Should there be a universal basic income? | The Tylt

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The logic behind a UBI is simple. In the near future, a large share of the population will be without a job because of automation. In order to address mass joblessness, tech leaders are proposing each person should have their incomes guaranteed so no one will have to work to live. In order to test this idea tech leaders are starting small pilot programs across the world to see what actually happens when communities no longer have to work.

In December, Altman, the 31-year-old president of Y Combinator, spoke at an anti-poverty event hosted by Stanford, the White House and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the charitable institution the Facebook billionaire founded with his wife, Priscilla. Altman discussed the potential for basic income to alleviate poverty, but his speech veered back to the dark questions that hang over all this philanthropy: Is Silicon Valley about to put the world out of work? And if so, do technologists owe the world a solution?

One of the biggest critiques of a UBI is it will make people lazy and not want to work. In practice, the opposite is true. Living in poverty is hard work. GiveDirectly's efforts implementing a UBI in Kenyan villages found direct transfers of money gave people the means to solve their own problems and achieve their ambitions. People already knew what they needed—they didn't need their lives managed by others.  

But here, many villagers were concerned primarily with procuring the sustenance and basic comforts that their penury had denied them. Odhiambo, the woman who had not been offered aid by the school group, planned to buy corrugated iron sheets for her roof; she considered possibly paying off her dowry. Another villager, Pamela Aooko Odero, ran a household that had been suffering from hunger, with all eight of them living on just 500 to 1,000 shillings a week. She took her money as soon as she got it and went to buy food.
Many more made plans that were entrepreneurial. Two widowed sister-wives, Margaret Aloma Abagi and Mary Abonyo Abagi, told me they planned to pool their funds together to start a small bank with some friends. Charles Omari Ager, a houseboy for the sister-wives, had his phone turned off and wrapped in a plastic bag in his pocket when the first text came in. He was driving the widows’ goats and cattle from one dried-out, bramble-filled meadow to another when he happened upon an aid worker, who prompted him to pull out his phone, turn it on and wait. The text was there. The money was there. “I’m happy! I’m happy! I’m happy!” he said. He bought himself a goat that day.
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Critics say a UBI would not work because of four reasons: cost, reciprocity, politics and work.

The cost of a UBI program would be huge. Getting rid of all welfare programs and funneling that money into UBI would lead to around $3,000 a year, far less than what the neediest are currently receiving. Welfare in its current form gives more money to the neediest. A UBI would remove all forms of personalization, meaning the most vulnerable would end up getting less help.

The problem is that if you try to bring it up to something a bit more generous, the cost quickly escalates. Cutting everyone a check for $1,000 a month, which most people in that room would consider too little to live on, would cost almost $3 trillion. But if you means-test it to control the cost, or try to tax most of the benefits back for people who aren't low-income, you rapidly lose the efficiency gains and start creating some pretty powerful disincentives to work.

There are further issues with reciprocity. It would essentially require a new social contract. A small segment of the population would be producing the goods and wealth that the rest of society benefits from—with no strings attached. Critics doubt this is a stable situation, or that it would truly come no strings attached. 

I think you can make an argument that society should make it possible for those who are willing to contribute to support themselves; I would not be opposed to a system of guaranteed jobs that paid $10,000 a year, or whatever we think this basic income should be. But you cannot sustain a program that posits huge obligations on the part of one group to people who have no reciprocal obligations at all.

UBI would require a massive change in politics too. Immigration would have to be radically changed as well as how welfare is disbursed to the neediest. Critics say any real effort to implement a UBI would have to end immigration and welfare entirely. 

A guaranteed basic income instead of a welfare state might be attractive, but a guaranteed basic income on top of a welfare state presents a lot of problems, not least that it would nearly double everyone's tax bill.

Finally, critics say that work is an intrinsic part of our culture and identity. Studies that show UBI having little to no negative effects were all conducted in the short-term. There's no data to show what will happen in the long-term, although current trends among the poor suggest that people are increasingly spending their free time doing passive activities like watching TV. 

Along with family, work is the defining element of most lives and communities. People who are out of work are much less happy than people who are in work, even in European countries with generous social safety nets. Discouraging people from making the short-term sacrifices necessary to gain a long-term foothold in the job market is not good social policy.
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Bill Gate thinks that the world is not ready for a UBI. There is still a lot of low hanging fruit that can be fixed, and truthfully, there is not enough wealth to make UBI possible yet. 

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Scott Santens, a big advocate for UBI, replied to Gates saying:

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Roy Bahat makes a good point that a UBI is possible today given the total available resources but it comes down to a wealth distribution problem.

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Many critics remain skeptical of UBI.

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