Why MENA, and especially the Gulf, needs to embrace universal basic income.

Ellie Martin is business and marketing writer. Her works have been featured on Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Girls in Tech, among others.

Poverty is disease ravaging the world’s economies, and universal basic income (UBI) may be the cure. 

The basic income could provide all citizens with the funds to feed, shelter and educate themselves without outside interference.

The utopian idea may sound like it’s on the bleeding edge, but, in reality, the idea of every citizen receiving an unconditional sum of money is quite old.

What’s more: there’s evidence that this utopian dream could be an economic reality. Shanta DevarajanSenior Director, Development Economics at World Bank argues that oil revenues in the Middle East could sufficiently help universal basic income succeed. 

“Even without the additional scrutiny, simply the lump-sum transfer of just 20 percent of oil revenues is sufficient to eliminate extreme poverty in Angola, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Nigeria.  In a Gulf state like Kuwait, replacing public-sector salaries with transfers, even at the same rate as current salaries, could enable Kuwaitis to start their own business, educate their children, or pursue some other productive activity outside the public sector.  The net result would be a dynamic private sector, efficient public spending, and—in the case of poor countries—less poverty.”

Here are three reasons a universal basic income could work:

We can afford it

One of the defensible arguments against instituting a universal basic income is the exorbitant and unsustainable cost of providing an entire nation with a guaranteed income. Some argue that giving free money to all, regardless of employment or wages, is simply an impossibility.

 “To pay every adult and child an income of about $10,000 per year, a country as rich as America would need to raise the share of GDP collected in tax by nearly 10 percentage points and cannibalize most non-health social-spending programs,” explains a writer for The Economist. 

The numbers provided by the article are largely arbitrary, however, and the writer still recognizes that the funds to implement it do, in fact, exist.

According to Rutger Bregman, in his TED talk regarding basic income, implementing UBI would cost the $175 billion annually. This large dollar amount only accounts for a quarter of the defense budget. “It’s entirely possible,” he asserts. “It’s entirely doable.”

It has support from both the right and the left

Universal basic income is neither progressive nor conservative. Throughout history, the idea of eliminating poverty by implementing income as a right for all citizens cuts through social and political divisions. 

Politicians, activists, and economists, from all over the political spectrum, have endorsed the idea of a social security provision for all.

The Nixon Administration tried to pass a basic-income guarantee through Congress—and almost succeeded. 

Purportedly, progressives sent back the bill, not because they disagreed with the notion of a basic income, but because they wished to provide citizens with more money than the bill proposed. 

Further, figures as disparate as social justice leader and civil rights activist Martin Luther King and far-right economist Milton Friedman both supported the UBI.

Automation requires more social protections

Advancements in artificial intelligence are causing automation to absorb jobs. Over the past few decades, automation has eliminated manufacturing jobs. 

Many well-paying blue collar auto manufacturing jobs have disappeared. 

Automation has sometimes resulted in better wages, better jobs, opportunities, and better education. However, there’s no reason to believe that this will be true for AI.

Self-driving AI could displace a sizeable percentage—15% by Elon Musk’s estimation—of the world’s workers.

Trading is becoming increasingly automated and has resulted in massive layoffs of human traders and stockbrokers. Automation won’t be limited to finance, manufacturing and driving occupations, either.

According to an Oxford paper published in 2013, up to 47% of the workforce is at risk.

As a region, the MENA is woefully unprepared for such massive shifts. There are virtually no programs in place to help the 30% Arabian youth to find work. The UBI could be the program that protects the poor and middle classes from automation’s ill.

Conclusion

UBI could be the vaccine to poverty, but it still faces resistance. Universal basic income is an investment into the citizens themselves — venture capital for the people. 

A great proportion of politicians and citizens believe that giving free money to all would reduce productivity

Several studies have been conducted that show the exact opposite, however. Participants in studies who received basic income were more productive and entrepreneurial.

Universal basic income could work. It is financially possible, and it has been embraced by both sides of the aisle. 

Avoiding a dystopian future that automation could very well bring may even require it. While it may be expensive, basic income could be met with resounding success and save us a lot of money down the road.