Why guaranteed income may come to the poor world first

One of the most commonly touted remedies for an expected future bloodbath in the job market is the universal basic income, a concept whereby the government would issue monthly payments to all citizens, regardless of employment status. Its advocates argue that UBI would be the best way for citizens to support themselves should most productive work end up being done by machines and artificial intelligence.

But a recent analysis by the Brookings Institution argues that UBI already makes sense as a tool for fighting poverty around the world.

Why it matters: If developing countries like Brazil, India and Indonesia were to implement such a program at a cost of 1% of GDP, it could help bring around 185 million people out of extreme poverty, Brookings says.

Why it matters for the U.S: A central question in the debate over UBI is whether it is enough to simply provide people with money for life's essentials, or whether work itself is important for one's sense of identity and dignity.

  • Some of those who believe the latter argue that the government should guarantee public works jobs for those who want employment but can't find it.
  • Ongoing experiments with this policy in places like Kenya and Finland could offer a window into how American society would react to such a program. Will it give people the freedom to engage in productive, but not remunerative, activities like raising children or caring for the elderly, or will it create a culture of dependency and exacerbate problems like drug addiction?