The Public Interest

The case for an income guarantee

James Tobin

Summer 1966

In the national campaign to conquer poverty there are two basic strategies, which may be labelled concisely, if somewhat inaccurately, “structural” and “distributive.” The structural strategy is to build up the capacities of the poorest fifth of the population to earn decent incomes. The distributive strategy is to assure every family a decent standard of living regardless of its earning capacity. In my opinion both strategies are essential; correctly designed, they are more complementary than competitive. To date the main emphasis of the Federal “war on poverty” has been the structural approach. I shall argue that the war will not be won without a new and imaginative distributive strategy as well.

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