Realising The Potential Of Universal Basic Income In The 21st Century

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Technology Advancements Mean We Are Closer To Realising The Potential Of Universal Basic Income
Tech Advancements: We Are Closer To Realising The Potential Of Universal Basic Income

GoodDollar Is On A Mission To Help Realise The Potential Of Universal Basic Income – Which, We Believe, Is Now Possible At Scale, Finally, Thanks To Incredible Technology Advancements In The 21st Century

Progressive minds have contemplated the concept of universal basic income (UBI) for over five centuries – Thomas More alluded to such a system in Utopia, his controversial masterpiece published in 1516 – but no large-scale applications of a mechanism to distribute finances equally have yet been put into practice. So how can GoodDollar help realise the potential of universal basic income in the 21st century?

Sceptics have long pointed to the practical difficulties of establishing meaningful UBI, dismissing the idea as, well, utopian fantasy. However, technology, at turns, is advancing the argument to embrace UBI by enabling it through innovation, and also by effectively making large swathes of the global workforce redundant.

Indeed, by 2030 up to 800 million human workers – one-fifth of the world’s workforce – are likely to have their roles displaced by automatons and because of artificial intelligence (AI), according to a McKinsey Global Institute report, Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages, published in November 2017.

The so-called “technological unemployment” – explored in another GoodDollar blog post – looming on the horizon comes at a time when already-record financial wealth inequality is widening. A recent House of Commons Library report, Inclusive Growth research, calculated that the richest 1% of people on the planet are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030.

Added Voices And New Possibilities

Little surprise that the clamour to explore UBI is becoming louder, with thought-leaders, economists, tech visionaries and politicians adding their voices to cause in recent years. For example, Andrew Yang, the 40-something Founder of Venture for America and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, has anchored his campaign to dethrone Donald Trump with UBI. “Let’s put humanity first,” he advises. “It’s time for universal basic income.”

An article on Mr Yang’s campaign website called What is UBI? attempts to answer frequently asked questions. These include why he believes UBI is imperative for his country’s long-term success (“In the next 12 years, one out of three American workers are at risk of losing their jobs to new technologies.”) and who will be eligible for UBI, and how much will they receive (“Every U.S. citizen between the ages of 18–64 would receive $1,000 a month.”).

Similarly, Andrew Ng, another young, influential American entrepreneur, reacted to Mr Trump’s presidential triumph in 2016 by posting on Twitter: “More than ever, we need basic income to limit everyone’s downside, and better education to give everyone an upside.” Mr Ng, Co-Founder of online learning platform Coursera, is one of a growing number of forward-thinking business leaders who propose UBI as a means to combat poverty.

Pierre Omidyar, the American billionaire Founder of eBay, has gone further and backed a UBI project. In June 2017 it was announced that his Omidyar Network had invested $493,000 (£386,000) in GiveDirectly, a UBI pilot giving out free money to Kenyans. On the GiveDirectly website, a long list of chronological testimonials highlights how a little money can go a long way, and is especially life-changing for those most in need.

Life-Changing UBI

For instance, Tusabe, after accepting the second payment of $449, wrote: “Some improvement in the hygiene and sanitation has been realised in my family.” James, who received an initial payment of $467, said: “The biggest difference in my daily life is that I have bought a bull for ploughing.”

A blog post on the Omidyar Network website suggested that “it is clear that cash transfers have an important role to play in alleviating poverty and empowering people”.

Meanwhile, both Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Chief Executive, and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk – tech visionaries elevated to 21st-century pop-star status, and two of the most recognisable people on the planet – have espoused the virtues of UBI while acknowledging the unstoppable rampage of technology. They thoroughly understand the consequences and impact of automation and AI.

Mr Zuckerberg has not yet declared an interest in running for president, though in a political speech in May 2017 he promoted the case for UBI to spark innovation, through empowering people. “We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful,” the Facebook Founder said. “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things.”

Elsewhere, support for UBI has even been expressed by famous capitalist and fund manager Bill Gross, Co-Founder of Pacific Investment Management Co. In May 2016 he urged the Federal Reserve to “print money and just hand it out to ordinary citizens, regardless of whether they are productive members of society or drug-addled bums”.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Future Of Work

Other leaders promote UBI from a perspective of redefining work. Ray Kurzweil, a provocative futurist, focused on the meaning of work in a recent Q&A session at the Singularity University, which he co-founded, arguing that people who are no longer forced to toil for a monthly paycheck could instead pursue their passions. “You’ll do something that you enjoy,” he said. “That you have a passion for. Why don’t we just call that work?”

Whether the motivations are combating poverty, concerns about technological unemployment, or a need to redefine the meaning of work, UBI is gaining momentum and moving into the mainstream of thought leaders, across a range of industries. The number of luminaries promoting UBI as a bold social-economic paradigm is growing all the time.

It may have been a utopian concept to begin with, but UBI is now gaining traction and, in the 21 century, the potential of those initial, revolutionary ideas could be realised, finally.

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