Our 49th prompt comes from Neville. He asks:
What do you think of Universal Basic Income? Consider the rising inequality due to automation and a few tech companies taking over economic power.
Fantastic question, especially given the levels of income inequality we are witnessing globally. Universal Basic Income (UBI, also known as unconditional/guaranteed basic income) is a type of social security where all citizens (or residents, depending on where you are) of a country receive a guaranteed amount of money either from the government or in many cases (at the moment) an institution carrying out an experiment.
The thinking behind it is as follows: due to advancements in technology, and how they have reshaped our society, many people have/will continue to be rendered redundant at the workplace and lose their jobs. As a result, while the corporations (and people) behind these technologies continue to prosper and make more and more money, more and more people will be unable to have an income/afford their needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare, and so on. Which is why global levels of poverty are the lowest they’ve ever been yet income inequality keeps growing.
UBI normally involves everyone in a given society receiving a fixed amount of money (that should be able to cover one’s needs/expenses that come with living in that society) to do with as they please, regardless of what they are doing with their lives. It could be paid out every week, every month, or even every year. Some people suggest that it be paid out in a lump sum upon becoming an adult. Some critics call it “getting paid to be alive.” However, I see it as a viable solution for ensuring that nobody lives below the poverty line.
In 2016, GiveDirectly, a nonprofit organization, announced a US$ 30 million UBI experiment that will cover nearly 27,000 people in Kenya, with more than 6,000 of them receiving UBI monthly for 12 years. Their goal is to assess whether UBI leads to a change in economic status (income, assets, and standard of living), time use (work, education, leisure, and community involvement), risk-taking (migrating, starting businesses), gender relations (especially female empowerment) and aspirations and outlook on life.
I believe that it will. The safety net that UBI provides will allow more people to aim for self-actualization as opposed to mere survival, and will lead us closer to the sort of society that John Maynard Keynes envisioned we would have by now (working 15 hours a week and spending most of our time on leisure.) The critiques of this approach include the following: UBI will stifle productivity and disincentivize work; or that it is too expensive and countries can’t afford it. All the critiques I have come across, however, are rooted in the glorification of capital/work over human wellbeing, the folly of which I have discussed here before.
As we continue to ask ourselves whether UBI really is the best approach, we also need to ask ourselves why we are willing to be enslaved by capital.
This post is part of a daily writing experiment that I’m running for a year. I’d love it if you took part! 🙂