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Universal Basic Income: What We’ve Learned

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is not a new idea. We’ve written about it previously at MassTLC, and there is a great overview from the World Economic Forum. Alaska has even operated a very basic form of UBI since the 1980s. While the concept tends to be associated with liberal politics nowadays, it was actually Republican President Richard Nixon who first seriously advocated for it from the White House.

Recent concern over how AI, automation, and inequality will affect future availability of jobs has catapulted the concept into the spotlight recently, resulting in numerous UBI pilot programs and research projects across the world, including one run by Y Combinator in Oakland. If you’re interested in learning more about UBI trials, Wikipedia maintains a complete list.

One of these trials, the Finland experiment, has been particularly well-publicized, attracting conflicting opinions from both supporters and critics. A year after it’s January 2017 launch, have we learned anything? First of all, as researchers continue to emphasize, this experiment, by definition and by design, is technically not UBI at all as it provides cash supplements exclusively to the unemployed. A full-scale UBI trial would need to include different target groups, and while it’s still too early to tell, it seems the publicity itself could be the study’s own worst enemy – and impact results.

Still, the Finland trial has already proven valuable in its ability to provide a road map for the future study of this simultaneously new and timeless concept. Though we still can’t conclude if UBI is good or bad policy, we can certainly conclude that more research and experiments are needed, especially as technology continues to exponentially advance.


For more sources on UBI and a summary of how and why it might be installed, read “Will Automation of Jobs Lead to Universal Basic Income?” from MassTLC.

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