In an interview with Playboy in 1970, William F. Buckley proposed an antipoverty idea: free food for all Americans. The federal government would provide grocery stores with quantities of cheap dried foods. Anybody who wanted—“you, me, Nelson Rockefeller,” he quipped—could help themselves to as much as they cared to take. Buckley’s suggested list of free foods included powdered skim milk, soybeans, bulgur wheat, and lard.
Not all the kinks had been worked out of Buckley’s idea (bulgur wheat?). But the moral foundation of Buckley’s idea was simple and strong: No American should go hungry. In the 1960s, many conservatives grappled with the question of how to put a subsistence floor under poor Americans. Such an idea carried the endorsement of Friedrich Hayek himself, who endorsed a guaranteed minimum income in his last major work, Law, Legislation and Liberty, published in 1973:
There is no reason why in a free society government should not assure to all, protection against severe deprivation in the form of an assured minimum income, or a floor below which nobody need descend. To enter into such an insurance against extreme misfortune may well be in the interest of all; or it may be felt to be a clear moral duty of all to assist, within the organised community, those who cannot help themselves. So long as such a uniform minimum income is provided outside the market to all those who, for any reason, are unable to earn in the market an adequate maintenance, this need not lead to a restriction of freedom, or conflict with the Rule of Law.
Milton Friedman realized Hayek’s concept by devising an elegant “negative income tax.” The Nixon administration actually submitted to Congress a version of Friedman’s idea—renamed the “Family Assistance Plan”—around the time of Buckley’s interview.