Imagine if, instead of a number of social welfare programs, governments simply gave everyone a fixed, basic income? What would that lead to? Would people stop working and stop contributing to the global economy? Or would that safety net free them of the fundamental stresses that contribute to so much social, economic and political instability in the world? It is an interesting idea and one that is attracting more interest from many countries.

Andrew Flowers published an article titled “What Would Happen If We Just Gave People Money?” on FiveThirtyEight that makes for thought-provoking reading. Here is the premise of the basic income initiative:

Werner posed a pair of simple questions to the crowd: What do you really want to do with your life? Are you doing what you really want to do? Whatever the answers, he suggested basic income was the means to achieve those goals. The idea is as simple as it is radical: Rather than concern itself with managing myriad social welfare and unemployment insurance programs, the government would instead regularly cut a no-strings-attached check to each citizen. No conditions. No questions. Everyone, rich or poor, employed or out of work would get the same amount of money. This arrangement would provide a path toward a new way of living: If people no longer had to worry about making ends meet, they could pursue the lives they want to live.

On a superficial level it sounds a little like an effort to persuade governments to just hand out money in the hope that people will stop worrying as much as go do something useful with their lives. On the other hand, it could address some of the root causes of socio-political instability in the world today:

Basic income, Standing says, is more than good policy. He calls it “essential,” given that more and more people in developed economies are living “a life of chronic economic insecurity.” He sees this insecurity fueling populist politicians, boosting far-right parties across Europe and the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. Economic stagnation increases the appeal of extreme politicians, and unless those insecurities are addressed, Standing said, that appeal is only going to get stronger.

Imagine politics shifting away from the extremes and more towards more moderate positions because citizens no longer fear for their basic survival? The article is worth reading. If anything, it raises a number of issues and proposes what may seem like a radical set of solutions.

(Via Matt Mullenweg)

Image credit: Pexels

Published by Paul

Enthusiast, writer, Happiness Engineer at Automattic. I take photos too. Passionate about my wife, Gina and #proudDad.

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  1. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. I think the idea has a lot of merit but I think it’ll only work in countries where there are sufficient people working to generate enough tax revenue to fund all “grants”.

    I don’t think something like this would be feasible in South Africa yet as such a major portion of the population is unemployed.

    If implemented, it could have a major ripple effect as more people would have time to read and write, listen to and create music and do all sorts of activities that they would have skipped in order to spend time working. We might end up finding cures to all sorts of diseases if we were able to take the worry of income out of the equation and just let people focus on research.

    More people would be able to participate in the economy so there might be even more opportunities for entrepreneurs and business builders. I would be able to spend a lot of time working and not worry about whether I need to invoice for the work or not. It could really be awesome. 🙂

  2. Yeah, what I mean is that because the basics would be covered I wouldn’t need to stress about how much non-paying work I do. I could spend a lot more time on projects that matter to me even if they don’t generate revenue immediately.

  3. I’ve seen this idea floated more and more lately, but I still havent see an economic analysis of how it would be funded.

    Imagine all the people below the threshold amount who would stop working to ‘earn more’. Imagine the people who hate work and would stop at the first opportunity knowing they had a guaranteed amount regardless….how is all this funded?

    1. Good question. I imagine part of the analysis is the cost of maintaining current social welfare programs.

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