The average middle class person alive today leads a life as luxurious only the royalty could in the past. All the best food of the entire world is availabe at our fingertips. We can travel to far flung destinations for holidays on a whim. We have vibrant social lives and have access to any entertainment we can dream of at the press of a button. Anyone in a developed country now has access to education available only to the aristocracy of old. In many ways, we live far better than even the richest emperor of the ancient world ever could. We’ve cured diseases that regularly killed both kings and commoners alike. We can travel farther in a single day on an airplane than anyone in the entire history of the ancient world had traveled in their lifetime. We can communicate across the planet in under a second.

Afterall, this is the promise of technological progress - that every person can live a life that only the nobility of past was entitled to. In so many ways we’ve already achieved this, except for 1 final massive, glaring hole: the nobility of the past didn’t need to work.

The true potential of technoligical progress, then, is to create a world where everyone is free to pursue their interests without needing to work just to make ends meet. Back in the 1930s, the economist John Maynard Keynes famously predicted that as everyone becomes more productive, we’d move to a 15 hour work week. The productivity he envisioned did materialize, but we just kept working more and more regardless. This, I feel, is where Univeral Basic Income, or UBI, has the potential to finally make good on that original promise of technolical development and free us from the need to work.

What is Universal Basic Income?

UBI is the idea of the government giving a sum of money to every citizen each month. This money would be unconditional, so if doesn’t matter if you’re actively working or not, you’ll receive a basic income you can use to for your living expenses. You can continue to work, of course, and make supplemental income on top of what UBI provides, or not, as you see fit.

UBI is often sold as being a way to address upcoming technological upheaval and job losses, for instance by US presidential candidate Andrew Yang, but I feel it’s a much more powerful concept than that. Rather than just acting as a safety net for job losses, UBI can make it possible for all people in society to pursue what interests them without needing to worry about losing their home or not being able to afford food if it doesn’t work out. It would create a much more compassionate world as a result, with a guaranteed minimum standard of living that’s still acceptable no matter what. And, most of all, it could finally deliver on that last remaining aspiration of technological progress: that we can all live as the nobility of old used to, and not need to work. In the future, we may look back on today and be appalled that we used to have to work just to afford the basics of life.