This policy sounds more like a Socialist dream where everyone is equal and happy to be a small part of a big society. However it is about to be introduced in some of the most Capitalist countries, where competition and individualism are playing a huge role.

 

The growing concern with the fact that artificial intelligence replaces the human brain is what makes people sharply raise the question of labour exclusion nowadays. Artificial intelligence systems are now capable of performing most tasks, including those that the human brain cannot, like transcribe speech better than professionals and predict the danger of social unrest before it happens. The Silicon Valley is thus predicting the “post work” future of humanity. In other words, it is not only those excluded from labour market nowadays who are going to struggle. It concerns all of us. Will we be able to easily access jobs in the future? What kind of jobs will be available for us? Are we going to be paid less for them, since there are machines that will do everything for us? And finally, will our salaries stop being a guarantee of social and financial security and livelihood? This is where the Unconditional Basic Income, or “UBI” comes in question.

The UBI is a form of income, given to people on the basis of the basic human right – the Right to Live. It is a fixed amount of money given out to each individual unconditionally throughout his or her lifetime in addition to any income received elsewhere. The debate around the introduction of basic income appeared in Europe in the 1980-s and has spread rapidly around the globe. Simon Birnbaum, the political science researcher and the author of Basic Income Reconsidered: Social Justice, Liberalism and the Demands of Equality, argues that the situation of growing class divide and the mass unemployment in many advanced economies has lead to the appearance of the «new social question»: many people felt that they were excluded from the labour market and so couldn’t rely on their job to be the guarantee of their financial stability and social status.

There is a major difference between two types of income: the private and the public. The first refers to work reimbursements (salaries) and the latter is the income you get, for instance, from social insurance. The major concern in the capitalist society nowadays is that both of these sources of income cannot guarantee a safe and financially stable life.

Let’s not discuss the why-is-it-difficult-to get-a-job topic in too much detail. It’s worth only mentioning here that the exclusion from labour is increasing rapidly due to globalisation and the mechanisation of labour. These two processes are largely influencing the production and commercial strategies leading to a decreasing demand for manual labour. As a result, the whole category of people who can’t or don’t want to be in the service industry or do white-collar jobs just falls out from the labour market scene.

Social welfare programs are not a reliable source of income either. The unemployment insurance, for instance, will typically be only accessible on a conditional basis. That means that the person should prove he or she is available and actively applying for paid work.

The basic income is different from both of these in that there’s no behavioural or activity restrictions preventing individuals from receiving it. As a result, it provides more financial security than both private and public income.

 

The UBI as a light at the end of the tunnel

The UBI is likely to change the income environment for all of us. The salary will stop being one sole factor to rely on for the employee. The salary is going to become a symbol of personal motivation, not an arguable guarantee of survival. Individuals can choose the type of job that motivates them the most and show their fullest potential. Employers will now know that people, who come to her or him, are truly motivated and wiling to contribute. Finally, no one will ‘threaten to take a person’s livelihood’ to make people work under bad conditions ever again. The attitude to employees is going to become purely “performance-based and tied to the market”.

What is going to happen with the world of work

The UBI defenders see the future work landscape as a place where people can work to realise themselves, not to survive. More work will be done because of its intrinsic rather then extrinsic value. Thus, people might choose to do things that are less profitable but bring them personal gratification, like being an artist instead of working as an accountant. Similarly, less people will choose to do maintenance jobs for the mere need of income stability and more people will spend their time in developing desired skills. The most positive effect of basic income is that people can now really “work to live” not “live to work”. Forget about “dirty jobs” too. Leave them to drones.

And what about the public income? Let’s see some statistics. There are around 150 social welfare programs in the United States: funds, grants, pensions, and extra payments…they spend around $1.117 billion on welfare. At the same time, statistics show that even families in poverty spend around $60,000 on welfare annually. The UBI is likely to replace the whole system of social programs. People won’t need to pay for long bureaucratic procedures to prove their conditions because the whole idea of conditional social help will be eliminated. As a result, people are going to spend less on authorities in general. Just imagine your life without having to apply for at least one of these programs or schemes. Imagine, you will never spend your money, your energy and your time on proving your right to obtain money from your government. Sounds like a nerves saving solution.

What has been done so far

Some countries, notably those with advanced welfare economies have set the UBI as an experiment. The best example is Switzerland, who became the first country to hold an Unconditional Basic Income referendum, where 1 of 4 citizens voted for the policy on 5 June 2016. Similarly, there are individual charity-based initiatives like GiveDirectly, who decided to set the basic income in around 40 villages in Kenya with an extremely high poverty rate as a part of their program. This means that each of the 11,500 residents will receive around 22 dollars per month in the course of 12 years, which is enough for some motivated people to improve their conditions of life and to start a business.

 

Major downsides

Megan McArdle, a Bloomberg view columnist, the author of Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success shares her view on initiatives like GiveDirectly: “I am wary of exciting results from small pilot programs”, because they are ‘failing when rolled out state wide, either because the result was spurious or because the exciting work of a small dedicated group just can’t be replicated in a gargantuan state bureaucracy’. Indeed, while being an appealing idea all along, the introduction of the UBI is a solution in the short term, but its long-term effects can be disastrous. The basic income may give the opportunity for people to spend more time with their families and focus on personal development, but the potential reintegration into work environment will be difficult later on. ‘…Over the long run, it’s very hard to get a “good” job if you have been living on a basic income rather than working” – Megan says –‘because employers do not like signal sent by resume gap’ and this is ‘particularly hard if you are not a middle-class kid whose parents have friends with a hiring power’.

Who is going to suffer from changes

There is no policy that will solve everyone’s problems. The Unconditional basic income sounds perfect at first, but there are changes that can be negative for some particular groups. The UBI is going to stem from the tax imposed on the working people. This implies the ‘significant redistribution from those who are (relatively) rich to those who are (relatively) poor’. As Simon Birnbaum puts it, the ‘wealthy individuals will pay much more in tax than they receive in basic income’. There are also disabled and mentally ill people, who just have greater requirements that the basic income can provide. At the moment, they can be more or less sure to receive a sufficient amount to afford extra facilities or undergo a special treatment because their economic support of money they receive is tailored according to their condition. This will no longer be the case with the introduction of basic income.

At last, we forget that there is also a mentality problem. Some people just can’t make right decisions about their money. There are plenty of individuals out there, involved in petty crime, gambling, life wasting and other destructive activities. Giving out money to people like this will mean helping more crime flourish in the world and thus – with no exaggeration-committing a crime. Because it’s not enough to give people money – you have to first teach them how they are used for both personal and public good.

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