Thoughts on Universial Basic Income (UBI)

The idea of a universal basic income (UBI) has been around for a while. In the 16th century, Thomas More articulated an idea to provide a minimum income to prevent thieves from stealing, as the death penalty wasn’t enough to dissuade the starving. Thomas Paine, a few centuries later, argued for a land tax to fund a UBI to ensure a minimum standard of living.

This idea isn’t necessarily radical either; America already has Social Security, which is a monthly income allowing senior citizens to take care of their basic needs. Yet many are still opposed to the idea. Although there are a variety of reasons why, here are some of the few key ones: 1. funding a UBI would be too expensive, and 2. having one would disincentivize work.

In terms of funding, the costs may not be as high as imagined. As of 2010, about 700 billion in federal aid was allocated towards America’s various welfare programs. In general, many proponents of UBI agree that it should just replace the current system, leading to a simpler welfare state. It would be difficult to redirect the funding and change the current departments, but that is a bureaucratic task, not an economic one.

Furthermore, a UBI may not actually disincentivize work. Especially now, automation, rather than outsourcing, is the main reason for the lack of jobs. While only low-skill jobs in the food and factory sectors are being affected now, machines will soon be able to do any sort of work at the current rate of innovation. Thus, instead of creating another Great Depression-esque culture where millions are displaced and searching for work, companies should just provide compensation so they can support themselves. This solution should be a win-win for all parties; the corporations will still save money from fewer human workers, while those workers will still be able to live stably. With more free time, anyone will be able to pursue what they would like, which could lead to further innovations in various sectors. Remember that companies like Facebook and Google started off with a good idea, funding, and hard work. Today, after the tech bubble bursting and the 2008 recession, there aren’t as many start-ups. If a UBI existed, people could explore ideas which could turn into products or services that could add value to society.

Several states and countries are realizing the values of UBI, and have implemented with them with varying terms of success. These smaller experiments all prove that a UBI is viable, and perhaps in a few decades, we will all be living with one.

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