The Sunday Letters Journal
Sunday Letters
005 Universal Basic Income & The End of Work

005 Universal Basic Income & The End of Work

On the prospect of accessing an income in a future of artificial intelligence and advanced automation

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With the progression of artificial intelligence, many voices are heralding the end of work as we know it. It is not just one trade or profession that will be impacted, they say. There will be many, from data analysts to legal professionals, those in the arts and media, truck, bus and rail drivers, food delivery, security, teaching—you name it. There is no domain of work that will not be affected. Over the next twenty to thirty years, vast swathes of people will have no job. So what are we going to do? How will we earn a living (as if we should have to work to earn the right to live and be comfortable in the first place)? Universal Basic Income (UBI) may be the solution. In this week’s episode, Dmitri and I discuss this idea and the results of recent trials of UBI in various countries around the world.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a financial policy model that involves regular, unconditional payments made by the government to every citizen, regardless of their income level or employment status. The core idea behind UBI is to provide all citizens with a living wage that can support basic needs, thereby reducing poverty and its associated negative health outcomes and increasing equality within society. This concept has gathered both acclaim and criticism over the years and is backed by various philosophical, economic, and practical arguments.

The idea of a universal basic income isn't new. One of the earliest proponents of a form of UBI was Thomas Paine, an 18th-century political activist, who proposed a capital grant for all individuals upon reaching adulthood in his work "Agrarian Justice" (1797)1. In the 20th century, economists like Milton Friedman introduced the concept of a "negative income tax”2. Although not strictly a UBI policy, it parallels the ideas of UBI in providing a financial safety net to the less affluent. These early ideas laid foundational thoughts that challenged traditional welfare systems, proposing instead a simpler and potentially more effective means of redistributing income to support economic and social welfare.

In recent years, several pilot programs and studies have been launched to test the feasibility and effects of UBI. One notable example is the 2017 to 2018 Universal Basic Income experiment in Finland3, where 2,000 unemployed people were given €560 per month without any conditions from January 2017 to December 2018. The findings, published by Kela, the Finnish social security agency, suggested that while the UBI did not significantly improve employment outcomes, it did increase the beneficiaries' well-being, giving them a sense of better financial security and mental health.

Another significant case study from the United States was conducted in the city of Stockton, California4. It was conducted involving 125 residents who received $500 monthly and operated for two years. The preliminary results indicated improvements in employment and stability, debunking myths that financial aids discourage work. These contemporary experiments provide crucial data points and insights into how UBI could be structured and implemented effectively in different socio-economic contexts.

The future of UBI is a subject of vibrant debate among economists, policymakers, and the public. Proponents argue that UBI could be essential in addressing the challenges posed by automation and the precarious nature of modern work environments. It's seen as a tool for promoting consumer spending and economic stability. Critics, however, caution against its high costs and potential to dissuade individuals from seeking employment. Although, these arguments seem to be based on personal moral values rather than solid research findings. For example, a trial in Namibia from 2008 to 2009 found that UBI had a significant reduction in poverty and child malnutrition, an increase in school attendance and healthcare utilisation, and an increase in economic activity as recipients invested in small businesses and increased their purchasing power.

Universal Basic Income remains a compelling yet controversial idea in the discourse on economic reform and social welfare. As societies continue to evolve and face new economic challenges, the lessons learned from past and ongoing experiments will be crucial in shaping the future of UBI. Whether it will become a standard policy remains to be seen, but it undoubtedly represents a significant shift in thinking about welfare, work, and economic security in the modern world.

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Paine, T. (2000). Agrarian justice. Raleigh, NC, USA: Alex Catalogue.


Friedman, M. (2016). Capitalism and freedom. In Democracy: a reader (pp. 344-349). Columbia University Press.


Kangas, O., Jauhiainen, S., Simanainen, M., & Ylikännö, M. (2019). The basic income experiment 2017–2018 in Finland: Preliminary results.


Daly, M. (2022). Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration: A Case Study of Basic Income. University of California, Irvine.

The Sunday Letters Journal
Sunday Letters
The Sunday Letters Podcast is the weekly audio newsletter on the meaning & purpose of daily work from work and business psychologist Larry Maguire and philosopher Dmitri Belikov. We explore how human beings may break free from tiresome means-to-an-end labour and take command of their own working lives. Topics include daily work, jobs and careers, self-employment, socialism, capitalism, economics, slavery, colonialism, and society & culture. Content follows the written newsletter, which goes out to subscribers every Sunday.