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Universal Basic Income for All

2016: Why globalization and progress has made it inevitable for us to think about a basic income and it's potential for OpenIDEO.

Photo of Paul Cohen
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Universal Basic Income: It is the idea that the government should give everyone a basic amount of money so that they don't become poor. It would act as a common safety net for food, shelter and education for all. Most importantly, it does not depend on whether you work or not; are single or a parent; your background or your gender. It's universal.

The idea may seem crazy at first and there are a lots of information about it online. Below, I would like to point out what I think are the biggest points in favour of this reform. 

First, let us give some context to our current environment.

  1. Globalization: Our hyper-connected world allows anyone from any country with  internet access to work from across the globe. The labour market is more competitive than ever and transcends our notion of boundaries.
  2. Automatization: With increased technological advances, especially in areas like Artificial Intelligence, it is only a matter of time before more and more work becomes automatized. This is nothing new. Having said that, the steady pace of current innovation will make the transitions happen rapidly. In 2015 alone, we have passed a significant threshold. An example is Tesla's AutoPilot feature allowing their cars to drive, park and arrive at a designated location all by itself. Fully autonomous cars will be common-place in a couple years (by 2020 according to Elon Musk). This is probably the biggest catalyst for a paradigm shift in our societies. While more and more jobs become automated, our production capacity will not be decreased, on the contrary it will increase productivity and efficiency. Think of a farm entirely run by AI robots and drones. It may replace the farmer but not cease the production. It will most likely deliver improved efficiency as well. Another opinion is that by increasing labour wages this will only incentivize and accelerate the pace of automatization. The problem with this is that with our current system, less and less people will be able to find work and those that will be able to work will likely require highly-skilled specialization. (Re)Education will likely be necessary for many and a basic income could alleviate the hardship in these conditions.
  3. Needs: We have to re-think our notion of work. Why do we work? Do we really like the work we do? Are some work necessary? Do we work to live or live to work? In sociology and psychology, there is this concept of Hierarchy of Needs as described by Abraham Maslow. It's a pyramidal scheme describing the various developmental stages a person goes through, starting from the bottom with the most crucial element of Physiological needs (food, shelter, sleep); Safety (physical security, employment, health); Love/Belonging (Friendship, family, sexual intimacy); Esteem (Achievement, confidence) and Self-Actualization (Creativity, purpose).


    Today, many of us living in the world's richest countries still struggle against poverty. Our necessity to survive may make us act in ways that are not necessarily aligned with our values, our ways of thinking. Thus, bringing in conflict within ourselves and onto the people around us. The New-York Times recently wrote an article about the stresses of households where both parents work full-time and wished they would have more time  to spend with their kids. Maternity/Paternity leave issues are real. Yet we are not digging in at the fundamental issue which is finding a way to ease our necessities to survive.

This is why Universal Basic Income is a great opportunity to setup a safety net so that we are all beneficiary of a guaranteed minimum revenue to survive on, whether you work or not. Current welfare systems are not only inefficient, they often lead to what's called the welfare trap. Unconditionality is a crucial element, for as long as there are exceptions, there will be divide, which only fuels further conflict.

Furthermore, I believe this would be a catalyst to unlock a pool of creativity and innovation as well as strengthening social cohesion (tightening the bond within our communities).

I compare the process of innovation with the Hierarchy of Needs above. I believe creativity can be fostered only if we are able not to be concerned by our lower level needs (such as the basic necessities for survival). Survival creates an environment of competitiveness, and putting others down so you can climb up the ladder. It is a crucial element in the History of our species, but it does not fit with our model of democracy. Empathy is crucial for collaboration and creativity, yet it can only be attained after the survival needs are fulfilled.


    I will be updating this post with more ideas, but more importantly, please leave a comment, whether you are for or against this. Your input is critical as we can only develop an idea by collaborating and discussing and debating. If you are not familiar with the concept, you can get more information from the links posted below. Thank you.


What is needed:

  • More research: Currently, UBI data is scarce and thus governments are reluctant to even consider the idea. With more data, we will be able to make find better ways to implement a guaranteed income. There is some data however. Please check links below.
  • I am advocating for incentives that reward creativity whether in the Arts or entrepreneurially to push people to act, create and share. 
  • A debate with experts in various fields including: Entrepreneurs, policy-makers, economists, artists, philosophers, students, etc.


What UBI is NOT:

  • A solve-it-all magic plan: UBI by itself may not solve all the problems we face. It is crucial that we approach this carefully. There most likely will be unintended consequences, hence the need to involve a discussion around this.  


Some of my ideas and questions:

  • Would it be possible to fund a private basic income program, rather than it being by the government?
  • Could we extend basic income to every kids so that by the time they turn adults, they have an education-fund.
  • Vision: Extending this to the whole world.


External Links







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5 comments

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Photo of Alina Wernick

Thanks for an important contribution. I do agree that governments must urgently to look for solution to ensure welfare of citizens when increasing amount of work becomes automatized. As you mentioned, automatization is likely to increases efficiency. An important question is who will profits from it. Assuming that at least some level of government ensured income would be necessary to alleviate unemployment-related  problems created by automatization, a challenge would be for the government to find funding for the project. This would likely to be taxes. In this respect, international initiatives to interfere with corporate tax evasion would be necessary to allow governments and societies to capture some of benefit from the effect of automatization. The initiative however, would need to be genuinely global, as otherwise companies would transfer their operations to countries with most favorable tax schemes.

Photo of Christophe Parot

We at Basic Income Project are building a smartphone and web-based application to use a socially responsible digital currency. The premise of this app is that its members receive a basic income. The app enables secure transferring of digital currency between your and another persons unique account and the receiving a basic income every seven days.
http://basicincomeproject.org/

Photo of Paul Cohen

Thank you Christophe. It seems the website is still under construction, I will follow it up closely.

To be frank, I am quite surprised by the lack of response this idea has gotten. Is the scope too large? Is the idea "not-feasible" enough? Since I wrote this post, I have looked up more sources. In particular, a 2015 book called "Basic Income in India: A transformative policy".
As we speak, there are many Indian villages going through Basic Income pilot programs and although the pilots only last on average one year, sometimes two, the outcomes of the individuals and thus their communities reveal significant positive changes. I would recommend anyone with the slightest interest in Basic income to check the book. 

Following the reading of this book, I not only feel inspired by the results but also feel there is a lot to be learned from those experiments that we could incorporate in our policies on tackling urban poverty and inequalities. 
The Basic Income policies rely on three key aspects: 1) Does it empower the well-being of the recipient? 2) Does it empower the economy sustainably? 3) Does it advance the emancipation of the individual (and that of the society)? This is crucial as we have to be constantly aware of whether a policy is really intended with those changes in mind, instead of favourising others interests (which is what subsidies tend to do)

Meanwhile, there are several other pilot project experiments on the Internet. Some of them are private (relying on contributions from the public; by grants) so it's an exciting time to be following this come alive. Peace to all.

Photo of Alisa Malachovic

I completely agree with your idea of universal basic income for everyone, for every human being, just because it's human being. I think we've achieved the level of material wealth (and in the future this will only accelerate with technological progress) when  governments could pay basic amounts to everyone so that the person doesn't have to think about  basic survival, but could apply himself to creativity, arts, science where he finds personal fulfilment. 

Photo of Paul Cohen

Thank you Alisa. In fact, this is blog entry from one such beneficiary of basic income. Scott is able to sustain himself thanks to a basic income supported by his followers. His experience is valuable in understanding the day-to-day effect of BI. 

http://www.scottsantens.com/basic-income-observations-log-entry-one-security