How Nixon Was Ahead of His Time

It was the summer of 1969 — the end of the decade that brought us flower power and Woodstock, rock 'n roll and Vietnam. President Richard Nixon decided to pursue having a basic income. It would have been a massive step forward in the War on Poverty, guaranteeing a family of four $1,600 a year, equivalent to roughly $12,566 in 2022. Researchers wanted to know three things: 

  1. 1. Would people work significantly less if they receive a guaranteed income? 
  2. 2. Would the program be too expensive? 
  3. 3. Would it prove politically unfeasible? 

The answers? No, no, and maybe. One man began to realize where all this was heading — to a future where money was considered a basic right. Martin Anderson was an advisor to the president and was vehemently opposed to the plan. On the same day that Nixon intended to go public with his plan, Anderson handed him a briefing. Over the weeks that followed, this 6-page document — a case report about something that had happened in England 150 years before — did the unthinkable: It completely changed Nixon’s mind and the course of history. Known as the Speenhamland system, the British village of Berkshire began a program eerily similar to basic income. Not only did it incite the poor to even greater idleness, decreasing their productivity and wages, it threatened the very foundations of capitalism. In the end, the plan nearly ruined the small village. At the top of the report provided to Nixon was a quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”