letter from Ray | Supporting universal basic income is a step in world progress

People will benefit from social help, plus accelerating tech + science abundance.
May 1, 2018

column: letters from Ray
date: May 2018

topic: Adopting a universal basic income for all people can help society think creatively with new ideas, develop new industries — and free-up people to work on important future projects.

This practical social support program can grow as science & technology rapidly evolve, becoming part of world abundance.

story: by Ray Kurzweil

Dear readers,

As you might have seen in the news, entrepreneur and renowned Facebook founder & CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a commencement speech at Harvard University. He said in his talk:

“To keep our society moving forward, we have a generational challenge — to create new jobs, a renewed sense of purpose, and to take on big meaningful projects.

Our generation will have to deal with tens of millions of jobs replaced by automation like self-driving cars & trucks. But we have the potential to do so much more together.

More than 300,000 people worked to put a man on the moon — including that janitor. Millions of volunteers immunized children around the world against polio. Millions of people built the Hoover dam and other great projects.

We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful. We should explore ideas like universal basic income — to give everyone a cushion to try new things.

We’re going to change jobs many times, so we need affordable child care — to get to work and health care that aren’t tied to one company. We’re all going to make mistakes, so we need a society that focuses less on locking us up or stigmatizing us. And as tech keeps changing, we need to focus more on continuous education throughout our lives.

Giving everyone the freedom to pursue purpose isn’t free. People like me should pay for it. Many of you will do well and you should too. That’s why my wife Priscilla Chan and I started the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and committed our wealth to promoting equal opportunity. These are the values of our generation.”

Mark Zuckerberg |  full speech

A universal basic income is a form of security for a society’s citizens in which all residents of a country regularly unconditionally receive a sum of money, either from a government or public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.

I support something along these lines. We want to do it in a way that doesn’t destroy incentives to contribute to society. So the question is how we get there. We already have a muddle approximating UBI * in the form of food stamps, social security, Medicaid, Medicare, emergency rooms and other programs.

You can get most of your needs for basic sustenance from these programs today — with the important exception of housing. There are shelters but these are grim and dangerous.

We are clearly headed toward a situation where everyone can live very well, with the support that society will provide. The fantastic price-performance gains we’ve seen in information technology is coming to physical products, food, energy, and other material items as they all become information technologies — like 3D printing, vertical agriculture, and solar energy.

I plan to talk about these issues, and how they will affect — and ultimately improve our civilization — in my next book. I remain positive that people like Mark Zuckerberg are thinking creatively about the future. We will be able to enter an age of abundance, as technology & science progress makes a better world for all of us.

Ray Kurzweil

* UBI is universal basic income

notes | 11 reasons to support basic income
Materials for conversation.

source: Basic Income

1.  Basic Income will help us rethink how & why we work.

A basic income can help you do other work and reconsider old choices. It will enable you to re-train, safe in the knowledge that you’ll have enough money to maintain a decent standard of living while you do. So it will help each of us decide what it is we truly want to do.

2.  Basic Income will contribute to better working conditions.

With the insurance of having unconditional basic income as a safety net, workers can challenge their employers if they find their conditions of work unfair or degrading.

3.  Basic Income will down-size bureaucracy.

Because a basic income scheme is one of the most simple tax / benefits models, it will reduce all the bureaucracy surrounding the welfare state thus making it less complex and costly, while being fairer and more emancipatory.

4.  Basic income will make benefit fraud obsolete.

Benefit fraud will vanish as a possibility because no one needs to commit fraud to get a basic income: it is granted automatically. Moreover, an unconditional basic income will fix threshold and poverty trap effects.

5.  Basic income will help reducing inequalities.

A basic income is a means for sharing the wealth produced by a society to all people, reducing growing inequalities across the world.

6.  It will provide a more secure and substantial safety net for all people.

Most existing tested anti-poverty programs exclude people because of their complexity, or because people don’t know how to apply or if they qualify. With a basic income, people currently excluded will automatically have their rights guaranteed.

7.   Basic Income will contribute to less working hours, better distribution of jobs.

With a basic income, people will have the option to reduce their working hours without sacrificing their income. So they’ll be able to spend more time doing other things they find meaningful. At the macro-economic level, this will induce a better distribution of jobs — because people reducing their hours will increase job opportunities for those currently excluded from the labor market.

8.  Basic Income will reward unpaid contributions.

A huge number of unpaid activities are currently not recognized as economic contributions. Yet our economy increasingly relies on these free contributions — think about Wikipedia, or the work parents do. A basic income would recognize and reward theses activities.

9.  Basic Income will strengthen our democracy.

With a minimum level of security guaranteed to all citizens — and less time in work or worrying about work — innovation in political, social, economic & technological terms would become a lively part of everyday life and its concerns.

10.  Basic Income is a fair redistribution of technological advancement.

Thanks to massive advancements in our technological and productive capacities, the world of work is changing. But most of our wealth and technology comes from standing on the shoulders of giants. We’re wealthier because of our ancestors. Basic income is a way to civilize and re-distribute the advantages of that ongoing advancement.

11.  Basic Income will end extreme financial poverty.

Because we live in a world where we have the means and the will to end the kinds of suffering we see as a supposedly constant feature of our surroundings. Basic income is a way to join together the means and the will.

on the web | background

Harvard Univ. | YouTube channel
Harvard Univ. | Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg commencement address 2017 • video

Chan + Zuckerberg Initiative | main

on the web | essentials

Wikipedia | universal basic income
Wikipedia | Mark Zuckerberg
Wikipedia | Chan + Zuckerberg Initiative

Futurism | universal basic income: the answer to automation? • infographic

Vice | What would happen if we gave everyone free money: new experiments in universal basic income

Basic Income | main
Basic Income | What is basic income?
Basic Income | 10 reasons to support basic income

book | on topic

book title: Basic Income: a radical proposal for a free society + a sane economy
author: by Philippe Van Parijs + Yannick Vanderborght

this book on Good Reads: visit