Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a much-touted solution to our increasingly tech-driven society, proposed by everyone from Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez to conservative libertarian think tank the Cato Institute.
The idea is that UBI could replace vanishing jobs and give all Americans a cushion. Give every American a set amount of money per month, often suggested at the $500 or $1,000 level, to spend as they wish.
As leaders from tech to social movements are well aware, we are about to enter the age of self-driving Ubers, increasingly smart supply chain and warehouse technology, and news reports being generated and delivered by AI. It doesn’t matter how many workplaces unionize or how many stomp their feet and demand jobs: a lot of people currently employed won’t be in the foreseeable future.
Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg have all pointed to UBI as a solution for the fact that tech is taking over entire industries. Besides being a prong in the “Green New Deal,” the city of Stockton, California, is implementing a trial run beginning in February by giving 100 residents $500 a month.
Never mind that in 1972, when the idea of UBI was gaining popularity, the guaranteed amount discussed was $1,000. It seems absurd that, given inflation and massive cost of living increases over the last 45 years, $500 a month is what’s being discussed.
And rarely, if ever, is it pointed out that, in fact, the idea of giving everyone money is so they can spend money. That seems to go without saying, of course, but that point should be made: Our capitalist system requires everyone in this country spend money.
More important is how to enable people to live in a way that is healthy—will UBI do that? The evaporation of traditional jobs requires a reevaluation of our place in society, and how we can contribute to and support our families and communities. Do we want to continue to labor for money to buy things that for thousands of years were acquired without cash or credit?