Support for Universal Basic Income High as Test Cases Loom

A new survey indicates the once pie-in-the-sky notion of paying all citizens regularly for doing absolutely nothing is gaining traction in America, amid rising voter concerns about income inequality and the threat to people’s jobs posed by robots.

The poll of 500 Americans found that 46% supported the introduction of a so-called universal basic income, or UBI. Just 35% opposed the idea, while 19% were undecided.

The survey was commissioned by a collective of nonprofit, political and technology organizations including Bloomberg-backed venture capital firm Bloomberg Beta and startup training company Tradecraft.

Younger people, people of color and poorer people were more likely to support the idea of providing everyone in the U.S. with unconditional payments, as were respondents who already knew most about UBI.

“There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation.

The findings come about a month after Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, said the concept could soon become reality. “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” he said. “Yeah I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”

The jury is still out on whether a UBI would crimp productivity by encouraging everyone to be lazy. Would recipients still want to work hard to earn extra dough? Would they use any spare time to create new things and pursue constructive ideas? Would they head straight for the bar or the beach?

Indeed, while a UBI was popular among respondents to this latest survey, there was disagreement over how it should be implemented. More than half (56%) opposed the idea of payments not being tied to work or having a job. There was also majority opposition to suggestions the money could be available for anything, or that the cost of the UBI would be paid by tax revenue.

Swiss voters in June rejected a proposal to pay citizens a monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2424) amid warnings from opponents, including the government, that it would cost too much and hurt the economy.

To test the concept, Finland will next year randomly choose 2,000 unemployed people and pay them for two years, according to a story this week in the New York Times. Participants will be monitored to see how they behave.

Y Combinator, a venture capital firm for the tech sector, is planning to conduct an experiment of its own in Oakland, California early next year that will involve giving 100 families $2,000 a month.

President Sam Altman said that although a basic income may seem too expensive to fund today, technological improvements may eventually create more resources and lower the cost of living. “We hope a minimum level of social security will give people the freedom to pursue further education or training, find or create a better job and plan for the future,” he said, while announcing the test.

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