Everyone’s been talking about it since Benoît Hamon’s victory in the left primaries: universal income could make its entry into French society. This allocation would be allotted to all citizens, unconditionally and without obligation to work. In short, free money given to everyone. The idea sounds utopic, but experiments have been done around the world in different eras, and all have yielded fruit. Some are ongoing even today, and its strongest defenders can be found in Silicon Valley.
The idea was born in 1516, in Thomas More’s Utopia
Where does universal income come from? It’s far from a new idea. The idea of a minimum income being granted unconditionally first shape in its embryonic form in Thomas More’s Utopiain 1516. The English philosopher living in the Netherlands, the epicenter of European humanist thinking, imagined an ideal society in which no one died of hunger and where cities help each other to help the poor. The idea took root among humanist thinkers, and More’s book met with great success in France in the 17th and 18thcenturies. Le Monde recounts universal income’s history, from Thomas More to Michel Foucault.
Martin Luther King advocated for it
But from the 18thcentury to Benoît Hamon, the concept of universal income was not sucked into a spatial-temporal vortex, much as you might think. Far from it. Several thinkers have taken the torch from More and Foucault, and the most famous was none other than Martin Luther King. In his last book in 1967, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, MLK defends the idea of a “guaranteed income” for all Americans, which would be able to eradicate poverty. The magazine The Atlantic dedicated a full story to his vision.
All past experiments have been successful
Universal income could forever remain just a beautiful idea. Except that’s not the case: conclusive experiments have been done in the past, particularly in North America. In 1974, a “minimum income” was established in the Canadian province of Manitoba. Over four years, the project was a massive success, shelved nevertheless after an election. Same thing in the US in 1964, where Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” gave way to even more successful experiments in Seattle. Six years later, Nixon proposed establishing a “modest base income” to reform society. His proposition was rejected following a grotesque misreading of the results of the Seattle experiments. These cases are examined in detail in this extract from the book Utopia for Realists on Ulyces.co website.
Several countries are testing it right now
There are several other examples of applying base income, even contemporary ones. Since 1982, the citizens of Alaska have received a check each year from the state’s oil revenue. This “permanent dividend” was scrutinized in the French Health and Social Law Review.
In Kenya, 6,000 people have received a base income this year, put in place by the organization GiveDirectly. The experiment will last 10 years, and Oxford’s Quarterly Journal of Economicsreports that positive effects are already being felt.
Starting in December in Finland, 2,000 unemployed people will receive 560 € every month for two years, without conditions or restrictions. The Finnish government hopes that the initiative will help to improve quality of life in its citizens and to reduce unemployment. The Independent has written about it extensively.
The Indian Minister of Economy published a report on January 31 detailing three base income experiments in the country. It would seem that things are going well, according to Forbes.
The idea is supported by entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley
Finally, in Silicon Valley, the idea is supported by some of the biggest names in the tech industry. They recognize two qualities in particular: first, individuals who no longer have to worry about eating their fill or having a home the following month are relieved of a stress that increases their creativity tenfold; then, the rampant automation of society will take jobs away from many people – a universal income would make it possible to overcome an inevitable evolution of society.
In May 2016, technology incubator Y Combinator announced that it had chosen the city of Oakland, California, to test a universal income experience for a hundred people. They will receive between $ 1,000 and $ 2,000 a month for 6 months to a year. The Guardian followed the case.