What Does Universal Basic Income Mean?
It is the idea and proposal of providing every citizen within a given state or country a specific amount of money on a regular basis. It’s essentially a welfare system provided by the government that doesn’t eliminate the freedom of choice. It’s supposed to be fair, simple, and difficult to corrupt. Everyone receives the same amount of money, and the government stays out the way regarding what citizens can do with their free cash. It’s often brought up as a way to combat poverty and provide greater assistance to those who need it most.
Where Did It Come From?
Thomas Paine, a late 17th century social activist and philosopher is often credited with coining the term universal income through an essay he published in 1797 that was aimed at preserving private property for the working class. It can be argued that Paine was the first to express this ideology on paper, but his mentor Antoine Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet often voiced the same arguments when publicly speaking to the poverty stricken French laborers. Paine’s mentor was eventually jailed and slaughtered for his political activism and disdains against the state, but he didn’t die in vein as his mentee and fellow followers helped spark one of the world’s most infamous political revolutions.
Paine is largely viewed as one of the most influential philosophers of his time, and for good reason. But truthfully Paine, nor his mentor should be credited with the idea of a minimum income, as Thomas More first laid out the blueprint and explained the potential benefits in his fictional novel Utopia. Utopia was published in 1516, more than 200 years before Paine was even born. Without Utopia, activists like Paine may have never introduced Europe to the possibility of a minimum income for all of its citizens.
Arguments For A Universal Income
Implementing a universal income for a large population would be difficult, that’s no secret. But arguing for a universal income is quite simple as the reasonings behind it are definitive and short. Arguments include an increase of financial security, protection against advancements of technology that could soon replace many jobs, and reducing the inequality found within many countries.
The most widely used argument for a basic universal income is that it would improve the welfare of the poor. In capitalist countries such as the US the wage gap between the poor and elite continues to skyrocket. Our current welfare checks and balances limit recipients on what they can use government money for, and in most cases it is simply coupon vouchers that can be redeemed at local grocery stores. Universal income would allow citizens to spend the money however they choose, and instead of using it on food they could invest it towards furthering their education or creating their own small business, providing a potential greater return than simply giving them discounted food items.
The second most commonly used argument is that it will help countries adjust to labor-saving technologies. It’s no secret that automation is coming, and soon global industries that provide millions of jobs will begin to implement technology that will eliminate the need for a large percentage of their human employers. The US trucking industry provides more than 7 million jobs across the country but many experts believe it could soon be entirely replaced by self-driving cars and trucks that will not require a passenger or driver. The bottom line is that replacing human employers with self-learning machines is no longer fantasy. Fast food chains across the world are replacing their cashiers with touch screens as chain-restaurants continue to eliminate the need for a server.Even firms working in the creative space are beginning to realize the positive ROI when employing a computer over a real life person; a Toronto based graphic design firm uses AI technology to develop logos and graphics for businesses across the world. Just a few years ago it was thought that the creative arena was perhaps one of the few spaces that AI couldn’t touch. But marketers, writers and designers should be just as concerned as their local truck drivers.
One final argument for a basic income is that it could potentially lead our world towards our next social evolution. Before automation and smart computers existed citizens of the world heavily relied upon one another for the basic survival of mankind. But as computers have evolved our species have soon realized that the machines we have invented possess far greater capabilities and power than we could ever hope to achieve ourselves. Our parents grew up on the notion that putting in an honest day’s of work is what makes you a respectable and contributing member towards society. But this was mainly used as a tactic to grow the economy and help build a nation that is now regarded as the world’s first hegemonic country. When speaking of a universal income it’s important to ask the question of human development. Were we truly placed on this planet to work 5 days of week? Can we not imagine a world that allows us to focus more on relationships and things that we genuinely enjoy to participate in? Providing a basic income would give citizens more freedom to pursue the things that provide them with happiness and joy.
Arguments Against Universal Income
Providing a basic universal income is deeply rooted in socialism and even flirts with communism. Capitalist countries such as the US have a history of deflecting and putting negative spins towards these political ideologies. Our current welfare system is already heavily debated, and many people believe our government is already providing too much assistance. Keep in mind that capitalist countries are often founded and built on a type of bootstrap mentality, one that doesn’t include giving away thousands of dollars without asking for anything in return.
An economical argument against providing a bui is that the inflation it causes across multiple markets will offset any potential positives that it may bring. What good is it to provide a small consistent income to all of your citizens if the prices of basic goods and services dramatically rise? Is receiving $10,000 a year worth having to pay $2 more every time you buy a fruit or vegetable? You can kiss the falling costs of TV’s and computers goodbye! These are things often said by bui critics, but recent studies have pointed out the flaws in these vague arguments.
The US has a population hovering around 327 million people. Let’s say the government distributes a universal basic income of $10,000 to all of its citizens, a common number that is found within many pro-arguments. Where will that money come from? The country is already facing budget cuts towards healthcare, agriculture development and education, how would it possibly come up with the money to give away that much free cash? It’s not as if you can just print more money without facing severe economic consequences.
Finally, one last argument that is often seen in the arena of providing a basic income is that there is little to no proof that it would make life easier for the poor, which is the class that it would be most intended to benefit. The only country that has successfully implemented a universal income is Finland, a nation that features a much more homogenous country than the US. Many believe that providing this free income would simply raise the floor of the poverty line, which doesn’t directly casuate to more people escaping poverty.
Key Leaders Who Are Sparking The Conversation
This blog wouldn’t be published without public figures and industry leaders arguing for a universal income. Because of their voiced opinions this political ideology has forced its way in mainstream news, and will likely be a heavily debated topic in the next presidential election.
Elon Musk is perhaps the most well known proponent of a bui. The current SpaceX CEO has publicly stated the need for a greater welfare system as robots continue to become more advanced. In an interview with CNBC the founder of Tesla explained that soon there will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better and that with automation comes a drastic reduction in corporations costs. Musk has also gone on the record to say that if a bui is not provided in the near future than the gap between the rich and the poor will only expand, creating a greater sense of inequality in a country that is meant to provide equal opportunity for all of its citizens.
In the political sphere Bernie Sanders has continually argued for the need of a bui. The democratic socialist has pushed for bipartisanship to carry out the task of designing a logical plan that could be supported from both sides of the table. During his presidential campaign Sanders went on the record to clear up his stance on bui, saying that because we stand to lose half of our jobs to automation within 20 years providing a bui is an inevitable choice we must make, and not doing so will cause great suffering.
It’s important to credit these leaders while also understanding that if a bui is to be implemented it will be because of the general public’s demand, and not a politicians or CEOs wishful thinking.
If Not Universal Income, Then What? Some Type Of Policy Is Needed
One of the largest expenses for many small businesses and corporations is payroll. Employees are paid every single minute of the day, at least while they’re at work. Machines don’t come without costs, but they don’t have the residual costs that come with a real life person. Another important factor to take into account is that machines don’t require lunch and coffee breaks, nor do they require sleep. If a business is presented with an opportunity to cut employees that take up a large percentage of their payroll they are likely going to do it because in the capitalist world it's all about maximizing profits.
A recent report by the Paris-based OECD concluded that 14% of jobs across developed countries are already highly-automable, and at least 32% of jobs are at severe risk of experiencing significant changes. The report states that a minimum of 13,000,000 jobs in the US will soon be lost thanks to automation, creating an economic crises that will far outweigh what Detroit experienced during the decline of the car industry.
As a general public it’s important to realize that without the average consumer these large corporations would not exist. Who helped make Walmart what is today? The consumer. Many would argue that it is socially and morally corrupt to replace the people who helped bring in your profits to begin with. A solution that differs from providing a bui is a taxation policy; If corporations want to replace human workers then the government should create policies that tax them at higher rates for doing so. Finally, one last word is that if citizens do not put pressure on their local and national politicians to create creative policies that combat the negative economic impact that automation is going to bring then the majority of them are likely going to be left in the dust while a select few basque in the benefits of automation.