No Evidence Universal Basic Income Will Make People Become 'Lazy'

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Louise Haagh, an associate professor at the University of York and chair of the Basic Income Earth Network, spoke to Sputnik about the pros and cons of universal basic income (UBI).

Professor Haagh is one of a number of politicians and academics who, in the last five years — as growing predictions suggest automation will make millions unemployed globally — have supported the idea of a universal basic income, a minimum level of income which would be paid to everyone and would offset the hardship of being made redundant.

Sputnik: Will the introduction of UBI lead to people becoming less inclined to work and more dependent?

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Louise Haagh: There is very little evidence or reason to think that, in of itself, giving people a basic economic security would make them lazy or unwilling to work. You cannot make a direct connection between one policy instrument and how people will behave in what are much more complex contexts. What we need to talk about is what are the positive complimentalities that you can imagine if you have in place an unconditional basic income which would give people the incentive to work without the disincentive which currently exists of losing benefit entitlements.

Sputnik: Does the European Union have the financial capacity to subsidize this scheme?

Louise Haagh: I'm not aware of an official proposal for a pan-European single-level uniform basic income from the EU. The question of financial capacity bears on many different issues, including the design of a transition to a basic unconditional regime. In individual countries it may be possible to imagine moving towards a basic income system through conversion through the basic tax allowance, and the base level of income transfer schemes, thus creating a unified foundation which could have various levels depending on age. Or you might go about doing it some other way. If you were to do it very gradually, starting with younger or older age groups, for instance, then the question of immediate cost would fade into the background. A pan-European scheme would raise different challenges again. It is important to retain other means-tested benefits that work well with labor markets and social insurance institutions as a whole in different countries.

Sputnik: To what extent do you think UBI could reduce the unemployment rate — if at all?

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Louise Haagh: In conjunction with other sensible policies appropriate to the context and question, I don't see UBI would have a negative effect on employment. There is really no basis for thinking that would be the case if we assume that with basic income people can earn additional income without fear of losing their status regarding their ability to enjoy a basic floor of income security.

Sputnik: Do plans for the introduction of UBI have any relationship to increased automation of production? Could it be many jobs in future will be entrusted to computers and robots?"

Louise Haagh: Basic income will certainly alleviate the effects, at an individual level, in a way which it would be very hard for states to do, if we imagine there would be large-scale job losses. But I think one can exaggerate and extrapolate too much regarding the impact of automation on the labor market because this is very context-dependent.

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