One of the most common topic suggestions from readers is the concept of universal basic income (UBI).
UBI is the idea of government unconditionally providing every citizen with enough money to live a basic, above-the-poverty-line life.1 Anyone can choose to work and make more money, in the same way they do now, but under a UBI system, work becomes a choice. Those who want to spend their days doing something that generates no income are able to.
In today’s world, UBI-type systems are embraced in some Scandinavia-y countries, while in others (like the US), only the most fiscally liberal people tend to support the idea.
But that may change in the future, when advancements in AI are likely to make human labor increasingly obsolete—first for jobs like truck-driving,2 but eventually invading most types of work, even those we today imagine that only a person could ever do.
If we’re moving towards a world where a tiny few people are extraordinarily rich and the vast majority are unemployed, wouldn’t UBI be not only a good idea but a necessity? And isn’t a future where wages and labor are no longer tied together a better time to be alive than today? Won’t people of the future look back and say, “Wait, in the past, if people didn’t work, they couldn’t afford to eat??”
Or is there a flaw in this argument somewhere—either in the argument that human labor will become obsolete or in the assumption that UBI is the right system if and when that happens?
I’d also love to hear people’s thoughts on whether today’s world would be better or worse if UBI were implemented. And if you live in a UBI-ish country, tell us what UBI life is like.
Note: There will be no Dinner Table next week. Furiously working on something—coming soon.
A system where government provides citizens with a regular stipend, but not one large enough to raise someone above the poverty line, is called a “partial basic income.”↩