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22 January 2020

Just 20 years into the 21st Century, we have already seen remarkable changes that we could never have anticipated. We’ve come up with 20 predictions that explore what the next 20 years may have in store for your organisation.

Prediction 17

Described by Martin Luther King Jr. as the solution to poverty, universal basic income (UBI) may become an inevitability in this era of advanced technology.

By 2040, technology will be ubiquitous; automation, AI and robots will be in operation in businesses across all industries, improving efficiencies and creating profit, while ultimately displacing many jobs, impacting as much as 20% of the global workforce by 2030.

UBI represents one option for reinvesting profit created by technology back into society. It would be paid to all, irrespective of income, employment or savings, and would provide enough money to live on. While some countries have already developed income security nets, UBI could be seen as a catch-up in others.

United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, in September 2018 in his address to the General Assembly of the UN, stated that “governments may have to consider stronger safety nets and eventually UBI” as a response to the displacement of jobs triggered by automation and AI. Other proponents of UBI include Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

It’s clear that the changing nature of work, driven by new technologies, will require us to rethink how we provide support to people who are displaced. How will we help those who are not able to support themselves through employment – and what is the right balance between tax on capital, on profits and on incomes to make this possible?

UBI is one potential solution, though in most countries it would require major tax reform; in the Australian context, an evolution of our century old targeted income support system is more likely in the shorter term at least.

Trends in Universal Basic Income

Impact

UBI will ensure that we can fully exploit technological advances to drive innovation throughout industry without neglecting the needs of individuals in society that may be impacted by these changes – removing the potential poverty trap that some may face and taking those already affected out of it. People will have the opportunity to pursue additional jobs or to focus on other interests and passions.

However, there are challenges to overcome. First, the additional income in people’s pockets may increase demand for goods and services, which could trigger inflation. This will eventually mean that UBI payments will not be adequate to meet people’s basic needs.

Moreover, while a technological society may free people from work, creating economic value and replacing jobs with automated tools, many people are motivated by their employment – it represents the value we place on ourselves, based very much on our place in society, and is not addressed by UBI. A possible alternative may be guaranteed work, where work is properly designed on a positive contribution to society.

Curious to find out what else could happen between now and 2040? Read our other predictions

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