry- to mid-level employees meagerly, because they can; ambitious people are so keen for a spot on the ladder that they accept modest wages. And, since that is an easier concession for the children and intimates of the moneyed classes, influential fields can fill up with fancy people. This is not a problem that the U.B.I. would solve. If anything, paychecks in desirable jobs would be free to shrink to honorarium size, and choice opportunity would again redound to the rich, for whom the shrinkage would not mean very much.
In that sense, what’s at issue with U.B.I. isn’t actually the movement of money but the privileging of interests—not who is served but who’s best served. An illuminating parallel is free college. One criticism of Bernie Sanders’s no-tuition plan, in 2016, was that many American families could afford at least part of a tuition. With no fees to pay, that money would be freed to fund enrichments: painting lessons, private tutoring, investments, trips to rescue orphans and pandas, and other things with which well-resourced people set the groundwork for an upward-spiraling bourgeois life. Especially among the small subset of colleges that have competitive admissions—the sector of the education market which, today, serves most reliably as an elevator toward class, influence, and long-term employment access—those who truly have no cash for college would still be starting from behind. Opportunity would be better equalized, at least while other things in America remain very unequal, by meting out financial aid as kids actually need it.

Document 5 (Goldin)

Source: Goldin, Ian. “Five reasons why universal basic income is a bad idea.” ft.com. Financial Times, 19 August 2020. Web. 11 February 2018.
(The following is excerpted from an online article.)
First, UBI is financially irresponsible. Universal means everyone gets it. Even in the richest societies, if UBI was set at a level to provide a modest but decent standard of living it would be unaffordable and lead to ballooning deficits. To close the UBI budget black hole, much higher taxes or reallocation of resources from other areas such as health and education would be needed. 
Second, UBI will lead to higher inequality and poverty. It typically aims to replace existing unemployment and other benefits with a simple universal grant. As shown by the OECD, the Paris-based club of mostly rich nations, by reallocating welfare payments from targeted transfers (such as unemployment, disability or housing benefits) to a generalised transfer to everyone, the amount that goes to the most deserving is lower. Billionaires get a little more. 
Third, UBI will undermine social cohesion. Individuals gain not only income, but meaning, status, skills, networks and friendships through work. Delinking income and work, while rewarding people for staying at home, is what lies behind social decay. Crime, drugs, broken families and other socially destructive outcomes are more likely in places with high unemployment, as is evident in the drug pandemic in the US. 
Fourth, UBI undermines incentives to participate. Stronger safety nets are vital. No decent society should tolerate dire poverty or starvation. But for those who are able, help should be designed to get individuals and families to participate in society; to help people overcome unemployment and find work, retrain, move cities. Wherever possible, safety nets should be a lifeline towards meaningful work and participation in society, not a guarantee of a lifetime of dependence. 
Fifth, UBI offers a panacea to corporate and political leaders, postponing a discussion about the future of jobs. The demographic pressures in rich countries, and the deep challenge AI poses to development prospects in poor ones, adds to the need for this conversation. There must be more part-time work, shorter weeks, and rewards for home work, creative industries and social and individual care. Forget about UBI; to reverse rising inequality and social dislocation we need to radically change the way we think about income and work.

Document 6 (Sandler)

Source: Sandler, Rachel. “Los Angeles, Atlanta Among Cities Joining Coalition To Test Universal Basic Income.” forbes.com. Forbes, 29 June 2020. Web. 1 March 2021.
(The following is excerpted from an article from a popular online website.)
The mayors of Los Angeles; Oakland, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Tacoma, Washington, Newark, New Jersey; Saint Paul, Minnesota; Jackson, Mississippi; Compton, California; Shreveport, Louisiana and Stockton, California, have joined Mayors For A Guaranteed Income, a coalition advocating for UBI policies, or the idea of giving out recurring cash payments to all individuals without any strings attached.
Mayors For A Guaranteed Income was founded by Michael Tubbs, the 29-year-old mayor of Stockton who launched one of the first guaranteed income pilots in the U.S. last year, along with the Economic Security Project, a non-profit supporting the idea of creating an income floor for all Americans.
Though the coalition will advocate collectively for a guaranteed income and share information, each city will launch their own pilot with separate funding streams, either by creating a working group to find room in the city budget or by forming public/private partnerships, Tubbs told Forbes.

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