UBI – answer for the automation or just a false promise?

What is UBI?

Simply said universal based income (UBI) is money paid by the government to all citizens, regardless their employment and financial status.

The first who proposed paying people free money was Thomas Paine. In 1797 he proposed paying all 21-year-olds unconditional income funded through a tax on landowners. Since that time many people tried to push similar ideas through. In 1969 Richard Nixon tried to pass guaranteed minimum income and was very close to passing it. Not so long after that, in 1972 George McGovern tried his chances with the idea of giving every American citizen $1000 of free money; also unsuccessful. But since that time many attempts to test UBI in practice were made.

The simplified map below shows the most significant of attempts to test or implement universal based income:


Do we actually need it?

Lately, the idea of universally distributed income returned because of growing concerns about the future of employment. Politicians, Silicon Valley leaders, and many professors believe that because of developments in automation, artificial intelligence, robotics and self-driving technology there may be no job left for many people in the future. According to the estimate of Oxford University, as much as 47% of U.S. jobs are at risk of being automated in next 20 years. 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that development of technology will lead to high levels of unemployment, therefore, some form of UBI is “going to be necessary.” eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar is already testing the potential of UBI in Kenya. Lately, during his commencement speech at Harvard University Mark Zuckerberg states his positive opinion about UBI. He said that “we should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things,” he also added that people need some financial safety net to be free in pursuing their passions. And universal based income is this kind of a safety net.


But will it work?

Nobody can be sure whether universal based income will work or not but what we know for now is that UBI is much simpler to run and implement than existing benefit systems. According to Matthew Bidwell, a management professor at Wharton University: UBI is simpler to implement than other forms of welfare because it doesn’t require means testing [for eligibility]. Moreover, trials of universally distributed, unconditional benefits carried around the world through past 40 years prove that this system may have a really beneficial impact on the society. Most of the conducted experiments had surprisingly positive outcomes and there are much more projects on the way.

Today we may don’t need UBI yet but because of rapid development in technology world is changing very fast. In the near future distribution and definition of work may significantly change and the only way for society to adapt to this change is when political and economical systems will follow and change accordingly.









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