Universal basic income is ready to go mainstream


Universal basic income (UBI) is a 500-year-old idea that will finally go mainstream in 2018. Invented by Sir Thomas More in Utopia, his 1516 "no place" imagining of the perfect society, UBI is the idea that the government should provide all its citizens with a living wage, irrespective of whether they work or not.

Over the past 500 years, UBI is an idea that has been revisited many times - most notably in the mid-19th century by Karl Marx, who imagined a post-capitalist industrial economy of such collective wealth that it would leave all of us free to "hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening and criticise after dinner".

But, for all its political seductiveness, UBI has never really convinced anyone except radical idealists such as More and Marx. So why is this rather kooky 500-year-old idea about to go mainstream?

The answer, as with everything else these days, is smart technology. Known broadly as artificial intelligence, it is about to change the 21st-century world as radically as industrial technology changed the 19th-century world. Most troubling is that the smart machine is about to replace human labour in every area - from manual to highly skilled jobs such as medicine, law and teaching. Over the next quarter of a century, it will make many of us, perhaps even most of us, redundant.

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