5 Surprising Facts About UBI

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These tenets are based on the idea of a universal basic income, which has been around in some form for hundreds of years, but whose modern concept was solidified in the late 18th century.

Here are five amazing facts about UBI.

1. The modern concept is hundreds of years old.

The earliest written concept of UBI can be traced back to France and the United States in the late 1700s. Thomas Paine, a founding father of the United States, was likely inspired by French philosopher’s Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat writings on the concept of a guaranteed income for the elderly to develop the early concept of UBI.

“Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated lands, owes to the community a ground-rent (for I know of no better term to express the idea) for the land which he holds; and it is from this ground-rent that the fund proposed in this plan is to issue,” Paine wrote. “To create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property: And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.”

2. Iran is the only country with a long-running UBI program.

To replace subsidies on gas and bread, Iran in 2011 introduced a nationwide cash-transfer program. “The monthly transfer amounted to 29% of median household income, or about $1.50 extra per head of household, per day,” according to the World Economic Forum, about the equivalent of $16,389.64. The program has been since dialed back due to the false belief that a UBI disincentivizes people from working, which was debunked by the research of two economists.

3. American localities have long experimented with UBI.

Since the 1960s, the U.S. and Canada gave money to people in several municipalities with no strings attached. It could also be argued that Alaska has long been paying out UBI in the form of $1,000 to $2,000 annual checks tied to the state’s oil industry. The most recent UBI experiment in the U.S. saw the city of Stockton, Calif., hand out $500 per month to randomly selected residents for two years. Results showed that “guaranteed income drastically improves job prospects, financial stability and overall well being of recipients.”

4. There’s no negative association between UBI and work.

Critics of UBI often say that giving people “free” money would lead them to sit home and not participate in the labor market. Research has proven again and again that this is false. The aforementioned Iran study, as well as research on Alaska’s yearly dividend and a trial in Finland, showed that people don’t withdraw from work when receiving UBI payments. The Alaska study actually found more people participated in part-time work when they had extra money in their pockets.

5. President Richard Nixon pushed a UBI plan.

While the concept of UBI has become popular among progressives, it had been a Republican president who was closest to making UBI a reality. Following smaller trials across the country, President Richard Nixon in 1969 had been prepared to enact UBI for low income Americans. As The Correspondent put it, “Nixon saw basic income as the ultimate marriage of conservative and progressive politics.” So what happened? A bill pushing UBI passed in the House but died in the Senate — twice. Republicans had worried about making the so-called welfare state larger, while Democrats wanted the payments to be bigger.

History sure has a funny way of repeating itself.


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