A Stipend for Self-Esteem
English business mogul Sir Richard Branson thinks the modern world could benefit from universal basic income (UBI). The Virgin founder published a blog post on the company’s website outlining why he believes the system deserves consideration.
In the post, Branson describes his experiences during a recent trip to Finland, where a nationwide experiment with UBI that provides 2,000 Finns with an unconditional income of €560 (roughly $655) monthly was launched earlier this year.
UBI has frequently been touted as a potential solution for the unemployment surge expected to result from the increased use of automation in the workplace. However, Branson praises the idea for more human reasons — specifically the sense of self-esteem that comes from not having to worry about having the baseline amount of money needed for life’s essentials.
In his post, he expresses a hope that giving people this leg up would allow them to utilize their own creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to carve out a better life for themselves. “A key point is that the money will be paid even if the people find work,” observed Branson. “The initiative aims to reduce unemployment and poverty while cutting red tape, allowing people to pursue the dignity and purpose of work without the fear of losing their benefits by taking a low-paid job.”
Branson, of course, knows a thing or two about entrepreneurship. Since founding a magazine at the age of 16, the business magnate has pursued a string of hugely successful ventures, including a mail-order record shop, a music label, and an international airline, all of which have contributed to his current net worth of $5 billion.
Pay It Forward
Branson adds his name to a growing list of very wealthy, technologically savvy individuals who have pledged their support for research into UBI.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently made an impassioned case for UBI following an excursion to Alaska. For decades, the state has implemented a version of the idea, which is funded using revenue from natural oil resources, rather than via taxation.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk stated at the 2017 World Government Summit that he believes UBI is something of an inevitability. As he sees it, the bigger problem is giving people something to do when automation makes them unnecessary in the workplace, which dovetails with Branson’s idea that a basic income could act as a springboard for individual entrepreneurship.
However, not every billionaire shares this take on UBI. Dallas Mavericks owner and AXS TV chairman Mark Cuban has been very critical of the concept, describing it as “one of the worst possible responses” to job losses caused by automation.
Billionaires may know money, but they’re not always the best sources for opinions on social policy — that being said, other experts who have spoken on the subject have delivered arguments that are broadly similar to Branson’s. UBI might not be the be-all, end-all for dealing with poverty and unemployment, but it could certainly give people a better foundation upon which to build a full and prosperous life.