Sorry, Bill Gates Doesn’t Think We Can Have Universal Basic Income

The U.S. “isn’t rich enough.”

Photo credit: Sam Churchill, CC BY 2.0.

Bill Gates—inventor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist—is not the kind of person whom one would accuse of having a lack of imagination.

But the one thing he can’t imagine is Universal Basic Income for all Americans.

Yesterday, Gates did a Reddit AMA in which he wrote “Even the US isn’t rich enough to allow people not to work.” Although that day might someday come, until then we should focus our resources on “helping older people, helping kids with special needs, having more adults helping in education.”

That’s not actually a bad start, Mr. Gates. I’d love for our country to give more money to older people, families who have children with special needs, and teachers. Because that’s what you meant, right? Money-money-cash-money, the proven best way to help people who are at risk of financial instability?

Or does Bill Gates mean something more along the lines of “I’ll continue to give grants to non-profits that do good work but also rely on a lot of volunteer labor,” because I guess we aren’t rich enough yet to pay everyone? (I’m specifically referencing a few Gates grants here.)

I know it’s complicated. I know that Universal Basic Income would cost a lot of money. I know that paying everyone who volunteers at an non-profit educational center—or even letting the volunteers keep volunteering and just paying the staff more—would cost a lot of money.

I also know I’m being a jerk about Bill Gates’ philanthropy, which is overwhelmingly generous and which has done a lot of truly important work in the world.

But I feel kinda crushed that Gates is dismissing the idea of Universal Basic Income outright. I think my actual disappointment is in this idea that money matters less than some nebulous concept of “help,” even though it has been proven to work best the other way around.

What do you think? Also: if you’d like an interesting and occasionally infuriating read, enjoy the 373 replies to Gates’ Reddit comment about Universal Basic Income.