Universal Basic Income (UBI) is touted by many on the left as a pathway toward a successful socialist economy, but it’s through capitalist thinking that it could become a success. The idea behind all models of UBI is that all citizens within a state receive an unconditional level of income from the government, in addition to the other forms of income they receive. UBI should appeal to many on the right in any case. Though financed through taxation, it could replace many of the bureaucratic public organisations that inflate the state’s reach. The effect on the economy is what raises most people’s brows.
The Swiss Referendum on introducing basic income lost, with 77 per cent rejecting the proposal to pay each citizen £1755 per month. Though basic income wouldn’t stop people from gaining more money through work, there would be less of a need to. While acting as a universal safety net, UBI has a big risk of disincentivising work and hindering the economy, as well as making countries that adopt UBI much more attractive for economic migrants. While it improves the quality of life for individuals within the economy, it poses a legitimate risk to society. This risk is magnified because the majority of UBI proponents advocate implementation through models where UBI is financed through income tax or the profits of publicly owned enterprise
Instead, UBI should be linked to the technological revolution. The largest inevitable risk to the economy is the automation of swathes of jobs and uncertainty over which jobs will become redundant and when. While the demand for supermarket workers is definitely going to decline, with CGI effectively resurrecting Peter Cushing in the film Rogue One, it’s now unclear what the future of the acting industry will be. No one alive regrets the agricultural and industrial revolution, and in a hundred years no one will regret the technological revolution. It’s only damaging to our future to try to suppress it. But as with all revolutions there are going to be casualties. Certainly, the revolution is inevitable, but its timing, nature and the level of resistance, are not.
Universal Basic Income could be financed and set through taxing the gains from automation. This would provide a safety net for those losing out from automation, benefit society more generally and motivate scientific research. Though those that lose their jobs gain the least from this model, they don’t lose their livelihoods as they risk doing anyway and there can be additional schemes to support them. Overall, less bureaucracy existed than does now, UBI is implemented and the fractures of automation are handled.
UBI benefits those who have no or low income. It also ultimately brings about more equal distributions of income while maintaining equality of opportunity. The approach toward it shouldn’t revolve around closing income gaps. Instead it should be about social security. Rather than disincentivising people from working when there is a need for people to be working, it can be used as a tool of compensation when there is no need for people to work. This isn’t a flawless idea, but it’s an approach that all paths of politics could find themselves supporting. UBI as it was proposed in the Swiss Referendum had more losers than winners. This model just has winners.