What is a universal basic income?

WorkDone Admin
Sep 10, 2018 · 2 min read

A universal basic income is a sum of money regularly provided to every citizen by the government, regardless of employment status. There are no eligibility tests like the ones used to determine Social Security in America, it’s a stipend for everyone. Designed to replace most social programs, a universal basic income provides a leaner welfare system with less bureaucracy.

While the idea of people receiving money for nothing may sound counterintuitive, it’s hardly novel. The idea dates back to the shores of France with Marquis de Condorcet who lived from 1743–1794 and was branded a traitor for his liberal ideas. After de Condorcet’s death, American Revolutionary, Thomas Paine developed and expanded upon his friend’s vision of a basic capital grant for people. Since then, the philosophy of assistance in the form of a safety net has evolved and is still alive in America.

Martin Luther King Jr advocated for a basic income program in America in the 1960s, and today some tech titans have taken up the cause. Given the speed and power of disruptive technology like artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation, tech leaders like Elon Musk have been vocal with their support. They believe that the power of technology can remove the drudgery from repetitive, low value work.

Technology has advanced human civilization in countless ways, and will continue to shape the future of work, prompting some governments to test out the social ramifications of a universal basic income. One example includes our maple syrup-loving neighbors to the North. The Canadian pilot program for a universal basic income discovered that over 60% of people living below the poverty line in Canada held one or more jobs, yet still remained beneath the poverty line.

The creator of Google’s deep learning Brain project, Andrew Ng, has put forth the suggestion of a conditional basic income. This idea centers around the notion that AI will make some jobs redundant, as such, this conditional income should pay displaced workers to seek training to learn job skills for the new economy. Instead of workers receiving money regardless, they would be required to pursue additional job training to qualify for a stipend.

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