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Universal Basic Income and the future of work

UBI cartoon

The idea of a universal basic income (UBI) payable unconditionally to all adult citizens regardless of work is not new. It was being proposed as far back as the 18th century by Thomas Paine.

The principle argument in favour of the policy is that it will eradiate poverty. What is more, where it has been tried out experimentally the poor who receive UBI are found to use it for improving their lives and don't idle their time away spending the money on drink and drugs as might be expected.

It is also a very cost-effective policy as it is much cheaper to administer than complex welfare payments. As everyone gets it regardless of need there are no means tests that have to be applied by expensive benefits staff---and no need to snoop on benefits cheats as there is nothing to cheat. More importantly as poverty declines so also does bad health and crime with attendant financial savings. Thus giving people free money results in financial savings by the state.

All this appears quite counter-intuitive at first sight as does the fact that the policy has support from both the right and the left but the real problem that people have with the policy is that it flies in the face of the idea that people should not get something for nothing. So how do we overcome this moral prejudice? It looks as if it will become more urgent as our society becomes progressively more automated and traditional work starts to disappear.

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