The Basic Income Debate
Though not new, the concept of universal basic income (UBI) — a system in which all people, regardless of occupation, demographic, social standing, education, or any other external factor, receive a basic income — has risen in popularity over the past few years. Now, experts predict that 2018 will be the year the concept reaches mainstream politics.
“We’re going to see concrete basic income proposals introduced in 2018, with a focus on the state and city level,” Jim Pugh, a San Francisco-based UBI expert and co-founder of the Universal Income Project, told Business Insider. “When I talk to people now about basic income, nearly everyone is familiar with the concept, including elected officials.”
Much of the current focus on UBI is due to the increased use of automation in the workplace. As automated systems render more and more workers obsolete, UBI has been floated as a way to provide them with the money needed to afford basic necessities.
UBI may be garnering a lot of attention right now, but experts continue to disagree on the potential impact of such a system. Proponents assert that it could drastically boost the economy, eliminate poverty, and give people more time for leisure or to pursue other projects. Meanwhile, UBI detractors claim the system could make people lazy and encourage them to be unemployed.
Of course, there are a lot of options between a full UBI system and no UBI system, such as an earned-income tax credit (EITC), and the testing of these options could serve to narrow the divide between the pro- and anti-UBI factions.
“Remember, basic income is not one idea. It’s a direction of thought,” Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian and basic income advocate, told Business Insider. “We can make our current welfare state more basic income-ish in many ways. And there are a lot of politicians — mainly on the left — who are in favor of that direction.”
2017 was a big year for UBI. In the U.S., Hawaii became the first state to pass a bill in support of UBI, and Stockton, California, became the first city to launch a basic income experiment. The largest basic income project ever kicked off in Kenya, and in Europe, Finland and Scotland both pursued their own trials.
However, while the popularity of UBI is on the rise, not all experts are certain that 2018 will be the year it officially breaks through into mainstream politics.
“I think interest will continue to grow. I don’t think we’ll see meaningful policy progress this year,” Sam Altman, president of startup accelerator Y Combinator and a proponent of UBI, told Business Insider. “But I think it’s getting into people’s minds in a way that is good and different than communism, and gradually people are getting more open to the idea.”
Whether Altman, Pugh, Bregman, or any other expert is correct about 2018, the topic of UBI is certainly gaining traction with legislators and lawmakers, and if 2018 isn’t the year it reaches mainstream politics, chances are it will in the not-so-distant future.