What is Basic Income?

What is basic income?

An unconditional basic income is a regular payment to every citizen or resident, without condition, which is enough to live frugally in that place. It is also known as citizen’s income, livable wage or variations of such.

How could we afford this?

There is an estimated $152 trillion (Source) of private wealth alone in the world today, enough to sustain everyone in the world many times over.

Specifically, there are many different proposals for funding a universal basic income. By definition, a basic income would save some money through administrative costs thanks to its bureaucratic simplicity and by replacing many existing social welfare programs. To raise the remaining amount, there are many proposals including raising one or more taxes, creating a new tax or through a sovereign investment fund, similar to the current program in Alaska.

There have also been some specific costed proposals, such as this one for Ireland (p20) and this one for the USA, published on this site.

Before implementing a basic income, the government in question would have to do a feasibility study to examine which method would best suit their circumstances.

Why should we afford this?

There are many studied benefits to a basic income (see evidence below), but in a broader sense, humanity has always striven to improve the condition of the human race with improved technology and greater wealth. Most imaginations of a utopian future involve a society with the ability to work as one pleases without fear of destitution. We have now reached a moment when we can achieve that dream and guarantee the livelihood of every individual without the need for involuntary, demeaning labour.

What are some specific benefits?

It would allow true freedom to every individual, as they would not be forced to work in order to survive.

It would stop people spending the majority of their lives in onerous jobs that they despise, which prevent them pursuing other, self-actualising activities.

It would increase happiness for the above reasons but also reduce depression and anxiety, which are highly associated with unemployment and unfulfilling jobs. (Source)

It would increase entrepreneurship as more people would feel safe stepping out on their own to pursue their dreams.

It would reduce government intervention in a person’s life as the income would be automatically paid to all, no government official or civil servant would make a decision on who is eligible and who isn’t.

It would stop poverty, as no one would be without the money needed to survive.

It would eliminate the stigma associated with receiving government benefits, which among other things, can cause some eligible people to not collect payments.

It would reduce the poverty trap and marginal tax rates because if the recipient was unemployed, the income would not stop after they begin paid employment.

It would increase workers’ bargaining power because they will always have the option of refusing poorly paid or demeaning work without fear of destitution.

As technology improves, many tasks formerly done by humans can now be done by software or hardware robots. This will increase with time leading to fewer jobs than people willing to work, reducing people’s ability to sustain themselves through paid work. Click here to see a video about this ongoing process.

Is there any evidence that this works?

Yes. There have been a number of Basic Income pilot programmes and studies into similar programmes. There is a summary of these studies available here and here.

In brief, the studies show that the money isn’t wasted, there is generally an increase in work effort or a minimal decrease as well as an increase in entrepreneurship and improved health, nutrition and education outcomes.

Wouldn’t this just cause inflation?

Inflation happens when there is an increase of money in an area, for example if a government prints more money. A basic income under most proposals, would not come from printing or creating money, it would come from reduced spending, taxes or a return on investment, thus not causing inflation. You can read a more detailed response to this question here or read the responses of economists Karl Wilderquist here and Ed Dolan, here.

How can I help make this happen?

You can join our mailing list to stay informed on the latest developments or go here to see what other actions you can take.

Where can I get more information?

You can read another FAQ here and a longer one here. You can also watch this TEDx talk on the idea.