If you’re into a lot of the discussions revolving around the outcomes of automation, you may have heard the term “basic income” or “universal basic income.” But what is universal income? The concept itself may seem simple, but is it viable? As we automate more and more of our society, we will see new jobs created and old jobs disappear. Whether more jobs are left over is still up for speculation, but it doesn’t hurt to start planning what we should be doing when we find a wage gap in our society.
The concept of basic income is as follows: “A basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.”1 Essentially, you would receive money, despite your financial or work status. You could be employed, but still receive compensation for being a citizen. The idea behind this, is that when we get to a point where pay becomes too low or jobs too sparse, we can give people a supplemental income to keep them on their feet.
Some would argue that the means behind this aren’t realistic. As an example, if you pay someone $20,000 a year, how would a country’s government fund that? When I take my government pay check and go give it to a company, how is that money returned? This is where there is no right or wrong answer. Some ideas is that the money can be obtained by a tax. This can be a property tax or land tax.2 It can also be obtained from the rich. Some speculate that if robots took over most of the industry, than the rich that own the robots should pay a tax in order to contribute to the pool for basic income.3 The reality is that the system itself is complicated from an economic and social standpoint.
In American society, basic income would be seen as permanent welfare. Besides being frowned upon in general by American society, welfare is seen by Americans as something only for those who are poor or lazy.4 It could take time for countries like America to warm up to the idea of a social safety net funded by those who work and/or who are wealthy. To really get basic income to work, people need to be educated on what it entails and means. People in general don’t like being taxed, so the idea of paying for someone else’s paycheck while you work won’t be something people would warm up to easily.
Despite opinion, automation brings a harsh reality to today’s world and economy. While we may not all be unemployable in ten years, we will see jobs that were once viable to be completely gone. We will also see jobs get created from those that are replaced, but how many? And how much skill will be required in order to fulfill them? Basic income is one solution in a bucket of many, but it may not be the solution. It may be important to educate our coming generation that wealth doesn’t mean to keep it all for yourself, but to rather spread it. This may go against human instinct, but by educating a society that every person for himself isn’t viable in a future world, we may be able to make social programs like this look viable and even come up with other ones that could potentially work better than something like universal income.