Universal basic income (UBI), also known as basic income, is a model that provides all citizens of a country a given sum of money, regardless of their employment status or income. UBI aims to prevent or reduce poverty and increase quality of life among citizens.
There are currently no countries that have a universal basic income model in place. There are many debates, movements, discussions for them worldwide, and even some experiments. The map below indicates countries where UBI has been tried in some form.
According to the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), there are five defining characteristics of basic income:
- Periodic: distributed in regular payments
- Cash payment: distributed as funds, not coupons or vouchers
- Individual: paid to every adult citizen, not just every household
- Universal: it is paid to all citizens, regardless of their situation
- Unconditional: there is no requirement to work or willingness to work
Universal basic income models differ in their sources of funding, amounts distributed, and other dimensions.
As with other policies and models, universal basic income has its supporters and opponents and pros and cons. Supporters propose that UBI favors liberty, community, the fight against inhumane working conditions, and equal sharing of the technical progress. They argue that UBI allows college students to receive a degree in what interests them and not just a degree that will make them money. Because payments are automatic, the government would spend less time administering the welfare than it does now. Lastly, although there are countless other arguments for basic income, it could help couples start families since the worry over the high costs of raising a baby would be alleviated.
However, opponents of UBI argue that the model needs to be funded somehow, raising taxes for everyone. Additionally, because there are no requirements to receive UBI (proof of employment or willingness to find employment), people may be disincentivized to work. Free income could also trigger inflation, canceling out its purpose to increase the overall standard of living.
In the United States, 2020 Presidential Candidates Andrew Yang campaigned with a universal basic income plan called the Freedom Dividend. The Freedom Dividend responds to the increasing automation that will inevitably take away one in three jobs from American workers over the next decade. Yang’s plan would distribute $1,000 to each American adult every month ($12,000 per year), which is known as a “partial dividend,” enough to help but not enough to fully support adults and cause them to stop working. Several states have tried small-scale basic income programs in the past, including Alaska, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and California.
The country with a system closest to universal basic income is Norway. Norway is a welfare state, ensuring that all Norwegian citizens residing in the country have access to certain fundamental goods, including access to education, universal health care, and income in the form of social security or benefits. However, Norway has specific conditions to be met to receive these benefits from the government, such as requiring citizens to try and find a job, be law-abiding, participating in elections, and paying taxes.
In 2018, Finland conducted a basic income experiment with 2,000 randomly selected unemployed citizens. The recipients were given 560 euros ($640) monthly and reported being happier and in better health. They also reported that, although the amount was only 50 euros more than what they were previously receiving from unemployment benefits, there was no reporting to receive the income.
BIEN is active in several countries around the world to help encourage and implement a universal basic income. Several countries are discussing or debating models or implementing experiments with citizens to see if UBI is effective.