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Unconditional basic income might be a brilliant idea

January 16, 2015

Dollar-NoteWhy would anyone suggest a basic income for everyone, and by the way, would it even be a good idea? Well, here you go:

Several studies indicate that machines will be able to to a large part of the jobs humans do today within a few decades, and looking at technology such as the digital assistant Amelia developed by IP Soft, it’s not hard to see that this is starting to happen already now.

One main issue for the society to deal with will be how to distribute wealth to people, when the model of salary-for-work will be broken. I invite policy makers, economists and others to start discussing this immediately since we will run into difficulties sooner than most people think.

So far, few new models have been proposed. One of them is a basic income for all citizens, which at first look could seem a weak solution. Most people would probably dismiss the idea intuitively and say that it wouldn’t work.

It turns out, however, that recent real world experiments show the opposite! In this video, Federico Pistono, author of the book ‘Robots Will Steal Your Job, but That’s Ok’, talks about some hugely interesting results from studies of Unconditional Basic Income.

In a randomized trial in rural India, where 12,000 people were given an unconditional basic income for 18 months, results were unambiguously positive in all ways.

For this to happen, there were some important conditions.

– The income must be basic, i.e. it must cover basic needs. In this case about 24 dollars per family per week.

– It must be distributed to everyone individually, also to children and elderly, though children below the age of about seven could have their income managed by the parents.

– It must be unconditional. No strings attached, such as ‘you need to buy food’ or ‘you need to bring children to school’. Every such condition costs money for control and increases the possibility of corruption. Just let people decide what to do with the money.

So what were the results? Look here:

– The adoption to receive the income was 93% after one month (after a few weeks people needed to have a bank account which turned out not to be a problem).

– Even though everyone received a basic income, labor, productivity and work increased.

– All measurable social indicators were better than in a control group without unconditional basic income.

– The total cost of the program was less than keeping existing social programs.

– People were twice as likely to have increased their productivity at work, they increased their livestock by 70% and they were more likely to increase income from work.

– There was a significant reduction in indebtedness, and an increase in savings.

– People were spending more on transport to school and they were more likely to improve their house, supply of clean water etc.

– There was an improvement in children’s weight for age and this was more pronounced for girls.

– People had more varied diets, and they were NOT more likely than others to spend on private bads such as alcohol or tobacco.

– And FINALLY: People were three times as likely to start a new business or production activity as others!

Or as Pistono puts it:

‘The moment you don’t have to worry about money for survival, that is the moment when you can use social your social capital and your intelligence to actually start something meaningful.’

One important aspect of this is that many people might choose to do voluntary work or other activities that are not considered ‘profitable’ in our society today. Decoupling income from work actually seems to liberate large amounts of activity, but it’s hard to believe since most of us have a strong feeling that if we’re not productive, we’re not entitled to an income.

On the other hand, from a larger perspective you could ask what it is to be productive. Productive for whom? For your employer, or… for humanity and the world?

Several other studies confirm the results from India, Pistono reports. Most of them have been done in the last few years, and in India there are now plans for a large scale study in 1,000 villages.

Meanwhile, a referendum for unconditionally basic income of about 2,500 euros is planned for in Switzerland (although it’s not obvious that the results from a country like India can be translated to a western rich country).

In the end you could ask this question: Why do we do anything (except basic needs such as eat, sleep reproduce)?

You could search for the answer at many levels. My answer is at the deepest existential level: The property to develop and move ahead seems in-built in every single part of the Universe, and it’s an intrinsic part of us.

This is the force that makes everything in the Universe self-organize, that have made particles form atoms and molecules, that made the DNA molecule to form and life to appear, and that can be observed in ourselves through the fact that once we have discovered a better way to do something, it’s virtually impossible for us not to do it that way.

We just cannot help developing. It’s part of us and irresistible.

I believe this is one of the most fundamental forces in the universe. I have no good explanation for it’s deepest origin, but I’m convinced it must be embraced.

Decoupling income from work seems to be a good way to do embrace this fundamental force in us, and it also seems possible for the first time in history. I believe we should continue to seriously investigate this possibility. 

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14 Comments
  1. Mats, this is really a terrific visionary article. I applaud your ability to find optimistic stories in our troubled times.

  2. Joniale permalink

    Happy birthday Mats!, I wish you a happy day with all your friends. Thanks for this web and your book about LENR.

  3. Fibb permalink

    I completely support this idea. It’s ethically and morally valid. It promotes economic growth. It eliminates bureaucracy. It unleashes a tremendous amount of human potential and it’s cheaper than the status quo. Better results for less… hmmmmm…. a real “no-brainer”

    check this out: http://www.libertarianism.org/columns/libertarian-case-basic-income

  4. Mats Lewan permalink

    Thanks Gregory, interesting.

  5. Economic models change over the centuries, technological advancements being a driving force as the labor part of the equation changes. The word “Economics” Ancient Greek roots imply care of the (whole) household: οἰκονομία (oikonomia, “management of a household, administration”) from οἶκος (oikos, “house”) + νόμος (nomos, “custom” or “law”), hence “rules of the house(hold)”.

    Perhaps maximizing the profit of mutual well-being will become the new measure of success. This article puts us in the frame of mind to be considering a ‘loss profit’ analysis of this, and applying it elsewhere. Thank you… it takes me back a bit…

    Back in the far distant past our instinctual fear of fire warned us away, we ran like all other creatures. Over time we cautiously captured embers when fearful raging fires had passed. We learned to utilize and then create fire.

    This was an epic technological advancement. Our instinct had changed and we entered the Fire Era, a major step in our evolution.

    With technological advancements we then harnessed fire for metallurgy, motion, work, and the generation of electricity. As coal, liquid, gaseous, and radioactive fuels delivered more electricity, work, and motion, modern civilization experienced a surge in personal, social, economic, spiritual, and philosophical advancements.

    Humanity has evolved quite a bit since the dawning of the Fire Era. Concepts of the right to well-being have grown. Humanity is slowly becoming more humane.

    “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science” – Charles Darwin

    “Those instrumental goods which should serve to maintain the life and health of all human beings should be produced by the least possible labor of all.” – Albert Einstein

  6. Personally I believe in this model. When the basic living expenses secured, tanks used for development instead of thoughts on how survive from day to day. /Torbjorn

  7. Mats Lewan permalink

    😀

  8. To tell the truth, I am not waiting for, as I am sure
    a) in case, I will hear the believers
    b)it will never happen, not for that story: even if your faith is strong, it will not realize any miracle. But you can keep on hoping, of ourse,

    Have a nice day

  9. Mats Lewan permalink

    Yes I know. Must be terrific just waiting for being disproved! Enjoy your time.

  10. Yes. And you know what? I am still waiting for being disproved. Expecially about the story binded to the fifth year since that famous “almost ready” sentence…

  11. Mats Lewan permalink

    Which reminds me that you have a certain aversion for things that seems too good to be true😉
    Trust the experimental results!

  12. It reminds me of some political gift to some part of popolation (a social card to elder, or 80 euros to all family, or “baby check” for new mothers,…) – it must be the unconditional part that does not sound good (must say: “sounds too much good”) to me.

  13. Mats Lewan permalink

    If the total cost of the program is less than keeping existing social programs, as in this trial, paying for the program should not be an issue.

  14. SnowDog permalink

    It’s not the giving, which is the problem with most Lefty ideals — it’s the taking, and the threats of violence that go with the taking. What are you going to do to people who refuse to pay for this plan?

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