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Why UBI?

Universal basic income has the advantages of simplicity and a broad, seemingly bipartisan appeal. But whether it represents the best means for achieving its stated ends remains unresolved.

In this Big Picture, UC Berkeley’s Laura Tyson and Lenny Mendonca, an adviser to the government of California, portray UBI as a dangerous distraction from urgent social-welfare issues such as rising inequality and child poverty. MIT’s Daron Acemoglu would agree, and points out that a guaranteed income reserved for those in need, rather than for everyone unconditionally, would be both more practical and more just. And Lena Lavinas of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro warns that unless UBI is accompanied by decommodification of essential needs, the disbursed funds will be looted by an already bloated financial sector.

Nonetheless, Yanis Varoufakis of the University of Athens sees UBI – financed by corporate dividends – as an ideal mechanism for redistributing the gains that Big Tech companies have amassed by exploiting their users. And as UC Berkeley’s Pranab Bardhan observes, while the UBI debate has centered on rich countries like the United States, such proposals would be more appropriate and practical in the context of the developing world.

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