Welfare without rent seeking? Buchanan’s demogrant proposal and the possibility of a constitutional welfare state

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Abstract

In a number of works, James M. Buchanan set out a proposal for a ‘demogrant’ – a form of universal basic income that applied the principles of generality and non-discrimination to the tax and the transfer sides of the scheme and was to be implemented as a constitutional rule outside the realm of day-to-day politics. The demogrant has received surprisingly little scholarly attention, but this article locates it in Buchanan’s broader constitutional political economy project and shows it was a logical application of his theoretical framework to the problem of inefficient and unfair welfare systems when reform to the basic institutions of majoritarian democracy was not forthcoming. The demogrant aims to end the problems of majority cycling and rent seeking that plague contemporary welfare states and therefore offers a model of welfare without rent seeking – a constitutional welfare state. We compare Buchanan’s demogrant model to other universal basic income and negative income tax models and consider the most important criticisms. We conclude that rescuing the demogrant model from relative obscurity would be a fruitful future task of applied constitutional political economy and public choice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalConstitutional Political Economy
Volume32
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021

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