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What would happen if we just gave people money?


At the wonky website FiveThirtyEight, Andrew Flowers goes long on universal basic income, an idea that began on the socialist fringes but has surprisingly gained widespread support lately. Flowers crunches the numbers and finds that if a universal basic income is to be viable, we will have to drastically change our attitude towards work. Here’s an excerpt:

In this context, Santens believes basic income will be “extremely impactful.” “We’re going away from a traditional, 40-hour per week economy … there is going to be a lot more flexibility and variety in what we’re doing,” he said.

From Switzerland to the Netherlands to Kenya to Silicon Valley, a mixture of insecurity and curiosity are driving interest in basic income, but its dominant ideology — and appeal — is utopian. The core existential struggle lurking in the debates over basic income centers on what meaning work holds in our lives. Straub, the Swiss referendum organizer, remembers his great-grandfather working 10 hours per day, six days per week. That kind of toil is no longer necessary, nor desirable. The dream of a world where we produce more than we need has come true.

Back when he was gathering signatures in 2012, he would joke about the supposedly impending Mayan apocalypse as a way to engage listeners on the core questions of basic income, questions he thinks still resonate: “Well, if the world really was going to end, how would you live this year? Why don’t you live your life like that?

“The market economy is great, but we want to substitute it with another system — take it to the next level,” he said. The big picture is about changing how we live. “This is a paradigm shift, and we want a referendum on that paradigm shift.”

Image via FiveThirtyEight.