But critics argue a UBI would never work for four reasons: cost, reciprocity, politics and work ethic.
The cost of a UBI program would be huge. Getting rid of all welfare programs and funneling that money into UBI would lead to around $3,000 a year, far less than what the neediest are currently receiving. A UBI would remove all forms of personalization, meaning the most vulnerable would end up getting even less help.
The problem is that if you try to bring it up to something a bit more generous, the cost quickly escalates. Cutting everyone a check for $1,000 a month, which most people in that room would consider too little to live on, would cost almost $3 trillion. But if you means-test it to control the cost, or try to tax most of the benefits back for people who aren't low-income, you rapidly lose the efficiency gains and start creating some pretty powerful disincentives to work.
With regard to reciprocity, a UBI would essentially require a new social contract. A small segment of the population would be producing the goods and wealth that the rest of society would benefit from—with no strings attached. Critics doubt this is a stable situation, or that it would truly come with no strings attached.
I think you can make an argument that society should make it possible for those who are willing to contribute to support themselves; I would not be opposed to a system of guaranteed jobs that paid $10,000 a year, or whatever we think this basic income should be. But you cannot sustain a program that posits huge obligations on the part of one group to people who have no reciprocal obligations at all.
A UBI would require a massive change in politics too. Immigration would have to be radically changed as well as how welfare is disbursed to the neediest. Critics say any real effort to implement a UBI would have to end immigration and welfare entirely, which seems like it could violate other human rights concerns.
A guaranteed basic income instead of a welfare state might be attractive, but a guaranteed basic income on top of a welfare state presents a lot of problems, not least that it would nearly double everyone's tax bill.
Finally, critics say that work is an intrinsic part of our culture and identity. Studies that show a UBI having little to no negative effects on work ethic were conducted in the short-term. There's no data to show what could happen in the long-term, although current trends among the poor suggest that people are increasingly spending their free time doing passive activities like watching TV.
Along with family, work is the defining element of most lives and communities. People who are out of work are much less happy than people who are in work, even in European countries with generous social safety nets. Discouraging people from making the short-term sacrifices necessary to gain a long-term foothold in the job market is not good social policy.
Asking a government to give cash handouts to its citizens is impractical, and the idea that humans are entitled to free money would hardly be considered a human right by many.