An argument for Universal basic income

The idea of the state providing the most vulnerable members of society the means to survive is not new. The ancient romans provided the Cura Annonae to their poorest citizens in the form of grain for them to make in to bread, and today the government provides a benefit for those who are sick or unable to find work. For most of human history, people have been needed to create goods and provide services. Making a sports car used to require teams of skilled workers and agriculture still employs around 60% of the world’s population but in the 21st century this is set to change.

Rapid technological advances in automation and robotics in the near future will leave millions without employment and without other employment options.  Low skilled jobs are those that have the greatest risk of being replaced by automation, jobs which normally require no higher education. When these jobs get replaced by machines the skills attained by the people in these roles, which can currently be applied to different low skilled jobs, will become worthless as any financially savvy business owner will use the cheaper option, automation. This puts both the worker, who now has no way to support themselves or their family, and the government, which has to suddenly provide for thousands of new people, in a complicated position. This is why I believe there needs to be a shift from a benefit system only for those who need it to a Universal Basic Income (UBI) system, where every citizen or resident is provided a basic living wage from the government regardless of employment status, health or disability.

The UBI model envisioned would not provide every person enough money to live comfortably. It should, as the benefit does currently, provide enough money to cover basic needs and little more. This means those who are searching for a job, or simply do not want one will have a roof over their head and food on the table, but little more. This eliminates both the anxiety of wondering where the next meal will come from and the requirement for people to work when sick just so they can afford to feed their children all while providing those that wish to pursue alternative endeavours the freedom to do so full time, sans worrying about money.

Critics of UBI often argue that providing income to everyone removes the incentive to work and therefore would have negative consequences on productivity and the economy. The current shutdown caused by the global COVID-19 outbreak has disproved this argument on two fronts. The first is that the country is still running while most people, especially those with lower skilled jobs, are sitting at home not working. If UBI was to be implemented tomorrow, and everyone who is currently not working decided not to go back, the country would still function albeit on a very low level. This shows that a small portion of the population can still provide the essential services needed for everyone to survive, and that even if there was a significant drop in employment and productivity the country would still function.

The second rebuttal that the shutdown provides is related to the incentive to work. Critics argue that UBI removes the incentive for people to have a job by removing the financial motivation. This shutdown has shown many people that sitting around in their homes is not as good as it seems while not working. Everyone I know is bored as shit, searching for something to fill the time. Even with basic needs covered, people still need to find something meaningful to do with their day, and working can fill this gap. While UBI will not encourage people to work low skilled jobs, it will encourage them to find something they are passionate about and shift work from a necessity to a rewarding outlet for these passions This covers not only financially, but also physically and mentally as not as much pressure would be on those who have difficulty fulfilling a traditional low-skill worker role. This combined with the elimination of low skilled jobs due to automation will lead to a happier, more productive and more successful society in the long run, instead of the financial and societal ruin predicted by opponents of UBI.

Automation is coming. There is no stopping the inevitable march of technological progress and those who currently have the least job security will be those who suffer the most. UBI has its issues, but it provides a viable alternative to the current system and gives everyone in the country the financial stability to do the things they want to do, rather than the things they have to do to survive. So do the right thing, petition your MP and help look after the bottom line, which lets be real, is you.

By Michael Freeman and A J Lienert