A New Kind of Net
Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a system in which every member of society—regardless of their economic situation, age, household size, employment status, and so on—is guaranteed a minimum income. In other words, it’s money that you get for simply being alive.
This no-strings-attached income is meant to provide individuals with the money that they need in order to provide for all their basic life necessities. As such, a number of innovators and experts herald it as the “social security net of the future.”
And as the threat of automation continues to loom, and new UBI trials continue to pop up around the world, it’s an idea that is gaining more and more traction.
Indeed, Canada, Kenya, and Finland are just some of the nations that are already investigating how UBI might work in practice, and some of the most successful people in the world—like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg—are getting behind the idea.
Now, a new voice is lending support to research into UBI.
In her latest book, What Happened, Hillary Clinton asserts that she seriously considered a proposal for universal basic income for all Americans. The idea would have been funded by carbon and financial transaction taxes but, ultimately, she asserts that she abandoned the proposal because, at the time, she thought that it wasn’t truly “realistic.”
Now, it seems that she is rethinking that initial assessment.
Rethinking Old Ideas
To clarify, Clinton asserts that, in the end, she scrapped her UBI plans because they seemed to be at odds with her stance on renewable energy, as funding it could have “perversely encourag[ed] the continued extraction of fossil fuels.”
Here is the relevant transcript from her text, as reported by Vox:
Before I ran for President, I read a book called With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough, by Peter Barnes, which explored the idea of creating a new fund that would use revenue from shared national resources to pay a dividend to every citizen, much like how the Alaska Permanent Fund distributes the state’s oil royalties every year. Shared national resources include oil and gas extracted from public lands and the public airwaves used by broadcasters and mobile phone companies, but that gets you only so far. If you view the nation’s financial system as a shared resource, then you can start raising real money from things like a financial transactions tax. Same with the air we breathe and carbon pricing.
Once you capitalize the fund, you can provide every American with a modest basic income every year. Besides cash in people’s pockets, it would also be a way of making every American feel more connected to our country and to one another—part of something bigger than ourselves. I was fascinated by this idea, as was my husband, and we spent weeks working with our policy team to see if it could be viable enough to include in my campaign. We would call it ‘Alaska for America.’ Unfortunately, we couldn’t make the numbers work. To provide a meaningful dividend each year to every citizen, you’d have to raise enormous sums of money, and that would either mean a lot of new taxes or cannibalizing other important programs. We decided it was exciting but not realistic, and left it on the shelf. That was the responsible decision. I
If you aren’t aware, the Alaska Permanent Fund was created by Alaska Constitution Article IX, Section 15. It’s goals, according to the official website, are as follows: To provide a means of conserving a portion of the state’s revenue from mineral resources to benefit all generations of Alaskans; to maintain safety of principal while maximizing total return; to be a savings device managed to allow maximum use of disposable income for purposes designated by law.
Thus, like the Alaska Permanent Fund, ‘Alaska for America’ would have established a universal basic income for all Americans.
The final passage of the text in this section is what is most notable. Clinton writes, “I wonder now whether we should have thrown caution to the wind and embraced ‘Alaska for America’ as a long-term goal and figured out the details later.”
While the jury is still out on whether or not the system is truly viable, and at what scale it is viable, the fact that so many notable voices are seriously contemplating the idea is, at the very least, worthy of note.