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The Definition and Benefits of Universal Basic Income

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 In 1956, Harper Lee, a struggling writer, was presented with an interesting opportunity. Lee’s friends and family got together and presented her with an envelope. The envelope contained money equivalent to a year’s salary and a note reading “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please” (“Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?”). Lee accepted the money and took the year off from work to focus on writing. In this time, Lee was able to write To Kill a Mockingbird. Since then, Lee has received multiple awards for her writing and has sold many copies of To Kill a Mockingbird. While technically this circumstance was not a universal basic income, it served the same purpose as a universal basic income to Harper Lee (“Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?”). This opportunity allowed Lee to better her life because it took away a financial burden and gave her more freedom with her time. Implementing a universal basic income would provide opportunities similar to that of Lee’s to all recipients of the universal basic income; allowing for these recipients to improve their lives. In today’s society, many regulations on eligibility to receive government funding exist, limiting who is presented with this opportunity to better their life. Our society is also leaning towards automation which is limiting the availability of jobs, increasing the amount of United States citizens who are in need of financial help. Because of the inequality of government funding and automation limiting jobs, the United States government should implement universal basic income to equally fund and support adult citizens financially in order for individuals to better their lives.

Universal Basic Income (UBI), a form of government funding, is a set income provided to all individuals no matter their social or economic standing. Andrew Yang, a popular entrepreneur and economist, describes Universal Basic Income as “a version of Social Security where all citizens receive a set amount of money per month independent of their work status or income” (p 166). This version of welfare supports all citizens equally by giving all recipients the same funding. This concept of a Universal Basic Income has been around for many years. Several popular political figures have introduced versions of UBI, but none of these versions have been implemented (Yang p 166). However, Yang explains that “a form of UBI almost became law in the United States in 1970 and 1971, passing the House of Representatives twice before stalling in the senate” (p 166). Currently, there is a popular form of UBI introduced by Andrew Yang called the Freedom Dividend. Yang’s Freedom Dividen proposes that all citizens between 18 and 64 years of age receive a yearly income of $12,000 or $1,000 a month (Yang p 166). The Freedom Dividen would provide all individuals within this specific age range a set income from the government to do with what they wish. This welfare program would allow the government to financially support citizens equally in times of need and allow financial freedom to recipients.

As society moves forward, the need for a Universal Basic Income is increasing and becoming more prominent. The issue is automation; as technology becomes more advanced, automation is taking over the workplace leaving citizens without jobs. Yang argues that many popular jobs that today’s citizens hold are “in grave danger and set to shrink dramatically” (p 40). Yang is supported by the fact that 57% of jobs across the world are at risk from automation; these at risk jobs include insurance underwriters, farm laborers, construction laborers, fast food cooks, truck drivers, mail carriers, and many more (“Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?”). This wide range of jobs are all at risk of automation, possibly leaving all individuals who work in these fields without a job or a way to financially support themselves and their families. Yang explains in an interview that “we automated away millions of manufacturing jobs in the swing states that Trump won, and then now we’re closing 30 percent of stores and malls, and being a retail clerk is the most common job in the economy” (“Andrew”). This issue of automation is growing rapidly and causing many individuals to lose their jobs. Haas references Andrew Yang stating “Although ‘automation [has already] eliminated millions of manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2015,’ Yang believes that the bulk of its impact is yet to come; ‘I love Capitalism [,but] capitalism with the assistance of technology is about to turn on normal people’”. It is shown that automation is already impacting society, but Yang believes it is not even close to over so steps must be taken. Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, and Elon Musk, a technology entrepreneur, both believe that automation has and will continue to take over the workforce and limit job opportunities; they believe the only way for individuals to continue to have a good standard of living in this technology driven society is to implement a universal income (Amadeo). Without a UBI, individuals will struggle to keep or find a job in order to support themselves financially in a society overtaken by automation and technology.

While automation is increasing and causing a need for UBI, there are also many ways UBI can benefit its recipients. Overall, Goldsmith claims that “Universal Basic Income is a well established concept that can help solve basic human rights issue”. A main benefit of UBI is that it gives individuals more financial freedom to do with their money as they wish. Amadeo explains how unlike many other welfare programs, the ‘poverty trap’ would not exist with UBI. The ‘poverty trap’ is where an individual can only obtain funding if they are within a certain range of income, once they exit that range from being assisted with welfare programs they then no longer get welfare and once again struggle to improve their lives any further. With UBI, the‘poverty trap’ would not exist as all individuals would obtain equal funding no matter their financial circumstance. Goldsmith states that UBI is a “practical response to problems of hunger and poverty worldwide”. UBI will provide all individuals with enough money for basic needs like food and shelter, helping prevent world hunger. Influential historical figures, such as Martin Luther King Jr supported basic incomes as well; Martin Luther King Jr stated “ a guaranteed income would abolish poverty. That means reducing income inequality as well” (Amadeo).  

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