Why we need free money

American entrepreneur and US presidential hopeful Andrew Yang’s flagship proposal is to give every American adult a monthly dividend of $1000. Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a type of social security that guarantees all within a population a certain amount of money, no strings attached. So why is UBI a good idea, and why should we consider implementing it here in Australia?

Most people brush off the idea as outlandish. But once you invoke Martin Luther King who fought for a guaranteed minimum income right until his assassination, people start to take you more seriously.  

Automation is coming, and it’s coming fast – and chances are your job could be next. We like to think that it’s just retail workers, cab drivers and call centre employees but the reality is that the livelihoods of many white collar workers aren’t exempt from the chopping block either. From radiology, where Artificial Intelligence (AI) can spot tumours a human cannot, to corporate law where AI could scan thousands of documents in the blink of a robotic eye, millions of jobs are soon to be replaced by technology, and UBI is a necessity to mitigate this.

Even if automation weren’t a factor, the benefits of UBI are endless. From eradicating pervasive financial insecurity, radically increasing wellbeing and reducing stress, decreasing unemployment numbers, reducing incarceration and crime rates, Australians would be hugely elevated in both wellbeing and economic prosperity.

“But people would stop working” is among the first retorts.

Never mind that the majority of studies on UBI report little to no drop in employment and that it literally incentivises people on welfare to work – those who currently receive benefits risk losing that income if they find work, but UBI gets rid of that ceiling by giving money unconditionally.

And for those who say humans need to find meaning through work? There’d be more jobs not less, and do retirees not have a meaning in life?

As a journalism student, it’s not reassuring to hear that journalism too could be automated. And that’s just another reason why UBI is so great – it values different forms of work the economy doesn’t, by giving people the economic resources and freedom to pursue alternative career paths. So the question is, why not sooner rather than later.


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