Universal Basic Income is coming to the UK
Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and other Silicon Valley moguls have more than one thing in common at least. Apart from being laughably rich and powerful, more than a few of them think that governments around the world should look into trialling a Universal Basic Income for their citizens.
Universal Basic Income, as it’s popularly known; although it does go by different names in some quarters, has also been pushed as a radical solution to globalisation by leftist populists Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, but what is it?
Universal Basic Income, or UBI, operates a single payment, once a month to each and every citizen of a country, regardless of age, health or location. There is no criteria to be met, no fitness to work assessments, no infuriating forms to fill out over a lifetime to send to HMRC, simply a payment into your bank account every month, and you get exactly the same as everybody else.
Millionaire? You get paid. Unemployed? You get paid. Tap dancing, hamster training interior designer? You get paid.
In Finland, they’ve listened and are currently trialling the practice with a select few of the population benefiting from the scheme. 2,000 across the country are currently receiving the benefit in order for the government to register and study the results.
The amount they’re currently getting paid is the equivalent to $660 per month. They don’t have to do anything to receive it, it simply arrives.
The arguments for a UBI are simple, as globalisation means fewer low-skilled jobs and more robots taking up the slack, there needs to be a replacement for that work lest we attempt to train the entire population into being highly skilled digital engineers. Rather than paying thousands of staff, operating millions of pounds worth of software and wasting countless hours of time assessing disabled people to see if they can walk 15 feet, we’d take that money and pay it directly to the people.
If you’re on UBI you’re free to work to top up your earnings, and the theory goes that you’re now free to work as whatever you want, or whatever you’re actually good at. People have more money to spend in the economy and entrepreneurs and innovators are free to work on new ideas without the risk of homelessness or starvation should they fail.
It’s not all rosy, though, as its detractors argue that it will have the reverse effect and will ruin productivity in the economy. With a lack of incentive to work, they argue, why on earth would you? Previously profitable and tax contributing businesses will go under due to lack of staff and the scheme would, they argue, be horrendously expensive; some estimates place the cost at 2% of GDP on top of what we already spend.
How is Finland getting on then? It’s hard to say. The scheme started in January and, as it stands, there is little hard evidence or research to thread together a clear picture. Those on it argue that they’ve been allowed to pursue volunteering, charitable work and entrepreneurship over a meaningless job that they despised. Some wanted to give the money back, feeling as though it wasn’t deserved.
Despite the uncertainty, Fife council in Scotland, with government funding, are seeking to increase the experiment to £7,000 per year for each and every citizen of the town regardless of age or status.
They’re hoping to have it ready to go by 2019, with it currently in the design stage, but the results of the Finnish experiment have given them encouragement and they’re confident it will be a success.
It will be hard to agree with that presumption until the results of economic activity are ready for study and criticism, but for now it’s an interesting step towards battling the dangers of globalisation. According to Oxford University nearly half of all US jobs could be lost to machines in the near future, is this the solution?