Robert Rosenkranz introduces the debate Universal Basic Income Is the Safety Net of the Future.
The phrase “universal basic income” is becoming increasingly well-known among Americans, thanks in large part to Facebook Founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg expressing his support for the concept during his recent commencement speech at Harvard University. Essentially, universal basic income involves a country giving a set amount to its citizens each month – say, $600 – to help offset the struggles many experience because of diminishing job opportunities, a growing reliance on technology and automation and increasingly widespread poverty.
Would such a system benefit the American people by giving them the financial cushion they need to combat poverty, increase innovation and take bold risks in the marketplace, or would it simply make it easier for those who already do not work to continue to do so and still “get by?”
Yes, universal basic income is the safety net of the future.
Arguing in favor of the motion that universal basic income is, in fact, the safety net of the future are Charles Murray, a W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Andrew Stern, a former president of the Service Employees International Union and a senior fellow with the Economic Security Project.
Arguments Made in Favor of the Motion
Proponents supporting the concept of universal basic income in America referenced other nations, such as Finland, where it is already in practice. They argued that the divide between income levels in American continues to widen, and that a universal basic income would help lessen that divide while also combating poverty-related issues such as hunger, health care and a lack of affordable housing.
Furthermore, supporters noted, many Americans are up against losing their jobs and livelihood to machines as the nation becomes increasingly automated, eliminating the need for many human workers. A universal basic income, they argued, would help encourage economic stability across the nation in the face of diminishing job prospects. Additionally, supporters argued that having an income that could cover their fundamental needs would allow Americans more time to pursue careers they actually enjoy, enhancing job satisfaction nationwide while encouraging new innovations by taking the emphasis off of meeting basic needs.
No, universal basic income is not the safety net of the future.
Arguing against the motion that universal basic income is the safety net of the future are Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, and Jason Furman, a senior fellow with the Peterson Institute and a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.
Arguments Made Against the Motion
Those opposed to America adopting the concept of universal basic income argued that it would essentially reward many who are not necessarily “in need” while taking critical resources away from programs such as Social Security and Medicare. They also noted that receiving income for doing essentially nothing encourages Americans to continue not working and that instead of combating automation with handouts, the nation should instead intensify its efforts to educate workers and provide them with key skills. Finally, opponents argued, Americans simply cannot afford a universal basic income, citing the fact that even a $10,000 annual basic income would cost the nation more than $3 trillion annually.
Pre-Debate Poll Results
Prior to the debate, 35 percent of audience members were in favor of the motion that universal basic income is the safety net of the future, while 20 percent were against it and 45 percent were undecided.
Post-Debate Poll Results
After the debate, 31 percent of audience members were in favor of the motion that universal basic income is the safety net of the future, while 61 percent were against it and 8 percent were undecided.