AI is coming for our jobs! Could universal basic income be the solution?

Tavneet Suri, agriculture sector co-chair at Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Lab (J-PAL) speaks about the impact of the world's largest universal basic income (UBI) scheme, located in Kenya, where GiveDirectly, of which she is a member of the research team, runs a 12-year UBI experiment.

"We do see people leaving low wage jobs. They are going and starting businesses, and the businesses are doing great because there’s money around. In a developing country, if we see a 20% increase in businesses, that’s people who are going to pay taxes,” she says. “Because farmers [who make up a high percentage of Kenya’s workforce] are not taxed in general, suddenly you have a bunch of people showing up in tax brackets, and they’re buying stuff. And one of the biggest pieces of revenue for the government is actually sales tax."


The idea of a guaranteed income for all has been floating around for centuries, its popularity ebbing and flowing with the passing tide of current events. While it is still considered by many to be a radical concept, proponents of a universal basic income (UBI) no longer see it only as a solution to poverty but as the answer to some of the biggest threats faced by modern workers: wage inequality, job insecurity – and the looming possibility of AI-induced job losses.

Elon Musk, at the recent Bletchley Park summit, said he believed “no job is needed” due to the development of AI, and that a job can be for “personal satisfaction”. Economist and political theorist Karl Widerquist, professor of philosophy at Georgetown University-Qatar, sees it differently.

“Even if AI takes your job away, you don’t necessarily just become unemployed for the rest of your life,” he says. “What happens is you go down in the labour market, you start crowding the lower-income professions.”

The Guardian