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What the UN Commission on Human Rights Thinks About Universal Basic Income

A new UN report challenges the global human rights community to consider Universal Basic Income.
Numerous national flags are seen in front of the United Nations Office (UNOG) on June 8, 2008 in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

Can Universal Basic Income (UBI) be the solution to the ever-increasing economic insecurity and inequality around the world? On June 8th, a special side event of the UN Human Rights Council gathered to discuss a new report by Professor Philip Alston,U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, which calls UBI “a bold and imaginative solution” to the economic and social changes taking place globally.

Speaking to the Human Rights Council, Alston described many ordinary people feeling “exposed, vulnerable, overwhelmed, and helpless” while some “are being systematically marginalized both economically and socially.” He called upon the human rights community to engage with the resulting “deep economic insecurity.”

He sees the coming economic changes affecting not only the currently unemployed and underemployed but even those who have a job now, citing looming game-changers like the advent of full automation in many industries and the freelancer-based “Uber economy.” From that perspective, the growing economic insecurity presents “a fundamental threat to all human rights,” said Alston

“There’s a clear right to be able to live in dignity, to enjoy a decent standard of living to get access to education, healthcare, and so on. All of these things are fundamentally linked to human rights,” he said during an earlier Facebook live event.

One way to counteract the tremendous job loss that might take place in the nearing future is to consider Universal Basic Income.  Guaranteeing each person a certain no-strings-attached amount of money every month would protect basic human rights, argues Alston.

“In many respects, basic income offers a bold and imaginative solution to pressing problems that are about to become far more intractable as a result of the directions in which the global economy appears inexorably to be heading,” Alston writes in the report. “While there are many objections, relating to affordability in particular, the concept should not be rejected out of hand on the grounds that it is utopian. In today’s world of severe economic insecurity, creativity in social policy is necessary,” adds the Professor.

Currently, an experiment with UBI in Finland has shown some positive initial results, with many in the trial group of 2,000 reporting less stress, as well as growing confidence and success in getting more work. Speaking at the UN Human Rights side event, Mme Terhi Hakala, the Ambassador of Finland explained that the purpose of their country’s experiment with UBI was to “make the system more empowering and more effective in terms of providing incentives to work” while reducing the bureaucracy of welfare. The trial will be fully evaluated in two years.

Incidentally, Elon Musk also thinks instituting a UBI is the inevitable way to go to address the coming economic inequality of the future. 

You can watch the full event here.


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