Society not quite ready for universal basic income – Reich

Society not quite ready for universal basic income – Reich

The universal basic income is a policy that "couldn't sell right now" according to Professor Robert Reich from the University of California's Berkeley Public Policy department. 

It comes after Labour announced it was considering going into the next election with a universal basic income (UBI) policy, meaning every New Zealander would get a regular payment, regardless of their income or wealth.

The policy is being considered by Labour's Future of Work commission and seeks to address growing concern that technology and artificial intelligence will replace more jobs than it creates.

Prof Reich says the policy targets three specific and growing problems. Incomes stagnating or declining when adjusted for inflation, widening income inequality as well as pay and job insecurity.

For now though he believes a UBI is not necessary.

"There are still a lot of jobs. People with a wage supplement, such as you have for lower wage jobs here in New Zealand, can get by, and the combination of that wage supplement and the minimum wage I think are probably the correct steps," Prof Reich says.

However he strongly believes one day that a universal basic income will be vital.

"We will get to a point, in all our societies where technology is displacing so many jobs." says Prof Reich.

"Not just menial jobs but also professional jobs. Now, you're going to have to take seriously the notion of universal basic income."

His fears follow author and economist Professor Guy Standing, who says a new form of income distribution is inevitable.

"We're not going to see a rise in real wages; we're going to see a continuing stagnation of real wages in the United States, in New Zealand, in Britain and elsewhere, and a rise in profits all the time," says Prof Standing.

"In those circumstances, we're going to have to look at new forms, new ways of remunerating people, enabling people to be able to buy things."

There are plans to test how a UBI could work in practise in Ontario, India, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Watch the video for the full interview with Robert Reich.