What is universal basic income (UBI) about and what could it mean to many? Money doesn’t buy happiness – but it sure is easier to flourish when you know where your next meal’s coming from. If we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we will see that in order to self-actualize, other needs to be satisfied first. Our physiological needs come first – that is, food, water, sleep, shelter, and sex. Once they are met, a person can work on achieving other goals. Like changing the world – or creating a startup that has the potential to do so.
Startups, however, require investment. And not just the monetary sort, either. Before your MVP shows any potential profit, you need to put in a lot of work. It’s one thing if you’ve already got a stable income and savings – but good, world-changing ideas aren’t restricted to middle- and upper-middle class millennials and the Mark Zuckerberg dropout types. For instance, Beatriz Acevedo, founder of the Web video company MiTu Network, is a working mother of twins working to change the representation of Latin people in the media.
Kemi Oloyede started The Sew London Project after leaving a job in teaching textiles just before her 50th birthday. There are tons of examples of the sort that disrupt the conventional picture of a startup founder. And there could be many more if more people don’t have to worry about housing and feeding themselves. A universal basic income, or UBI, is believed by many tech CEOs to be the solution.
What is UBI, and what can it do?
First mentioned a few hundred years ago by Sir Thomas More, the idea of a fixed sum payable to every person each month for all has been since played with by many jurisdictions. In 2016, Switzerland even had a referendum on it. In 2017, the Dutch city of Utrecht planned to experiment with UBI assistance. The UBI has fans from both the left and the right sides of the political spectrum, such as Bernie Sanders and Milton Friedman.
Essentially, the UBI is a disruption of the social welfare system. Currently, the state of economic equality is undesirable at best. There are many reasons for it, and automation-induced employment anxiety is a big one. One can’t avoid it, and one doesn’t have to fight it, but as a society, we can adapt to it with minimal damages and maximum benefits.
UBI and tech – are the robots coming?
Today, technology is the biggest disruptor of the economy. Without oversimplifying the problem by stating “robots are taking our jobs!”, it’s safe to say that the traditional employment model of 9-5 is becoming a thing of the past. The gig economy, sharing economy, professional vlogging, entrepreneurship, etc., aren’t just buzzwords any longer.
They’re legitimate sources of income for millions of people across the world, whether by choice or by necessity. There are many wonderful things about them – the flexible hours, the ability to connect with the entire world by the click of a button, the lack of toxic corporate culture that’s long been horrible to women and minorities are only a few of them. However, there’re also many risk factors attached. A UBI, as we stated earlier, can make a huge difference and give way to a lot more ventures that can make the world a better place.
Why UBI is a solution
We’ve spoken to a few entrepreneurs and activists from different backgrounds to get their view on how UBI can revolutionize startups and change the economic landscape for the better.
“Having a basic income definitely would lower the barriers for potential entrepreneurs to make a decision to turn their ideas into businesses,” says founder of a Russian social enterprise BuySocial Lyubov Ermolaeva. “They would be able to allocate their money and time into creating MVPs, testing, and checking their ideas and learning business skills.” Chester-based activist and youth mentor Kat Deuchars agrees. “When the CEOs can’t make Bezos or Jobs level profits, they are likely to focus on improving quality, rather than just worrying about how to squeeze the largest amount of money out of their product,” says Deuchars.
Indeed, the development of skills necessary to improve, and to even create an amazing product, could take as much time as putting together an MVP. Founder of Skillcrush, Adda Birnir, knows this first-hand and emphasizes the value of learning to code – a truly necessary skill for any forward-thinking “start-upper”. Her own startup is aimed at giving everyone an opportunity to expand the opportunities available to them by acquiring those skills. She makes it clear, however, that learning to code isn’t easy.
And she’s right – like with many other skills, technical skills development takes time and costs money. Although there are many resources available online for free today, people are still paying for them with their time that they’d otherwise be spending by putting in overtime or finding other ways to make money. Having a UBI scheme in place would enable them to learn without feeling guilty and to focus on skills development fully.
But is it free money for nothing?
The most popular argument against UBI’s social benefits is that it’d discourage people from working. It’s a fairly conservative look on the issue that seems to fail to acknowledge the rising predominance of the sharing economy and other realities of the new landscape. As I previously reported, the new generation of consumers is increasingly looking for companies that prioritize social impact. And for many large corporations, CSR is still, unfortunately, a mere “box to be ticked.”
Startups are looking to change that – the success of Alex Bogusky’s accelerator of social enterprises called COMMON is a testament to how common that wonderful tendency is amongst entrepreneurs. COMMON’s crowdfunding basic income program, COMMON Cents, would work via blockchain technology to support its members by distributing the money from their peers and outside sponsors. The founders have seen first-hand how social entrepreneurs had to deviate from their original mission because of money. COMMON Cents’ purpose is to make sure people “can take the time they need to dial in their business in the right way.” So, it definitely doesn’t sound like “free money” to me – instead, it’s an investment in the better future for the next generations. And that sounds like a revolutionization of the economic landscape to me.
Photo: The feature image “double color experiment” has been done by Jurica Koletić. The infographic was prepared by TechAcute, based on the concept of Chiquo. The photo “just hangin’ out” was done by Simon Zhu. The picture “according to a 2018 McKinsey report, …” has been prepared by BBH Singapore.
Source: Adda Birnir (Medium) / Michael K. Spencer (The Startup) / Matt Orfalea (Medium) / Eillie Anzilotti (FastCompany) / Marco Annunziata (Forbes) / Chris Weller (Business Insider) / Sherwood Morrison (TechCrunch) / Jon Evans (TechCrunch) / Moya Sarner (The Guardian) /StartupYard, Tracy Brown Hamilton (The Atlantic) / Basic Income Earth Network / Saul McLeod (Simply Psychology) / Carl Benedikt Frey, Michael A. Osborne (Oxford University) Crunchbase Kat Deuchars / Lyubov Ermolaeva