As technology gets more and more advanced, it stands to reason that the United States' economy will continue to get more and more automated. And it follows in turn that as more and more jobs are lost to automation, more and more people will find themselves out of work and without any immediate apparent means of support. Naturally, opinions vary on solutions to the problem, and one of them is the concept of universal basic income, an idea which can now count Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes among its interested parties.
Hughes is just one of more than a hundred people from various points on the political spectrum who've formed the Economic Security Project, and have made a recent pledge to invest $10 million to study the effectiveness of universal basic income over the next two years. The idea is a simple one, but even though it's been around for decades it's never been satisfactorily studied. Basically, universal basic income provides every citizen of a given community a guaranteed no-strings-attached income. Proponents of the idea say that this is a more effective balm for poverty and its accompanying lack of adequate healthcare and education than other forms of welfare, and that it can bolster economies for everyone, rather than just a select few. Hughes himself summed up his attitude towards the idea this way to Quartz:
"We have more questions than answers. but we do know we can unite around the fact that financial security should be a human right and cash is an underutilized tool."
Universal basic income has been found to deliver real, quantifiable improvements in areas like education and earning power in poorer nations, without the pitfalls that opponents often ascribe to it, like hyperinflation or increases in spending on stuff like alcohol or cigarettes. But it's never been tested in a more robust economy like (for now) the United States', which is one of the gaps that the Economic Security Project hopes to explore by way of the $10 million effort.
The ESP's $10 million fund will go to six different organizations, all of which will use the money to study the nuances of universal basic income through a variety of angles, advocating accordingly. Here's Hughes again:
"Now, it's clear there's an economic crisis in America… What's causing it is less relevant than the reality that the economy is broken today, and we have to think about re-balancing and making it work for people in 2016 rather than waiting for some far-off future to arrive."
Universal basic income would be a hard sell in a country as obsessed with a traditional work ethic as the US, but one of the appeals of the concept is that it frees everyone to pursue work that is important to them, rather than simply being necessary to survive and pay bills. But if the research funded by the Economic Security Project checks out then the debate gathers steam and could one day be a reality.