Though not an entirely new idea, universal basic income is becoming an increasingly viable and revolutionary solution to the looming job disruption due to automation. Another revolutionary concept — which is also not that new — is cryptocurrency. Some believe that the union of the two might be the answer to challenges increased automation in the workforce could present.
UBI is all about giving a regular income to people regardless of their socioeconomic status or employment condition. A fixed amount is decided on, which should ideally be enough to cover a person’s basic needs. In the context of automation, however, UBI is being explored as a means to cushion the effects of unemployment. As such, receiving basic income wouldn’t necessarily stop when a person finds a job, like government unemployment programs.
UBI is a simple concept, but as its critics point out, implementation is not so easy. For one is the issue of funding, and whether or not governments could actually approve such a program. That’s where cryptocurrencies come in.
Cryptocurrencies used to have a bad reputation, thanks to Bitcoin and its association to the dark web. However, while it is the most popular, Bitcoin isn’t the only cryptocurrency around. Recently, more cryptocurrencies have been popping up — like Ether and Zcash.
Cryptocurrencies are mined from a decentralized system of ledgers and transactions known as blockchain. In a blockchain, transactions from various sources get recorded and are kept by a network of specialized computers. Usually, these blockchain keepers are “compensated” for their efforts in maintaining in a block with cryptocurrency. This process is called mining. For every digital transaction recorded and stored, a miner is paid in Bitcoin, Ether, or Zcash, depending on which blockchain they are using.
Several governments — notably Finland’s — are already implementing a UBI trial program. However, experts say “[a] government solution to this issue will not be swiftly implemented,” according to an article in the BTC Manager. Still, several institutions have begun conducting trials of UBI programs that use cryptocurrencies.
One such program, the first of its kind, is run by a U.S.-based nonprofit called the Grantcoin Foundation. It uses a digital currency called Grantcoin (GRT) to distribute basic income to participants from all over the world. Grantcoin’s UBI program began in January 31, 2016, and has since then distributed digital coins to participants on a quarterly basis. Currently, the program is on its third leg of implementation, and has already distributed digital currency to 1,132 applicants since February of this year.
Another known UBI program running on cryptocurrencies is Daniel Jeffries’ open-source distributed application platform known as Cicada. A unique characteristic of Cicada is that it makes everyone on its network into miners, with everyone limited only to one miner. It’s also based on Distributed Proof of Work (DPoW), which is regarded as being more efficient than Bitcoin’s Proof of Work. As such, individuals can mine even on their mobile phones and get paid for it, creating a UBI system from the bottom up.
These cryptocurrencies can be converted to cash, or used directly to buy goods, eliminating the need for government to fund a UBI program.
“Basic income, and especially universal basic income, requires a secure, tamper-proof ledger that can be audited by anyone to ensure the safe delivery of funds.” — Greg Slepak, a developer for the okTurtles Foundation
Additionally, there are other cryptocurrency-based UBI programs like uCoin and Swarm, as well as Circles, which uses Ethereum. There are also UBI-like programs by Kiwicoin in New Zealand, Cubecoin, Strangecoin, the Worldwide Globals Organization, and the Basic Income Project, LLC.
As increased automation is set to disrupt employment in various industries by 2020 to 2045 — with an expected 47 percent of jobs lost in the U.S. alone —, it’s crucial to have working options. UBI is one such option. And UBI via digital currency seems an even better one.