How Can Universal Basic Income Mitigate Fallout From Automation?

By Brian Wallace

July 8, 2019   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

In a 2018 poll, nearly half of Americans supported the idea of a Universal Basic Income program. What is Universal Basic Income, where did the idea come from, and what would it mean for our society as we know it today? Every industrial revolution displaces workers, and artificial intelligence is the next threat to job security. Could a universal basic income alleviate the fallout from the next industrial revolution?

What Is Universal Basic Income?

universal basic income

A universal basic income would ideally be given in money instead of vouchers or services, with no employment requirement for recipients, and would be provided to individual receivers rather than entire households. Additionally, it would be distributed in regular intervals, rather than in a large lump of money.

The main goal would be to promote egalitarianism. It would give people the freedom to choose which jobs to take instead of taking a job they hate just because it pays well. It would give those who want to pursue education the opportunity to do so unencumbered by debt. And, most importantly, it would reduce the social ills that go along with poverty, such as crime and addiction.

Where did the idea of a basic income come from? It’s not actually a new idea at all, but rather it has been proposed several times throughout history for various reasons. Thomas More spoke about the benefits of a minimum income in his 1516 work Utopia. Thomas Paine argued for a basic endowment for all adults over the age of 21 as early as 1796. And The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that a guaranteed income would be a great way to counter the man-made problem of poverty.

Some Municipalities Already Have Pilot Programs

The idea might seem utopian, but basic income testing has already begun. There are arguments that it’s going to be too costly — who’s paying for it? A tax on certain goods and services, known as a ‘value-added-tax’, can help pay for it, and this is usually paid by customers. Alternatively, amending the tax system to tax any income over $10 million at a rate of 70% could bring in enough revenue to pay for the whole thing.

Across the world people are trying out how a basic income could work. From 2019 to 2020 in Stockholm, California, monthly stipends were tested at random on 100 citizens. In the Netherlands, test groups received different types and levels of basic income over the last year. Finland’s National Experiment aimed at unemployed citizens was discontinued after the program found that although results showed improved well-being within those selected,  there was no significant impact on employment.

How Universal Basic Income Helps

These experiments have boosted health, happiness, and confidence in recipients. This is a crucial time in human history to be testing this concept as automation threatens job security worldwide.

How Automation And AI Will Affect Work

universal basic income automation

Automation will both create and eliminate jobs, and the volatility of this next industrial revolution will cause instability in the workforce, particularly for less skilled and less educated workers who are the most vulnerable. Earnings will go down as competition for work drives wages down for existing jobs and poor-paying jobs would become prevalent as demand outweighs supply. Threats of recession are beginning to show. Loss of income to buy things means consumption would fall sharply and a lack of earnings would burden businesses, further lowering employment. Overwhelming debt burdens are also taking their toll on people.

See Also: Can You Robot-Proof Your Career?

Can We Fix The Problem — And Should We?

There are many arguments for and against a universal basic income, but the need for such a policy is clear. Preventing strife in society from displaced workers and giving people greater control over their lives are important issues to address. But can it really work? Is there a better way? Find out how cities and countries are experimenting with universal basic income and what it means for our world here.
Universal Basic Income
Source: Great Business Schools

Brian Wallace

Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency based in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian also runs #LinkedInLocal events nationwide, and hosts the Next Action Podcast. Brian has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present and joined the SXSW Advisory Board in 2019.

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