Is It Time for an Universal Basic Income?

Harry Coulter | 05 Mar 2018

Debating Universal Basic IncomeThe idea of a Basic Income was introduced by philosopher Sir Thomas More in his famous work, Utopia, all the way back in 1516. Now, just over 500 years later, introducing the concept on a wide scale is being entertained and tested out in a bigger way than ever before.

Universal Basic Income is the ultimate goal, and would see every citizen, regardless of how much money they take in per month, getting paid a basic stipend. The situation is not unlike the way that every new mobile casino member gets a Welcome Bonus when they register, regardless of their overall economic status.

In reality, of course, we are a long way off from the idealised world of a true Universal Basic Income, or UBI. The specifics of any plan would need to be carefully worked out, and could involve paying everyone a UBI and then taxing the entire population according to what their net income is. This would mean that higher earners and wealthier members of society would get a UBI, but would then pay that back, along with more, in their income tax.

Current Experiments with Basic Income

At the moment there are several trials being run by governments around the world, and there have been a few past successes too. Present and previous experimental countries include Kenya, Namibia, Alaska, Switzerland and the Netherlands. First- and third-world countries are recognising the benefits, and 2 of the most interesting trials going on at the moment are in Canada and Finland.

For both the Finnish and Canadian citizens chosen to be part of the current social experiments, the Basic Income has allowed them to focus on getting out of the destitute situations that they find themselves in. The amount that they get is not huge, but it is enough to survive on and allows them to focus their energy on furthering their education and finding jobs or other ways of generating income. A wonderful bi-product of this is that participants report newfound self-respect and greater quality of life.

In Ontario, where the Canadian experiment is taking place among 4,000 residents, premier Kathleen Wynne explained that the very real fear of automation and the need to protect blue-collar workers is among the biggest motivating factors for instituting a functional UBI. If Ontario’s trial is deemed successful it could expand to the rest of the province and will hopefully inspire policymakers across Canada.

Future of UBIs Remains to be Seen

No More Low WagesThere are proponents for the UBI from every walk of life, including democrats like Bernie Sanders and Silicon Valley heroes like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Leftists love the idea for its sustainable alternative to welfare, while those on the right appreciate the innovative self-starter attitude that it fosters.

On the other hand, critics of the UBI suggest that it would create a network of low-income traps, where people are content to work in minimum-wage jobs because they still get their UBI on top of what they earn. They also point to the cost of rolling out such a programme to begin with, and question whether countries would be able to afford to sustain it.

How well the UBI would do overall remains to be seen, but the limited experiments that have been carried out so far suggest that it would create an environment where people were more able to help themselves, freed from the basic worry of how they would survive. In these days of economic struggle that remain in the wake of the financial crisis, and with the rise in the disparity between the rich and the poor that has been growing since the 1980s, it is certainly something that should be seriously considered.

 

Research Links: