How do you feel when you get paid freely for doing no work? In my previous post, we had discussed the possibility of Universal Basic Income (UBI) proposed by Thomas Paine – the price tag that we have given for the new era of the unemployed because of the emergence of automation and technology. It may surprise you to know that a partial UBI already existed in Alaska since 1982 and that a version of basic income was experimentally tested in the United States in the 1970s.
So let us understand the dynamics of universal basic income. A study, released by Oxfam, showed that just 57 billionaires in India have the same wealth as that of the bottom 70 percent population of the country. To give a global perspective, just 8 billionaires have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the world population. This statistics gives the extent of global income inequality. Now wonder we have just 32 million of 3210 million population of the world owns over 40 percent of the world wealth.
Anyway, what is the need of this universal income? It is predicted that automation will create nearly 15 million new jobs by 2025, but at the same time, wipe out nearly 25 million. The 10 million who is going to lose the jobs in the process would be the people who would find it difficult to upgrade their skills or those who are too old to switch the jobs. But how would they survive? Will the world of technology be morally responsible for supporting them?
Even some of the biggest technology tycoons including Elon Musk who are talking about changing the world for the better seem deeply concerned on what the very same technology could do to jobs in the long haul making universal basic income “necessary.” It is not just the individuals who are concerned about this. The entire political spectrum is concerned about this huge income disparity. The idea of unconditional or universal basic income is like social security for all. The cause of this thought is not just from the rising income inequality arising from technology dominance. It has the origins from the decades of stagnant wages, the transformation of lifelong careers into sub-hourly tasks, and world-changing events like Brexit and the vision of Trump. All of these concerns are pointing to the need to start a permanent income guarantee for everyone that could take care of the basic needs of an individual.
How will this make sense in the new economy? If we look at the operational aspect of this concept, it is a negative tax. An interesting process in which those earning below a certain point are given an additional income, and those earning above a certain point are taxed on additional income. To cut it short, even Ambani would receive the same amount as a person below the poverty line. Only difference it that Ambani will pay far more than that amount in new taxes for the government to pay for it.
But what about people then choosing not to work? Isn’t that a huge burden too? It is an interesting topic to debate. Let us look at implementing this in a developed market like the US where the data is handy. According to Gallup in the US, 70% of workers are not engaged in what they resulting in a productivity loss of around $500 billion per year. With UBI coming in, this disengaged workforce will say “no thanks” to the labour market enabling an opportunity for the rest of the people who want to do the jobs they want. The result is a transformed labour market of more engaged, more employed, better paid and more productive workers. Fewer people are excluded, and there’s perhaps more scope for all workers to become self-employed entrepreneurs. In addition, there are proven positive effects on social cohesion and physical and mental health.
Based on the evidence we already have and continue to build with the trial run of such a scheme in Mongolia, Finland and India, I firmly believe unconditional basic income as a new equal starting point for all. For resource-rich countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, it will be an efficient method of utilisation and transfer of resource incomes. For populated countries like India and China, it will help the reduce the leakage of subsidies provided by public welfare distribution.Lastly, in developed economies, it will compensate for the advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, and other technologies that have questioned the future of work.
In addition, there are proven positive effects on social cohesion and physical and mental health. Based on these evidence we already have and with the trial run of such a scheme in Mongolia, Finland and India, I firmly believe unconditional basic income as a new equal starting point for all. For resource-rich countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, it will be an efficient method of utilisation and transfer of resource incomes. For populated countries like India and China, it will help to reduce the leakage of subsidies provided by public welfare systems. Lastly, in developed economies, it will compensate for the advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, and other technologies that have questioned the future of work.
If things work out as planned by the governments, we might have a better place to live with more equitable distribution of wealth.