America! We are the richest country on earth, and indeed
the richest civilization that has ever existed. We put a man on the moon! We invented the internet, the assembly line, and the airplane. More billionaires live here than anywhere
else on earth. And we are widely acknowledged as being the
most powerful single nation around. But for a country so wealthy and so innovative,
our living standards are… not that great. Our infant mortality and child poverty rates
are among the highest in the developed world. Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared with people living in many
other rich democracies. We have the highest incarceration rate in
the world. And of the ten richest countries, the United States comes in last in terms of mobility and opportunity. The United States is so rich, and yet so many
of its citizens remain impoverished. There’s a big idea out there that could
help solve this. It’s called the universal basic income. The government would give everyone, say, $500
or $1,000 a month — no strings attached, sort of like a Social Security payment. A basic income would help eliminate poverty,
especially deep poverty and poverty among children. It would give workers more bargaining power. With that kind of safety net, people might
become more entrepreneurial, and take more risks. They might free themselves
from abusive figures in their lives. They might go back to school. They might make more art. They might choose to spend more time with
their families, or take care of their elderly relatives, or volunteer in their communities. And economists think it is unlikely that many
people would stop working. Just look at lottery winners – 85% of them
continue to work. Studies even show that they might be more
productive, healthier, happier, and more cohesive as a society. Most importantly: an UBI would give Americans
basic security and more control over in their lives. There are some downsides to a UBI: It would
cost a lot, Though the United States is a relatively low-tax country right now and we could afford it, it might lead some people to stop working,
particularly older workers, younger workers, and the parents of little kids. It might create inflation, with prices rising
since everybody would have more money to spend. It also might grate against our deep-seated
belief that nobody should get something for nothing. The idea of a basic income isn’t new. It’s been around for more than 500 years,
with everybody from Martin Luther King Jr. to Richard Nixon to Bill Gates supporting
some version of it. We are living in a time of great technological
advancement and enormous abundance. But poverty continues. Some families have private inheritances, passing
on their accumulated wealth. A basic income would be like a social inheritance,
sharing the wealth that this society has created and eliminating deprivation for everybody.