Universal basic income (UBI) is a radical economic idea which has the potential to achieve profound social impact unlike anything else. The nub of the idea is to give every person a guaranteed, unconditional sum of money on a regular basis (typical proposals are monthly, like a salary). That is, no strings attached cash from the state wired to every person to spend however they wish.
The notion of introducing a UBI was first floated in the 15th century and its reason for being is usually cited as the single most effective way to destroy poverty. And in the 1960s, it very nearly happened in the US.
In recent years, UBI has once again seen the spotlight shone upon it thanks to a number of proponents across the world. The idea of simply giving everybody money is a radical one, so naturally the merit of the theory should be, and is being tested.
So far, the evidence is overwhelmingly positive: UBI improves lives and communities.
How can this help us in the creative sector?
Let’s be clear – the core reason for basic income is to provide everybody with enough money to live off. It is not designed to allow people to stop working. If we think of the welfare state as a safety net, UBI can be thought of as a floor, providing permanent stability.
Therefore, UBI is inherently designed to prevent poverty. And though this might be its fundamental reason for being, it is so much more than that.
As people working in the creative industry, our skills are sought after. But they are also commoditised in the process; often diluted or used in ways which simply don’t interest us. Or worse, cause us stress. In a classical sense, we are simply selling our labour to pay for our basic needs.
What basic income strives to do is usher in a completely new way of structuring society – one built around self-actualisation, not drudgery.
But how many of us started out doing this for money? Indeed, how many of us work on side projects because our day jobs are largely unfulfilling?
More breathing space
With a guaranteed monthly income that pays the rent and affords one to eat, suddenly a world of opportunity opens up. This puts creatives in an incredibly powerful position; one where they can essentially say “no” to work that is not right for them. This would likely lead to reduced hours working for somebody else, freeing up time to focus on what is actually important. For creative professionals with side projects, this provides a massive opportunity for personal growth. For artists working on the checkout at Walmart, it gives security and importantly, more time.
Genuine equality of opportunity
There is an attractive, romanticised idea about the struggling journalist, desperately working to be published. Or the musician gigging every weekend trying to be in the right place at the right time. Or the graduate web developer tentatively putting their head over the parapet, hoping some award-winning agency will help sweep them to greatness.
But this is a romanticised version of reality, and especially for those from poorer backgrounds, their talent and drive may go unnourished. The introduction of a basic income to relieve financial pressures would really help level the playing field and provide genuine equality of opportunity for all.
Opportunity to pursue genuine interests
With the guaranteed financial support that UBI provides, entrepreneurs in the creative sector would be more confident in pursuing their goals. Risk aversion contributes to unfulfilled dreams, particularly for those less affluent, who stand to lose the most if it doesn’t succeed.
We all have a passion for something, and for creative thinkers ideas can manifest in a number of ways at seemingly random times. The need to make something, even just as an outlet, can be quite strong. But for an idea to be nurtured and to flourish into something useful, it needs security.
Big business knows this. Google, affectionately referring to its employees as “Googlers”, offers a number of perks to its staff, including free chef-prepared meals, free healthcare, entertainment, generous leave and childcare.
To spell this out, the state could mimic big business by introducing a guaranteed basic income that would greatly assist everyone (not just creatives) in fulfilling their potential by covering their basic needs.
The main reason for the reprise in UBI advocacy is the recent indication that swathes of the labour force will soon be replaced by machines, automating many jobs away within 15-20 years. Professional, as well as blue collar jobs, are under threat of automation.
As people working in the creative industry, our skills are sought after. But they are also commoditised in the process; often diluted or used in ways which simply don’t interest us.
What basic income strives to do is use this opportunity to usher in a completely new way of structuring society – one around self-actualisation, not drudgery. Whilst many are concerned about being made redundant by machines, UBI advocates look at this with a sense of pure optimism. The idea is that robots work, humans live.
It is beyond the scope of this article to cover much of what universal basic income is about. Common questions such as how it will be funded, implemented and what it might mean for domestic and global economies can be found on the Basic Income Earth Network.
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