The Idea of Universal Basic Income Goes Back to the 16th Century

People like Thomas More, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Bertrand Russell have already had many of the arguments we're having about basic income today.

 

Dr. Elise Klein wants to point out the conversations we’re having around Universal Basic Income (UBI) aren’t new. Great leaders and thinkers Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Tony Atkinson have already had many of the arguments surrounding UBI, today. Its history bears repeating.


A homeless man panhandling in Cincinnati.
The city of Cincinnati is trying to come up with ways to combat the problem of panhandling, which keeps people from going downtown. (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)


Dr. Elise Klein wants to point out the conversations we’re having around universal basic income (UBI) aren’t new. Great leaders and thinkers Thomas More, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Bertrand Russell, and Tony Atkinson have already had many of the arguments currently surrounding UBI. Its history bears repeating.

In Klein’s essay for the Green Institute, she walks through a 10-page outline of the many historical conversation surrounding UBI. It’s meant to be read as a taster, encourage further reading. Klein, a lecturer of Development Studies at the University of Melbourne, walks us through a sampling, discussing UBI through the lens of three themes present in conservations surrounding it throughout history:

1. Freedom: Freedom to live the way one wants, freedom from starvation, and so on.

2. Justice: A more equal and just society, especially for those doing labor that is unpaid but valuable. It’s a way to give back to everyone participating in our society.

3. Economic transformation: UBI is how we take our economy to the next level—it’s the next step in our evolution.

It’s important to note this idea has been argued by liberal thinkers, as well as conservative. Indeed, Y Combinator founder, Sam Altman once tweeted, “Important point: basic income is not socialism. Basic income provides a floor, and then people can get as rich as they want.”

One of the earliest instances of a proposed UBI can be seen in Thomas More’s Utopia, published in 1516. In it, UBI was proposed as a solution to stopping petty thievery, questioning the idea of punishment when the thief has no other choice but to steal.

“Instead of inflicting these horrible punishments, it would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood, so that nobody’s under the frightful necessity of becoming, first a thief, and then a corpse.”

What’s interesting is that many people assume that giving money to the poor is a fruitless labor. “They’ll just spend it on alcohol,” we say. However, when we review the evidence, we see how far it is from the truth. Unconditional cash transfers do not increase the rate of purchase of tobacco or alcohol among the poor. In many cases, studies have found it actually reduces these purchases.

British Labor Party member George Cole referred to an unconditional income as a social dividend. He saw the individualized nature of success troubling when success is something born of a society. According to Cole, there’s merit to the idea that wealth – the success of one – should be shared:

“Current productive power is, in effect, a joint result of current effort and of the social heritage of inventiveness and skill incorporated in the stage of advancement and education reached in the arts of production, and it has always appeared to me only right that all the citizens should share in the yield of this common heritage, and that only the balance of the product after this allocation should be distributed in the form of rewards for, and incentive to, current service in production.”

Perhaps the most recent and most urgent argument pushing for UBI is that wage labor cannot and should not be a basis for membership within our society. There are many non-traditional jobs from motherhood to volunteer work, which contribute heavily to the success of our society. But what’s most compelling is the idea that automation—robots—paired with waining job creation may leave many of us without wage work.

Throughout history there have been many pushes for adopting UBI. We are only just beginning to realize the real power this idea may have in providing a better future for everyone. Support is far from unanimous, but curiosity is alive: many countries are beginning to green-light trials, such as the Dutch city of Utricht, Finland, and Canada.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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