I spent my morning commute listening to Scroobius Pip interview Rutger Bregman about his new book, Utopia for Realists. One of the core subjects was the concept of Universal Basic Income, which has interested me for a long time.
Not a new idea
The idea of a Universal Basic Income has been around for over 500 years, but only recently are we starting to see experiments to see if it can become a reality. Often, it is described as a new way of thinking about welfare by ensuring that ALL citizens are provided with a basic level of income, regardless of whether they work or not.
A Universal Basic Income puts choice into the hands of citizens, creating new markets and cutting down on the bureaucracy of the state trying to intervene (and save money) in all cases.
The thought of an unconditional income that raises all citizens above the poverty line might seem utopian but in fact, the benefits could be way beyond the simple uplift of people from potential hardship.
Adapting to the future
It is no secret that the world of work is changing. Automation, AI and algorithms will reduce the need for humans to work, and whilst a leisure-focused future awaits, there will need to be a shift from consumption to creation.
Our current thinking drives young people towards work, even against their dreams and wishes. How many talented artists and musicians have 'stored away' aspirations to pursue a degree and take an unrelated job that brings them an income. Universal Basic Income might allow those people to foster those ambitions with a safety net, and create more than consume.
Even today, there are a high number of people that would like to spend time contributing back to society; volunteering, spending time with family and helping out with schools. Working part-time is not an option. However, half a job plus UBI could create a world where two people do a job, reducing unemployment and bringing people back into the world of work where jobs will become more scarce.
Radical Thinking Required
Like all big societal shifts, this thinking seems radical but is gaining a lot of support. There is a two-year trial underway in Finland, and the Adam Smith Institute has been urging world leaders at Davos to consider the idea.
For me, the idea of preempting the shift to a world with less work and more leisure, less consumption and more creation is worth exploring. We need ways to encourage people towards more meaningful pursuits than just chasing a wage.
This video explains Universal Basic Income in a really simple way: