Basic incomes surface in Davos – no longer marginal

Back in Aug 2014 I wrote a post on the idea of a citizen’s income.  The idea of guaranteeing a basic income is PP-relevant because it would help people – especially women –  move in and out of formal employment without looking like deviant marginals.

I said:

The CI has been around for a long time. It has generally been dismissed as either cranky or ok in theory but unworkable. But when it was first being discussed 20 or so years ago, the labour market was very different…..

As a political sell, it’s a tough one. Many will have an instinctive reaction against the unconditional something-for-nothing proposal….But as Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit – intended to address some of the very same problems – flounders hopelessly, the CI may just be able to claim a realistic place on the agenda.

I’m not completely sold on the CI/BI.  I think there are serious issues about motivation and solidarity – who is putting in, and how fair this seems to people generally.  But it’s now coming in from the cold.  My recommendation in the PP book’s final chapter is that we should take a serious look at it because our existing welfare systems are increasingly unfit for purpose.

So it was interesting to read in the weekend Financial Times Tim Bradshaw’s piece on Davos.  He reports that at least some of those gathered there are so worried by how the growth of artificial intelligence might affect jobs and incomes that they are actively discussing universal basic incomes as a way of avoiding explosively unequal distributions of work and money.  Those cited as engaged in the issue include Satya Nardella, chief executive of Microsoft, Vishal Sikka, CEO of Infosys, and Marc Benioff, CEO of  These are hardly marginal figures.

Mr Sikka is quoted as saying:

A fraction of the cash that the top 10 or top 50 tech companies have could solve a big part of the basic income problem.

I assume he knows his own balance sheet, and has a good idea of the sums involved.  That kind of thinking gives added power to the BI experiments currently happening in Finland and the Netherlands – with the possibility that Scotland will also join in the drive to explore the options.  Watch this space.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *