What role for a household-based regressive negative income tax?

Despite the forbidding label, this would definitely be a major change in the right direction. Under the more enticing name of «Bürgergeld», it has been been advocated for many years in Germany by Joachim Mitschke (1985, 1995), professor of public finance at the University of Frankfurt. Ulrich Mückenberger, Claus Offe and Ilona Ostner (1989) argued for a less specific version of the same proposal, and Fritz Scharpf (1994, 2000), director of Cologne’s Max Planck Institute, endorsed it as his preferred option. More recently, under the clumsier label «allocation compensatrice de revenu», a variant of it has been defended in France by Roger Godino (1999), former Dean of the management school INSEAD, and has been cautiously supported by sociologist Robert Castel (1999) and economists François Bourguignon (1999) and Laurent Caussat (2000). The idea is simply to take as given the household modulation of the current guaranteed minimum income and, instead of withdrawing the benefit at a 100% rate as earnings increase, to withdraw them at a somewhat lower rate, say 70 or even 50%, so as to create material incentives to work for any household, however low its earning power. In Godino’s proposal for France, for example, the rate is calculated so that the benefit would be entirely phased out for single people as their earnings reached the level of the guaranteed minimum wage, as opposed to the much lower level of the guaranteed minimum income, as is currently the case. In the case of a larger household, the starting level is higher. If the same reduced rate of benefit withdrawal applies, the benefit is completely phased out only at a level of earnings that exceeds the minimum wage. One major political advantage of this formula is that it can be presented as taking the current guaranteed minimum income as its point of departure and strengthening it by getting rid of the absurd penalisation of any effort to get out of the trap by taking on some low-paid activity. One major administrative disadvantage is that it implies not just that a much expanded number of households will be on benefit (admittedly at a far lower average rate), but, more awkwardly, that how high a benefit the households are entitled to receive depends on their living arrangements, which the administration must therefore be allowed to control.