(New Statesman) -- What would you do if somebody gave you a few hundred pounds each month to spend on whatever you wanted? Would you quit your job? Retrain and look for a better one? Spend more time with your kids? Get those vital repairs done on your house? Eat better food?
I’m not trying to taunt you. Asking anyone who has to work for a living to contemplate a society in which they have proper economic choices feels like asking a friend on a doctor-enforced diet to describe their favourite dessert. But it’s the question being raised by a growing chorus of thinkers and campaigners, from Silicon Valley businessmen to conservative philosophers, who believe that the answer to a snarled web of economic problems – wage inequality, automation and the gender pay gap, among others – is to institute an “unconditional basic income”.
Basic income – the proposal to give a flat, non-means-tested payment to every citizen – is an old idea. It has been around for centuries, and for centuries its proponents have largely been dismissed as utopian, or insane, or both. This year, however, that insanity is gradually becoming a political reality. Finland is considering giving its citizens an unconditional stipend of €800 a month and the Dutch city of Utrecht is carrying out a similar experiment. Switzerland will hold a referendum on basic income in June.
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