People around the world will celebrate the eighth annual Basic Income Week from September 14-21. The global theme this year - “UBI: A Safety Net for Life” - highlights the roles of poverty and inequality in the financial, social and economic crises we face and the role a UBI (universal basic income) would play to mitigate them.
It is urgent that the United States face up to the need for a Basic Income as there will never be enough jobs for everyone in the future. The loss of jobs is not only coming from trade agreements that encourage jobs to move overseas, but even more importantly from the expansion of technology. The research firm Gartner predicts that “one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots and smart machines by 2025.” Oxford University researchers estimate that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be automated by 2033. Already the official unemployment rate hides the fact only 63% of working-age adults are actually working.
Rather than corporate welfare - in which tax dollars go to large industries that exploit people and the planet while hoarding the profits and growing the wealth divide - taxpayer investment in a Basic Income for everyone would end poverty, end the economic insecurity which drives people to make choices that are harmful to themselves and their communities, and stimulate the economy from the bottom up.
When people have a Basic Income they spend that money on necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and more, rather than holding onto it. This stimulates local businesses and creates jobs. With a guaranteed income people can take time to pursue an education, start their own business, or raise their families.
There are many ways that an Unconditional Basic Income could be funded. One approach is to require a return-on-investment to taxpayers when public dollars are used for research, infrastructure that benefits private corporations, or other corporate welfare. The Alaska Permanent Trust is a good example of this - every Alaskan gets an annual check that comes from a percentage of the profit from oil taken from public lands. As we invest in the transition to a green energy economy, that investment can bring dividends to the public rather than being purely a profit-center for the wealthy. Similarly, when taxpayers invest in robotics, the public should get a portion of the profit from those investments.
In addition to taxes, the savings from social welfare programs such as food stamps and housing assistance that would no longer be needed would help to fund the program. Health spending will also likely decrease. In Manitoba - where basic income was tried in the 1970’s - health improved and there were fewer hospitalizations. There are likely to be other benefits such as a more educated population and reduction in crimes associated with poverty.
I support a guaranteed basic income as one essential part of the transition to an economy that benefits all people rather than a privileged few.
We need to stop the current trend towards greater privatization of goods and services - which concentrates wealth in the top 1% and leaves the 99% struggling - and move towards an economy that builds and maintains wealth in our communities. There is a lot of exciting work being done to define this new economy that shows that ideas like a Basic Income are both effective and practical.