Universal basic income — a system of wealth distribution that involves giving people a monthly wage just for being alive — got a standing ovation at the 2017 TED conference, held in April.
Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian and basic income advocate, gave a talk on the subject in which he explored a crucial question: Why do the poor make such poor decisions?
Bregman suggested that creating a system of basic income would be the quickest and easiest way to meet those needs.
“Poverty is not a lack of character. Poverty is a lack of cash,” he said, before the TED crowd of 1,000-plus rose to its feet.
Bregman’s standing ovation reflects the particular appeal that basic income is gaining among America’s technologists.
People in Silicon Valley are working to build autonomous robots that could replace human labour. But as economists have started speculating about the ways those innovations could lead to widespread unemployment, many tech elites have begun searching for solutions to the problem they’re creating.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Y Combinator President Sam Altman, and Facebook Cofounder Chris Hughes have all endorsed basic income. (Altman and Y Combinator are leading a basic-income trial in Oakland.) On Twitter, venture capitalist Chris Sacca remarked Bregman’s talk was “devastatingly provocative and enlightening.”
Basic income has gained new life in the last few years. It started as a niche economic theory in the late 1960s, promoted by Milton Friedman, but a wave of basic income trials around the world has propelled the idea towards the mainstream.
Experiments are currently under way in Finland, Kenya, and Oakland, California, and new ones are expected to launch later this year in the Netherlands and Canada.
According to Bregman, we already have the means, the research, and the need for basic income. All that’s left is the action, and judging by the reaction to Bregman’s talk, the TED crowd seems to agree.