As costs rise while wages stagnate (and income inequality grows), the concept of a universal basic income (UBI) is starting to gain real traction. The simple notion of giving every person a set amount of money to help meet their basic needs could dramatically reduce poverty (as well as the stigma of being on the dole) and fuel innovation by giving people funds they can use to pursue dream projects. Technologically we are at a point where we can easily distribute the payments and, as machines continue to take over more of our jobs, we need to seriously consider how we are going to functionally survive in the post-work world.
Many economists are stressing the incredible positive effects UBI could have. John McArthur, for example, stresses that it could help millions and millions of people and eradicate extreme poverty in 66+ countries, while Thomas Piketty calls it “a key building block in the reorganisation of our social model” and Christopher Pissarides, a Nobel-prize-winning economist, sees it as a way to fix the flaws in the modern market. Creating a world where people aren’t necessarily dependent on employment to survive has the real opportunity to eradicate unsafe working conditions and amend the reasons why we seek out work.
Major names are picking up on the idea of UBI. Governments are seeing it as a fix to a complicated, controversial and inefficient welfare system and Silicon Valley is pushing it as a solution to the increasing automation and machination of jobs. Next year, in fact, a Facebook-funded initiative (run by the Economic Security Project) will be testing the concept by giving a sampling of residents from Stockton, California $500 a month. This initiative, the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), will help to make a real positive impact by shifting the profits from a very wealthy corporation to one of the poorer areas of the state. This is an example of the shift we should be making, spreading the benefits of privilege to a greater percentage of the population.
On a national level, Finland has been running a UBI test project that sees 2000 residents receive $645 a month for two years. Kenya, through GiveDirectly (Givedirectly.org), has been providing cash transfers of $22 since October 2016 and will continue the pilot for the next 12 years. Canada is working on setting up a test group in three cities in Ontario, with a select group of individuals in Hamilton, Lindsay and Thunder Bay receiving $16,989 a year ($24,027 for a couple) for up to three years. These experiments will serve as a great base point to highlight the need for and benefits of basic income and pinpoint where changes need to be made to better serve the general population.
Supporters of the UBI program are stressing the positive effects the test projects are having on employment rates, as recipients can pursue work without the fear of clawback (as is the case with welfare programs), while recipients are excited about the potential the extra money brings for their entrepreneurial pursuits and speak of the improvement in their quality of life. Humanity has long sought to eradicate poverty and the ills that come with poverty and the basic income program has real potential when it comes to finally finding the solution. It really is a simple way to create a better human economy and a better world.