Is Universal Basic Income in Our Economic Future?
While scandals, leaks, and temperaments seem to be eating up the majority of the coverage, the state of the economy has still played a big role in the 2016 election cycle. Beyond the usual promises of job growth and better wages there has also been a growing call for what some simply and often mockingly refer to “free stuff” – including candidates like Senator Bernie Sanders and Green Party Presidential nominee Jill Stein calling for tuition-free college. Still, of all the crazy things that have come up during this year’s race, universal basic income has barely been one of them. But is UBI even really that crazy?
As Business Insider reports President Barack Obama recently gave in an interview where he predicted that the debate over universal basic income would be growing much stronger in the coming decades. His reasoning is that, with the rise of artificial intelligence and other technology making certain jobs obsolete for humans, UBI will be seen as a possible solution to preventing widespread poverty. “What is indisputable … is that as AI gets further incorporated, and the society potentially gets wealthier, the link between production and distribution, how much you work and how much you make, gets further and further attenuated,” the President said. Additionally, in a separate interview back in June, the Commander in Chief said, “The notion of a 40-hour workweek, a minimum wage, child labor laws, etc. — those will have to be updated for these new realities.”
For those unfamiliar with the concept, universal basic income refers to the idea of the federal government providing each citizen with an allotted amount of money each month that they could spend in any manner that they see fit. Unlike with other welfare programs UBI funds would be supplied to everyone regardless of their other income. As you’d expect the thought of such a plan has been controversial to say the least.
Opponents of universal basic income argue that “free money” more or less goes against the principals and ethics our country was founded on such as hard work and earning a living. Meanwhile others suggest that providing a basic income actually gives Americans more freedom as it allows them to pursue their interests instead of being having to take on less desirable work in order to pay the bills. In theory having unburdened workers could lead to even more innovation and productivity since you’d have a more motivated workforce. On the other hand a basic income plan might also leave little incentive for citizens to accept some of the country’s more mundane but necessary positions.
At this point the debate over universal basic income is still in its very early stages. However, with other countries and individuals delving into experiments of the concept, it may not be long until UBI becomes a mainstream topic of discussion. As President Obama points out our economy is evolving quickly and so it won’t be too long until what was once unthinkable suddenly finds itself being put on the table.