Universal basic income


Universal basic income, or UBI, is an idea that has been steadily gaining traction for the past 10 years, and not just in the United States. Many countries are starting to move toward making this goal a reality, or at least motioning for a real test to see if it could work. Thanks to the efforts of one tech incubator, we may be ready for the first test.

What Is UBI?

If you’re not familiar, like many, universal basic income refers to the model of providing all citizens of an area with a given sum of money, regardless of income or employment status. There are five commonly accepted characteristics of UBI:

  1. Periodic: it is paid at regular intervals, versus acting as a one-time grant.
  2. Cash payment: it is paid in an appropriate medium of exchange (not food stamps or vouchers), so those receiving it can decide what they spend it on.
  3. Individual basis: it is paid on a case-by-case basis, not to a whole household.
  4. Universal: it is paid to all, without a means test or official investigation into someone’s financial circumstances.
  5. Unconditional: it is paid without requiring the recipient to work.

Advocacy group Basic Income Earth Network, or BIEN, claims the essential principle is the idea that all citizens are entitled to a livable income, despite the circumstances into which they are born, and whether or not they contribute to production. But is it possible that this kind of payment plan could work?

Pros And Cons

Every proposed program has its benefits and disadvantages. The basis for UBI is survival. It could reduce poverty and increase equality amongst citizens, as well as replace existing government programs like welfare. But the biggest motivator is new technology. Most supporters are nervous that as tech progresses, more jobs will become automated. A basic income could help those workers whose jobs become obsolete in the future.

The biggest concern with UBI is that people may become complacent, or no longer motivated to work. Not to mention how much it could cost the government to provide this kind of monthly stipend. However, there are no proven models to judge yet. And with UBI’s long line of supporters, including Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg, it makes you wonder what could be.

This Tech Incubator Is Looking Forward

Since 2016, technology incubator Y Combinator has been working on plans to fund a long-term study around UBI. Being a leader in Silicon Valley, company president Sam Altman stated, “I’m fairly confident that at some point in the future, technology continues to eliminate traditional jobs, and new wealth gets created, we’re going to see some version of that at a national scale.”

Instead of lulling others into a lazier way of life, he believes guaranteed income could unlock incredible human potential since basic needs would no longer be a concern. Y Incubator is partnering with the University of Michigan Survey Research Center to begin a regional study in early to mid-2019. We’ll certainly be watching.