The paradox of universal basic income

Wired

ON DECEMBER 15, 2017, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, issued a damning report on his visit to the United States. He cited data from the Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty, which reports that “in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility, the US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.” Alston wrote that “the American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion, as the US now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries.” Just a few days before, on December 11, The Boston Globe's Spotlight team ran a story showing that the median net worth of nonimmigrant African American households in the Boston area is $8, in contrast to the $247,500 net worth for white households in the Boston area.

Clearly income disparity is ripping the nation apart, and none of the efforts or programs seeking to address it seems to be working. I myself have been, for the past couple of years, engaged in a broad discussion about the future of work with some thoughtful tech leaders and representatives of the Catholic Church who have similar concerns, and the notion of a universal basic income (UBI) keeps coming up. Like many of my friends who fiddle with ideas about the future of work, I’ve avoided actually having a firm opinion about UBI for years. Now I have decided it’s time to get my head around it.

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