Why I support Universal Basic Income (UBI)

Between 1974 and 1979, the residents of Dauphin in Manitoba, Canada, were part of a trial that ensured basic minimum incomes for everyone. Known as ‘Mincome’ it was shut down by the incoming Conservative government and no final report was ever written. However, as this article makes clear, the trial led to — at the very least — better health outcomes and near-zero poverty.

We live in a time when we know that increasing automation and the rise of artificial intelligence (‘AI’) is likely to lead to fewer jobs being available for humans. Instead of painting this as a disaster, there are some grasping this as an opportunity to return to that experiment in the 70’s. There have successful recent experiments in rural India and Malawi, while Utrecht (a city in the Netherlands) began a trial in January, the Swiss are voting on the idea in June, and a pilot roles out in Finland in 2017. There is a Wikipedia page to track basic income pilots.

The premise behind Universal Basic Income (UBI) is one that appeals across the political spectrum. From the above linked article about Finland: 

The Left is cheered by the socialistic idea of government-assistance-for-all. The Right looks forward to the unprecedented drop in bureaucratic control over citizens, an unheard-of extension of freedom of choice, and an unconditional restitution of part of citizens’ taxes.

UBI is seen as a way to deal with poverty and the welfare state in a more ‘three-dimensional’ way that transcends party politics. It’s a method that champions self-reliance while simultaneously providing a safety net.

There are always going to be critics. “Why should millionaires get the same amount as someone who’s disabled and unable to work?” goes one common rebuttal. Others wonder whether some may just refuse to work and sit on their ‘unearned cash’. Still more might think that inflation caused by UBI would render it immediately worthless as goods in the market adjusts to the population’s new ‘spending power’.  

I grew up in a middle-class house within a very working-class area. The coal mines were the main employer in the area and, after most of them closed down in the nineties, there was mass unemployment (and all of the problems which go with that). People who are poor don’t want to be poor. They live off benefits out of desperation, not out of fecklessness. While I’ve met many people in my life who feel powerless and helpless, I don’t think I’ve met one person who I’d genuinely call ‘workshy’.

That’s why I think UBI could be such a boon to both our economy but also to the more holistic health of our nation. It’s a way in which we can create a more just society and transition into a time of AI and automation by re-asserting what it means to be human.