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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > July 2016 > A universal basic mistake

A universal basic mistake

The new fashion for the old idea of a universal basic income is misguided. It’s still a bad idea

The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase for evanescent profits,” said President Franklin D Roosevelt in his first inaugural address of March 1933, a speech more famous for its observations on the nature of fear. And now, an idea has resurfaced that poses a direct challenge to this notion of “joy” and “moral stimulation.” That idea is the Universal Basic Income (UBI), the proposal that governments should pay all citizens a basic income, irrespective of whether they work.

A crowdfunded 8,000-square-metre poster was placed in Geneva, Switzerland, ahead of a vote on 5th June over an “unconditional basic income”

In advocating this, some political thinkers on both the right and the left, in Britain and overseas, appear to be moving away from this concern with work towards what should be termed an “ideology of idleness.” The core of their argument is that technological advances—the combination of artificial intelligence, automation and distributed production—will eliminate the necessity of work for many people.

The proponents of UBI describe it as a great emancipating step: a form of human liberation that frees people to choose their own paths in life. In the past, it has won support from, among others, the late Milton Friedman, the monetarist economist and favourite of Ronald Reagan, and Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, both of them firmly of the right. It is also supported by Erik Olin Wright, the Marxist thinker at Berkeley and Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister, both of them on the left.

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In Prospect’s July issue: In her final issue as Editor Bronwen Maddox explores the legacy of former Prime Minister Tony Blair having spoken with him at a Prospect event on 24th May. She examines his domestic policy, the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan and what the future holds for the Labour Party. The Chancellor George Osborne lays down his view on why the public should to “Remain” in the EU, and Ian Hargreaves takes a close look at what is happening at the BBC. Also in this issue: Former Conservative leader David Davis suggests he can see a very narrow set of circumstances that might push him towards running for the party leadership again, William Skidelsky writes about why tennis is the best sport and Vanora Bennett looks at Svetlana Alexievich’s extraordinary work recording Russia’s lost voices.