What would you do if you were given free money? Meet universal basic income

First off, apologies. I know I have been absent from the blog for a few weeks..

Work. Obviously, it’s necessary to keep a country running. Everyone knows that. But what happens when it is no longer necessary to work? When machines can do the same jobs as humans, only much more cheaply and efficiently? Obviously, in a free-market, capitalist society like the United States, it means that companies will employ less and less people. If government does not intervene, then millions of people will lose their jobs. The first thing on everyone’s mind: It will be disastrous.

So how can we avert this disaster, a future filled with despair and joblessness? We cannot effectively resist the future forever. Corporations will move to replace humans with machines, thereby making more profit. It’s easy to think of jobs that could be eliminated easily, from truck driver to accountant. According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are some of the jobs slated to disappear the most quickly in the United States:

  1. Farmers and other ranchers
  2. Postal workers
  3. Sewing machine operators
  4. Switchboard operators
  5. Fast food restaurant workers
  6. Other agricultural workers
  7. Accountants and data entry
  8. Typists and word processors
  9. Shopkeepers and street vendors
  10. Other food sector jobs and managers
  11. Electricians
  12. File clerks

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. According to a study from Oxford, a whopping 47% of jobs will disappear within the next 25 years. I’ll let that sink in. 47% of jobs. Nearly half of all jobs will disappear.

Obviously, some jobs, like ones that require creativity, something that robots aren’t good at, cannot be eliminated. Some of the jobs that will be eliminated might be replaced with new ones, to meet the challenges of the future. However, most seem destined to be eliminated.

So what is a future without work like? The current setup of our social and economic systems cannot support a future where possibly half of citizens are not part of the workforce. There’s no way. Taxes need to be paid. Government needs to function. People without jobs will need money to get by.

Will it be a privilege to work in the future? It depends. But more importantly, what about those people who can’t get jobs? What will happen to them?

Enter Universal Basic Income. Basically, the concept is that every citizen “universal” gets a certain amount of money “income” that is just enough to support them “basic“. Well, this might seem quite utopian. Free money. Everyone gets free money.

Critics point out a major issue with the concept: if people no longer need to work to get by, then they will not chose to work. In today’s world, of course, this would be a problem. We need people to work. But in the future, where most jobs will be automated, perhaps we won’t need so many workers. Those who are really passionate about what they do can work in charities, while those who are looking to make some more profit could still work, also.

But you will say, what if people who work in creative jobs that we will still need in the future decide to quit working? Most probably won’t. An artist is generally more passionate about his/her work than a factory worker.

But this prospect of an unconditional basic income is also a way to make sure that everyone has access to their human rights. Experts say that the concept could effectively eradicate poverty and starvation. It could make sure than no one has an unfair advantage from the minute they are born.

Besides that, in many countries, today, unemployment benefit programs are incredibly complex, and often, people are discouraged from taking short-term jobs for fear of losing their benefits. Even in today’s world, such a program could be beneficial for nations, both socially and economically.

This idea, of universal basic income, is slowly becoming more and more accepted in society. While the Swiss overwhelmingly (more than 2/3 voting against) rejected a proposal to give every citizen thousands of Swiss francs monthly, the very fact that it ever got to a referendum is a milestone. Finland is running a test of the concept, and has randomly selected 2,000 individuals, who will recieve free money. The likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have also endorsed the concept. No longer is the idea of universal basic income dismissed as a crazy, perhaps utopian, dream, but is actually becoming more accepted as a legitimate policy proposal.

When we find out more and more about how the future might be like, it becomes more and more evident that something must be changed in the way our economies work. But what would you do when the first check arrived? Is this concept really as feasible as Silicon Valley leaders say it is? On a large scale, such a scheme has never been tried. But if what the Oxford study says is true, it seems governments will be forced to find out.

 

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