In 1516, the English scholar Thomas More published Utopia, a political satire depicting an island where conditions were as they “should be”. In it, he made the first reference to an idea that is now being debated and tested across the world. Every citizen on More’s island (which, it should be pointed out, also featured slaves shackled in chains of gold) is provided with “some means of livelihood”. They are granted, in effect, a universal basic income, or UBI.
In its fundamental form, UBI hasn’t changed much from More’s original proposition. The idea is to give every citizen, regardless of means, a sum of money, regularly and for life – usually enough that they don’t need to work. (The amount of money, and so the level of a citizen’s income security, can vary wildly, but more on that later).
“Basic income is the idea that, usually to replace other existing social security benefits, everyone receives uniform, flat-rate payments,” says Luke Martinelli, a research associate at the University of Bath. “The motivation for that is to reduce the reliance on other benefits by providing a fairly modest income floor.”
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