Universal Basic Income: A Utopian Idea Whose Time May Finally Have Arrived
A 500-year-old idea may hold the key to solving some of the world's most vexing economic problems.
Sometimes, all it really takes to change the course of history is a bit of dusting. That’s happened recently as economists and policymakers began seriously re-examining the 500-year-old concept of a basic-income guarantee. The most debated version, known as universal basic income (UBI), is simple enough: the government would pay every adult citizen a salary, regardless of wealth, employment income or if they worked at all. Doing so, theory goes, might solve a host of endemic economic problems, from poverty to chronic joblessness, that are only likely to worsen in the coming century.
The kernel of the idea can be found, perhaps fittingly, in Utopia, Thomas More‘s 1516 book. More articulated it through one of his main characters, Raphael Hythlodaeus. “No penalty on earth will stop people from stealing, if it is their only way of getting food,” says Hythlodaeus. “It would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood.” Over the centuries, some version or another of that conclusion found proponents in the likes of Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell.
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