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  • 12.21.15

What If We Just Gave People Enough Money To Live: 2015 In Basic Income

What was once a radical idea–that the government maintain an income floor so no one citizen is ever in need–hit the mainstream in 2015.

At the beginning of 2015, few people had even heard of the idea of a basic income. It wasn’t a popular concept and few media outlets had mentioned it. By December, it was being discussed in hundreds of places, and several countries, including Finland and Switzerland, were seriously considering implementing it.

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The idea is simple. Instead of letting companies pay people paltry wages and then supporting those workers with government programs, the government institutes a floor for income, so no one can make less than enough to live on. If you can make more at your job, you’re welcome to it, but no one would ever lack for money. It may sound like a revolutionary idea, but 2015 was the year basic income became a mainstream proposition, much to the delight of supporters who have long favored guaranteeing everyone’s minimum welfare.

To some extent, this was a media phenomenon: people jumping on a bandwagon. But it was also driven by fears about the impact of technology on employment, that existing welfare systems are expensive to operate and often non-helpful to freelancers, part-timers and micro-workers, and that work for a lot of people doesn’t offer a decent lifestyle. We can expect a lot more discussion of basic income in 2016, including the practical questions of exactly how it could work. Switzerland’s referendum in the fall will be particularly worth watching. Once the idea is in practice in an entire country, it may be hard to contain.

Andrew J. Nilsen for Fast Company

1. A Universal Basic Income Is The Bipartisan Solution To Poverty We’ve Been Waiting For
What if the government simply paid everyone enough so that no one was poor? It’s an insane idea that’s gaining an unlikely alliance of supporters.

2. How Finland’s Exciting Basic Income Experiment Will Work—And What We Can Learn From It
Talking to the scientist designing the national experiment that could change the way governments take care of their citizens.

Eric Chow for Fast Company

3. How To Fight Poverty? It’s Simple: Give Cash To Poor People
Experts don’t know what a poor person needs. But guess who does? Poor people.

4. Basic Income Is Happening: The Growing Support And Early Experiments Of A Radical Policy
Get on board now.

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Thomas Pitilli for Fast Company

5. The New Redistribution: 5 Radical Ideas For Reversing Income Inequality
Should everyone get a minimum inheritance at birth? How about a government-guaranteed income or job? In the face of a growing income gap, we may need to get revolutionary.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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