Don’t give up on rethinking income
A test of a version of ‘basic income’ in Finland has failed
, but don’t let that lead you to believe the idea of universal basic income is a flop.
Universal basic income (UBI) is the idea that society is better off giving everyone a regular payment of public money that is enough to fund a basic, healthy life. This would be instead of other benefit payments that are usually means tested, and everyone would get the same amount, whether they’re broke or a billionaire.
The concept has been presented by some as a solution if automation reduces demand for human labour.
The Finnish experiment was different. It was designed to give unemployed people a flat benefit payment instead of more administratively burdensome means-tested benefits. The goal was to see if it helped them find work better than the traditional benefits. It didn’t work.
This led a fellow of the neoliberal Adam Smith Institute to claim
it proved UBI was a failure. Obviously, he missed the difference between what Finland was trying and true UBI, but it shows how UBI clashes with ultra-capitalist ideology.
I keep an open mind about UBI. I like the utopian idea of not needing to work, and automation bearing enough fruit for us all to live on. If we didn’t need to work, some of us would live a life of leisure, but some of us would pour our energies into new ways of providing value to the world that may be more impactful than we could achieve in a traditional job.
It might not work, but it’s worth trying and refining. After all, what we have right now certainly can’t be the pinnacle of human achievement when it comes to the way we live.
The whole point of UBI would be to support people in a world where there is less work available for humans, should that world emerge. And given the rise of zero-hour contracts and patchy gig-economy work, maybe that world is already here, just hidden in misleading employment figures?