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What Is Universal Basic Income?

The Netherlands and Finland to Try Out Universal Basic Income in 2017

The Problem: Robots

While some Americans lament the outsourcing of jobs to other countries, they may be ignoring the real threat: robots. Technology and artificial intelligence have advanced so much that many traditionally human-held jobs are now performed by robots and this trend toward automation is only gaining strength. Thus, human workers are gradually becoming obsolete, including those with roles like restaurant workers and truck drivers.

The Proposal: Universal Basic Income

Automation has already caused an increase in unemployment, as the number of jobs available to humans simply diminishes. So, what's the solution? According to Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, eventually the only option will be a universal basic income (or UBI) for the whole country. With UBI, each person receives a regular check from the government.

Many global officials are mulling over the idea of UBI — including President Obama, who said in an interview this year, "Whether a universal income is the right model — is it gonna be accepted by a broad base of people? — that's a debate that we'll be having over the next 10 or 20 years."

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Trying Out UBI IRL

Over the Summer, Switzerland considered implementing a UBI of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,578), but voters eventually rejected the plan. Now, the Netherlands are set to begin a trial program for universal basic income starting in January 2017, and Finland is expected to institute a pilot UBI program at some point in the year as well. In Finland, where unemployment is high, this first experiment will provide 2,000 unemployed people with 560 euros per month, the main goal being "to provide incentives so that more people will be encouraged to work. It is first and foremost something that will provide income support for people in atypical jobs." After two years, the Finnish Parliament will examine the experiment and decide whether or not to make it permanent.

Is It a Good Idea?

For many people, having a job provides them with a sense of accomplishment and purpose, and having to largely relinquish most jobs to robots would be disorienting or maybe even devastating. On the other hand, Musk makes the optimistic point that "[p]eople will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things. Certainly more leisure time."

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