If the first time you heard the acronym UBI was during the 2020 Democratic primaries, you’re not alone. During his run as a Democrat candidate, entrepreneur Andrew Yang championed the concept of UBI (universal basic income). In an idea he called the Freedom Dividend, Yang proposed $1,000 per month for American adults—which, naturally, seemed absurd to the average American. In the era of the pandemic, however, UBI is seeming more and more like a viable option for Americans. We’ve already experimented with stimulus checks, albeit to much debate.
But what exactly is UBI? What would implementing it entail? And most importantly, where would that money come from? Universal basic income should not be viewed as a far-fetched idea or improbable economic concept. Not only is it possible, it’s been implemented in other parts of the world to much success.
Let’s start by defining UBI. It’s primarily intended to be a government program that provides every adult citizen of a country a recurring payment of a pre-established amount of money. The idea is very simple, and very old. Stemming from Renaissance ideas, providing a basic income to all citizens of a certain city or country has long been viewed as a form of public service and ensuring welfare. Simply put: UBI in the U.S. would mean free money, monthly, for every citizen, regardless of employment status. This is important because it would help soften the price of living in the United States. Across the country, millions of Americans work minimum-wage jobs just to survive. And notably, minimum wage isn’t necessarily the livable wage it’s promised to be. UBI, it’s argued, would allow more flexibility in the jobs Americans do or don’t have to take and ease the tension regarding the automation of jobs and job availability. This is important, as automation is increasingly taking jobs that have existed in the past while also contributing to overproduction.
Yang’s idea was heavily criticized when he proposed it back in the primaries. Even Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the leading progressive politicians, critiqued Yang’s idea back in 2019. In 2021, though, Americans’ view on the government providing federal aid to citizens has completely shifted. Because of the financial burden the pandemic has placed on many Americans, the idea of a monthly check is gaining steam in the public eye.
UBI proponents have also found a home on TikTok. The app’s advocates of basic income raise arguments against the toxic capitalist culture of America, and the notion that people should have to work just to survive. A UBI mechanism would cushion the payments necessary for basic needs, argues one user.
Perhaps the most common concern about UBI is: does it work? In short, yes. Across the world, countries are experimenting with implementing a basic income and the results are promising. From Kenya to Spain to Finland, the areas that have engaged in small-scale implementations of UBI reported rises in health and happiness, and even decreases in crime. Obviously, UBI is not a one-size-fits-all fix, but it makes sense. The notion of decreasing poverty and monetary struggle is a positive one, no doubt. In multiple countries, results have surfaced that a basic income improves the well-being of residents and reduces financial stress.
With that said, it would take a lot of debate, among other things, to actually implement a UBI on a federal level. Critics of the program believe a UBI would decentivize work and breed laziness. And while these arguments can be debunked, that doesn’t mean people won’t make them. The country has witnessed first-hand how long it takes for relief aid to be passed in the time of a global crisis. It’s difficult to imagine politicians and federal leaders getting on board with a monthly federal aid program. It’s also important to note that in a 2020 survey, a slim majority of Americans oppose implementing UBI.
It’s clear that basic income has a ways to go in terms of being accepted and advocated for on a national level. Until then, it’s worthwhile to track UBI’s progress (and success) across the world and expose others to the idea of establishing a basic monthly income. Americans deserve to live without worrying if they’ll have enough to cover rent or groceries. Survival should not only be guaranteed by the government, but supported by it. After all, what good are politicians if not advocating for our best interests?
By Sophia Moore