The idea that every citizen should have an unconditional monthly income is so old that 18th Century philosopher and political activist Thomas Paine once proposed it.
It's also an idea that many still dismiss as hopelessly utopian. Indeed, 75% of Swiss voters rejected it in a referendum last year.
However, it's increasingly a model that many of the world's best brains are proposing as we face losing more and more jobs to AI and robotics. (http://theqstn.com/questions/212685/in-the-smart-city-what-do-people-actually-work-for-if-everything-is-automated)
Finland is currently carrying out a two-year Universal Basic Income (UBI) trial - becoming the first European country to pay its unemployed an unconditional sum. The monthly amount, which replaces benefits and isn't means-tested, will be paid even if the participants find work. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/03/finland-trials-basic-income-for-unemployed)
To really convince everyone that UBI is viable however, it needs a bold, broad and far-reaching message behind it.
It needs a manifesto.
Throughout the centuries, manifestos have engaged people with ideas about how the world could be. Loads had memorable slogans, like The Communist Manifesto with the most famous political call to action ever: "Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains."
So I decided to write a UBI manifesto to sell it to the world. Here's my stab at it:
The UBI Manifesto
1. UBI is about all of us
Some on the right call it a skivers' wage, some on the left say it's an attack on welfare.
But it's neither for the left or right - it's a forward idea. It's about more people getting the opportunity to realise their potential in the age of the robots.
It's about making the game of life more interesting for all of us. A bit like getting £200 when you pass go in Monopoly keeps everyone in the game for longer.
It's not a utopian idea because it's already happening. There are UBI schemes in Canada, Alaska, India, Brazil, as well as Finland. One is proposed for Glasgow. These schemes are showing UBI can improve social conditions, reduce welfare bills, reduce crime and provide many other benefits.
Rather than encouraging people not to work, a guaranteed wage means they can take jobs they could previously not afford to take.
UBI is about freedom - because money is freedom.
2. We have nothing to lose but our insecurity
Robots are coming for everyone. Automation will not just affect low paid jobs - it will take out huge swathes of white-collar work. Tax collectors are as vulnerable as truck drivers.
The employment trend of the last 70 years has been ever-increasing job insecurity.
Now marketing consultants and cab drivers find themselves in the gig economy.
UBI is revolutionary because it overturns this insecurity.
3. Everyone is BI
'Universal Basic Income', indeed. Where's the romance, catchiness or shareability in that? It needs a catchphrase - a hashtag.
The acronym has potential. U-BI. Everyone's BI. We are all BI.
Even your mum's BI because she qualifies like everyone else.
The wannabe rock stars in the garage are BI. Your cabbie is BI.
By all being BI, we can all turn passion into new income.
4. Build a popular front of the powerful and the morally-obliged
Elon Musk sees UBI as one part of the answer to a bigger existential question posed by the advance of automation:
"How will people then have meaning? A lot of people derive meaning from their employment. If you're not needed, what is the meaning? Do you feel useless? That is a much harder problem to deal with. How do we ensure the future is a future that we want, that we like?"
As well as Musk, others should be friends too. The companies whose business model relies on flexible workforces, the employers who demand free work from interns, the cities, like London, where starting a career can involve a period of working for nothing. The creative and artistic industries should especially be friends of UBI as they draw from a well of artistic talent that, in order to develop, undoubtedly has a period of unpaid development. UBI would subsidise all those interns and start-up entrepreneurs who will one day pay the big taxes.
And every manufacturer and retailer should be friends because robots don't need stuff. In a future where few work, who will buy stuff that AI makes?
5. Unleash an artistic insurrection of the mind
Art is an early warning system. It reveals what may come and prepares us.
If artists can imagine a world where everyone has a guaranteed income, then everyone else can too.
Naturally, artists have a vested interest. Most artists and musicians rely on the dole for a while. But artists want to make a living selling their works. Artists create markets.
UBI needs artists as much as artists need a basic income. Artistic renaissance in a city creates demand across the whole economy. All new markets are rooted in the dreams of art and technology.
So here's the UBI Manifesto in summary:
• UBI is about all of us
• We have nothing to lose but our insecurity
• Everybody's BI
• Build a popular front of the powerful and morally obliged
• Unleash an artistic insurrection of the mind
If we want to change the way people think, we need to change the way they feel. Universal Basic Income is for everyone. Everyone deserves it, everyone's BI. It's an opportunity to revolutionise our lives... Vive la revolution!Suggest a correction