Is Universal Basic Income Coming? (infographic)

Is a Universal Basic Income a good idea? The Great Recession drove the wealth gap up significantly worldwide, and the very poor are struggling to regain their footing. Technology is exacerbating this problem as automation threatens to take a large percentage of the world’s unskilled labor positions in just a few short decades, leaving many to question how society can continue to sustain itself under these circumstances. Universal basic income is one possible solution, and the idea has been around longer than you may think.

Thomas Moore called for a universal basic income in Utopia, wondering what the societal benefit might be of such a program toward the end of preventing crime and death. Thomas Paine even proposed the idea of a basic endowment for all adults over the age of 21 in order to support the new Republic’s agrarian lifestyle and political system, which notably included adults who arrived as immigrants. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. even proposed a universal basic income as a means to abolish poverty once and for all.

As automation and various forms of artificial intelligence start to replace human workers, jobs are expected to become more scarce over time and wages are expected to become more scarce among those still employed as demand for human labor goes down. This is a scenario that may or may not play out — other analysis believe that automation will free us up from menial tasks or tasks that cause physical damage to the human body and that new forms of work will take the place of those displaced jobs, as happened eventually after the last industrial revolution. But at the very least the transition between these periods could be very volatile, and a universal basic income could be used to smooth the transition.

The basic tenets of a Universal Basic Income include:
  • Real money - not vouchers or services
  • Available to everyone, regardless of income
  • Distributed to individuals instead of households
  • Regular intervals instead of a lump sum
The main idea of providing a universal basic income is so that people can achieve freedom of choice for their lifestyles, education, and career paths and they don’t have to depend on a rapidly degrading employment framework as more jobs are taken through tech and automation. A universal basic income is also thought to be a solution for a more egalitarian society, removing the barrier to entry for first generation professionals, among other things.

The first question many people ask is who pays for this. It’s what’s called a ‘value added tax’ which means everyone pays a percentage of their income and they actually receive services in return for their contributions, including the return of ensuring everyone is taken care of at a baseline level. There are communities all over the world where this concept is already being tested in various forms with varying results.

There are, of course, many objections to this concept. It is believed that people should only get what they work for, regardless of disability or other extenuating circumstances. It is also believed that giving people artificial advantages will mess with natural selection. Critics also point to the failures or the lack of success of some of the pilot programs as proof it wouldn’t work on a larger scale.

In Finland, the national universal basic income experiment produced measurable results in terms of increased financial confidence and optimism for the future, as well as proving to be good for health and overall society, and that was a relatively short study. More information is still needed, but preliminary results are encouraging.

Learn more about the pros and cons of a universal basic income from the infographic below.

Nearly half of Americans support the idea of a Universal Basic Income, but could it really work to alleviate poverty and other societal problems? This infographic outlines the pros and cons.
Could Universal Basic Income Work? - Infographic
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