The idea of guaranteeing every citizen an income from the government is an old one, first recorded during the Renaissance. In America, it was picked up by founding father Thomas Paine, who referred to the payments as a “natural inheritance.”
UBI and similar cash programs began picking up steam in the mid 20th century during the industrial revolution as early as 1918. With developed countries producing more than ever, the idea resurfaced with intensity being backed by numerous Nobel-Prize winning economists such as Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek.
In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his support, alongside over 1,000 economists from over 125 universities who signed a letter to President Nixon requesting income guarantees.
The idea of a guaranteed income floor was pushed into a bill under President Nixon in 1970 where it passed the United States House of Representatives. It died in the Senate because Democrats sought a higher guaranteed income.
Today the idea has gained support from Mark Zuckerberg, Robert Reich, Elon Musk, Bill Gross, Richard Branson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Noam Chomsky, and many others. Even more have expressed interest in studying the idea, from Pres. Obama to the libertarian Cato Institute.
Universal Basic Income is not new – it is an old idea whose time has come.
Here are some of the people who have supported Universal Basic Income over the years:
Martin Luther King Jr., 1967: “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”
Richard Nixon, August 1969: “What I am proposing is that the Federal Government build a foundation under the income of every American family . . . that cannot care for itself–and wherever in America that family may live.”
Milton Friedman (Nobel-winning economist), 1980: “We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash — a negative income tax . . . which would do more efficiently and humanely what our present welfare system does so inefficiently and inhumanely.”
Bernie Sanders, May 2014: “In my view, every American is entitled to at least a minimum standard of living . . .There are different ways to get to that goal, but that’s the goal that we should strive to reach.”
Barack Obama, October 2016: “as AI gets further incorporated, and the society potentially gets wealthier, the link between production and distribution, how much you work and how much you make, gets further and further attenuated . . . we’ll be debating unconditional free money over the next 10 or 20 years.”
Elon Musk, February 2017: “I think we’ll end up doing universal basic income . . . It’s going to be necessary . . .There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better. I want to be clear. These are not things I wish will happen; these are things I think probably will happen.”
Mark Zuckerberg, May 2017: “We should explore . . . universal basic income so that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.”