In a 2018 poll, nearly half of Americans supported the idea of a Universal Basic Income program. This model that was created in hopes to increase equality and reduce poverty has been gaining popularity over time. The modern concept dates back as early as 1516 with Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ philosophy, but different versions have existed since Ancient Rome gave citizens wine rations. This idea has been around for a long time, and with the threat of automation, a possible recession, and other societal problems, is it finally time to put a Universal Basic Income to the test?
Following More’s ideas on the benefits of a minimum income, Thomas Paine proposed a plan in 1796 to provide a basic endowment for all adults over 21 years of age. The idea there was to ease the transition from landed gentry to a more egalitarian society. In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that a guaranteed income would be the counter to poverty and all the social ills that come along with it.
In addition to the goal of a Universal Basic Income is to reduce poverty, alongside the negative effects that come with it, it is also expected to lead society towards freedom of choice in lifestyle and employment on an individual level. All the artists who want to create art would no longer have to starve, and people who wanted to do good within society could afford to.
Many people have also called for UBI as automation has increasingly become a factor of unemployment in hopes that the system would offset job losses during the next major industrial revolution. As the workforce is retooled for the next generation of work, we could use UBI to prevent the fallout from mass unemployment and displacement.
Funding for a Universal Basic Income would potentially come from a Value-Added Tax, taxing the production of goods or services, or a Flat Income Tax, though some worry it might take funding away from proven methods of welfare. There are also concerns it would drive wages down and give businesses an incentive to pay lower wages.
There are current trials of this method of welfare reform in California and the Netherlands, as well as stalled implementations in Ontario and Finland. Preliminary findings include a 12% increase in confidence in financial situations in addition to optimism for the future. UBI does seem to work at addressing the problems it is supposed to, but the long-term effects are still not known.
The time to experiment may be coming to an end – nearly half of all work activities in the world have the potential to be automated. Looking towards the future of employment means seeing the possibilities of decreased wages, threats of recession, and overwhelming debt burdens. Providing real money, having no employment requirement, and receiving aid in regularly distributed intervals may seem utopian to some, but as the future of work changes, a Universal Basic Income could be a step towards a more equal and livable society.
Find out more about how Universal Basic Income could change society here.
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