Kenya women coffee Dea/G. Wright

The Pie-in-the-Sky UBI

According to the conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley, robots will soon eat everyone’s job, and a universal basic income will become necessary. But this hypothetical future has not yet arrived, and proposals for a UBI in the US risk diverting policymakers' attention from the many more pressing challenges confronting workers today.

BERKELEY – According to the conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley, robots will soon eat everyone’s job, and a universal basic income will become necessary. Lately, tech titans are especially eager to extol the results of a UBI pilot project in Kenya that is being funded largely by Silicon Valley philanthropists.

While the idea of UBI often arises during periods of economic and social stress, this is the first true test of it. The Kenya project provides a guaranteed poverty-ending income for those who receive it. In 40 poor, remote villages, 6,000 adults are now receiving 75 cents (yes, cents) per day – or $22 per month for 12 years.

We hope that the experiment in Kenya works. Cash assistance shows much promise for eliminating extreme poverty in developing countries. But, to be effective, it must be delivered directly to those in need over a sustained period of time, and in adequate amounts. In poor developing countries, a UBI can disintermediate expensive aid programs that fail to address the targeted population’s needs, and that are often undermined by corrupt regimes.

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