Universal basic income
Switzerland has voted about it, and Finland is planning experiments. The topic is Universal Basic Income (UBI), a strategy meant to mitigate the risk that increased automation and globalisation plays on social-justice and mass-unemployment. From being a small, almost obscure idea, it now has support of both politicians and scientists, including several Nobel price winners such as Nobel Laureate Economist Angus Deaton, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz. Nobel economy price winners James Tobin, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, James Meade, Paul Krugman, F. A. Hayek, Herbert A. Simon, and Robert Solow have also shown their support. It seems as if UBI is here to stay, but why the sudden rush?

Dealing with increased automation
We are living in a time where more and more of our tasks and jobs are becoming automated. As more and more of us humans can be replaced with machines, computers and artificial intelligence, there is a growing concern that our society is not ready for such a technological revolution and that we are heading towards mass-unemployment and a derailing power imbalance between machine-owners and the rest.  

Mass-unemployment
The first fear, that automation may lead to mass-unemployment, refers not only to un-qualified or white-collar jobs, but also jobs which have previously been regarded as being a domain for humans. We have already seen Artificial Intelligence (a.i.)  excell in the work of  scientists, lawyers, business strategists, and stock-traders. Automation has previously led to new types of work, as was the case during the industrial revolution, leading humans to be able to focus on more cognitively heavy work-duties. But as a.i. is entering the field of automation, many argue that more jobs are disappearing than those being created, and that this time it is different. So far it may have lead to an increase of GDP without an increase of median income (source), but the more a.i. develops,, the more profound the effects will be. Automated transportation is up-and-coming, something which will affect for example truck-drivers, which, by the way, is the most common job in 29 states in the USA. This is but one example of how big the impact is going to be.

UBI Re-enters the conversation
One way to deal with future automation and socialise the effects it will have on society is to provide universal basic income so that everyone is guaranteed a continued minimum financial voice even if robots would be given our jobs. Universal basic income “is an income paid by a political community to all its members on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement” (P. Van Parijs, 2003, p. 4).  It is an old idea, and has advocates on both the far right and the far left. Small experiments have previously been made with universal basic income, but it is not until now, when facing artificially intelligent automation, that it has gained attention from the general public and government. The idea has now been up for a vote in Switzerland (which they turned down), has had planned and initiated experiments in the US, been budgeted for by the Canadian government, and had research and experiments planned for in Finland.

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UBI Experiments
Evidence for the social benefits of UBI can be found in the following studies that have been previously and are currently being implemented. UNICEF
payed for three trials of UBI in India. The research gave some interesting results. “Contrary to what sceptics predicted the basic incomes model created more economic activity and work” (Guy Standing, The Guardian, 2014). It also rejected the hypothesis that UBI would result in inflation. Looking at food prices during the experiment one could see that inflation did not happen, rather the contrary occurred. Prices actually went down as a result of increased food production, leading to lower unit prices and more nutritional value for the money. The main four effects of the pilot wereincreased welfare, equity, growth and emancipation. The result of two of these trials are covered in the book Basic Income: A Transformative Policy for India.

“This resulted in 8.5 per cent fewer hospital visits, fewer mental health visits, and more graduating teenagers.”

Experiments have also been carried out in the developed world; Canada issued one test in the 70s which lasted 4 years. Not a complete universal basic income, but a mincom, which is a basic income given to families living under the poverty line. This resulted in 8.5 per cent fewer hospital visits, fewer mental health visits, and more graduating teenagers. Concerning the criticism that people will quit work, there were only two segments of the population who worked less: mothers, who wanted more time with their children, and teenagers – perhaps supporting the higher among of teenage graduates.

More experiments need to be done in order to learn more, and more experiments are to be made. Canada will run an experiment in Ontario, and Finland has a thorough collaborative, experimentalist and research based universal basic income project in the pipes. Hopefully these will provide us with the information we need to learn how universal basic income can be implemented successfully, regarding the well-being of  society, the individual person, and the planet. One cannot help but be hopeful that universal basic income can be an effective middle-stage tool in giving humans more free time to pursue creative and personally chosen life-styles due to the effects of automation.  Automation will eliminate the necessity to work if the wealth created by those machines is, even in the smallest quantities, shared equally among women and men. Preliminary results of UBI shows increased health, higher rate of completion of one’s education, higher economical activities and no increases in prices. Perhaps UBI is not only a half-baked solution, but a very doable, effective, and safe first step towards sharing the positive impact of automation to all mankind on an equal basis.

By: Andreas Sjöstedt

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