In Brief
  • A leading advocate of universal basic income has said that the government of India is going to release a report this month endorsing UBI as "basically the way forward."
  • What this means for the citizens of India is unclear, but it is another step forward for UBI, which is being proposed as a solution to job loss caused by increased automation.

An Official Endorsement

With Finland implementing a universal basic income (UBI) experiment that will run for the next two years, it seems that UBI is getting more attention as a viable system. Now, a leading advocate of UBI has said that the government of the world’s largest democratic country, India, is going to release a report endorsing UBI as “basically the way forward.”

The report, which will be part of the Ministry of Finance’s annual Economic Survey, is expected to be released this month. India has had considerable experience with UBI pilot programs in the country. Behind these programs is Guy Standing, a founding member of the Basic Income Earth Network, and he is the UBI advocate who says that India’s report will endorse the system.

According to Standing, the results of the UBI trials they’ve conducted were “remarkably positive.” Speaking to Business Insider, he said:

The most striking thing which we hadn’t actually anticipated is that the emancipatory effect was greater than the monetary effect. It enabled people to have a sense of control. They pooled some of the money to pay down their debts, they increased decisions on escaping from debt bondage. The women developed their own capacity to make their own decision about their own lives.

Standing isn’t the only person who supports UBI in India. Arvind Subramanian, a top Indian economic advisor, previously announced his support for the program.

With a population of 1.3 billion people, India has a growing economy despite a slight setback last year. Still, around 29.5 percent of the population lives in poverty, concentrated especially in rural areas. “People are dragged into poverty due to droughts, declining agriculture opportunities, disease, and so on,” Subramanian said at a university forum, quoted by The Times of India. “So the safety net provided by the government should be quite wide, and that is why [basic income] has some merit.”

An Answer to Unemployment

Standing, however, doesn’t think that India will implement a wide-scale program at the onset. “I don’t expect them to go the full way because it’s such a dramatic conversion,” he said. But the government now sees UBI as feasible, and that’s the first hurdle to implementation.

The recent spotlight on UBI and countries’ willingness to give it a shot isn’t random — it’s closely linked to the rise of automation. Experts see the system as a potential solution to expected unemployment due to a predicted increase in job automation. According to a study by Oxford University and the Oxford Martin School, around “47 percent of jobs in the US are ‘at risk’ of being automated in the next 20 years.”

This has led Tesla CEO Elon Musk to comment in a CNBC interview that “there is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation. Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”

Under a UBI program, citizens are given a fixed income regardless of their economic status and employment conditions, and the money can also be non-taxable, like in Finland’s version. The system can actually take the place of existing social service platforms, which are often more expensive for governments to sustain, so not only would individuals benefit financially, entire economies could as well. The only way to know for sure whether UBI will work is to try it on larger and larger scales, so we’ll have to wait and see what India has planned for its UBI program.