Freakonomics has an excellent piece – and podcast – on basic income, the idea of giving every citizen a minimum amount of money every month/year to ensure that they can meet all their needs. Defenders usually claim automation and low wages are forcing people into poverty, whereas opponents claim that industries would suffer for lack of labor supply. But here is a really cool social dividend as expressed by economist Evelyn Forget:
If you look at the 18th and at the 19th century, some of the great scientific breakthroughs and some of the great cultural breakthroughs were made by people who did not work. These were gentlemen of leisure, right? These were people who had enough family money to support themselves. They certainly didn’t have to dirty their hands doing the kinds of work we take for granted. I don’t think these individuals felt useless; I don’t think their contribution was negligible. I think it was very important to the development of the world.
I find this to be a strangely powerful idea that should resonate with science and history geeks everywhere. Most key contributions to the history of human civilization have come out of leisure and financial safety: from democracy in Athens to the Darwin’s theory of evolution. Could this be the ultimate, civilizational justification for universal basic income?