Most Americans are wage slaves. A lot of us work so hard for so little, breaking our bodies, minds, and spirits so that we may live in poverty instead of total destitution. But what if getting paid didn’t require that kind of sacrifice?
100 Oakland residents may soon realize the futurist’s ideal of universal basic income. Y Combinator, a tech hub, is launching a pilot program that plans to give the participants $1,000 to $2,000 per month for anywhere between six months to a year. Y Combinator’s program is a test run for universal basic income with the express purpose of just seeing what will happen:
“In our pilot, the income will be unconditional; we’re going to give it to participants for the duration of the study, no matter what. People will be able to volunteer, work, not work, move to another country — anything. We hope basic income promotes freedom, and we want to see how people experience that freedom.”
The basic income premise is simple: give everyone a salary, whether they have a job or not, and people will do meaningful work that’s socially beneficial. As a result, poverty will be abolished. Futurists, philosophers, and other social commentators have been pondering universal basic income for centuries. Philosopher Bertrand Russell, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and libertarian political scientist Charles Murray are just a few of the many advocates for universal basic income.
Modern tech companies, like the ones incubated by Y Combinator, have a vested interested in the results of this program. These modern tech companies are actually part of the reason universal basic income may be needed. There is increasing concern over the use of robotics in the workplace and most estimates state 45 percent of jobs are at risk over the next two decades due to advancements and implementation of robotics.
If advocates for universal basic income are correct in their assertions, the implementation of such a policy would birth a new creative renaissance, freeing American workers — many of whom are overworked, exhausted, and prone to stress-related hazards like heart attacks, strokes, anxiety, and depression — from the bondage of wage dependency. But the idea isn’t without its detractors, who argue that moving away from current work attitudes would prompt people to simply stop working. This is effectively the same argument used against people being on welfare and like the welfare argument, there is absolutely no proof to support it.
At the end of the day, the future is coming. Workers will be phased out for robotics, unless we all of a sudden decide to halt technological progress in its tracks. Since that’s not going to happen, it is important to understand what’s coming and develop rational strategies to assist the transition.
At this time, no one knows if implementing universal basic income will assist in that transition, but the only way to know is to give it a shot. Y Combinator’s program is not the only one being attempted. GiveDirectly, a charity that gives direct cash transfers to Kenyans and Ugandans, is in the process of raising money to start a 10-year universal basic income program of their own. Germany is looking to start one as well. Finland is bringing universal basic income to a vote for implementation on a national scale.
The results of these tests will determine whether or not universal basic income is a socioeconomic adjustment we may need to make as the workforce becomes more automated. We’ll see what happens, then make any necessary adjustments accordingly.
That’s the only way we can determine what works and what doesn’t.