Swiss failed to pass universal basic income while YCombinator is planning to run an experimental program in Oakland. Unviersal Basic Income in a country like Switzerland or USA can be debated as an effective tool to attack the problems with poverty — after all, we have a functioning system that includes social security, medicare, medicaid, earned income tax credit etc.
There is a lot of commentary from likes of the Economist, Bloomberg, New York Times and others debating universal basic income — but they all make the mistake of focusing primarily on the rich nations with functioning governments.
These western programs are trying to solve for deficiencies in our current systems or fight against the future jobless world of robots and AI that doesn’t yet exist.
In all this, we forget that a billion people live on less than $2 a day. They are the real present possible beneficiaries of universal basic income.
But universal basic income can make a massive impact in a country like India and many African and Asian nations where there is a billion people living on less than $2 a day.
Extreme Poverty, Corrupt Bureaucracy and Mobile Phones
When you have 100s of million people in a country like India, and the money intended for them gets stolen along the way by every level of the state bureaucracy — the ability to directly transfer money to those who most need it so they can buy necessary food or medicine can be a very effective tool.
Take India, where now nearly a billion people have a unviersal identity number (Aadhaar similar to our SSN) tied to a biometric database. India can create a UBI program and get a few dollars directly to those who most need it.
It is the first time in history that we have the technology and the resources to directly address poverty bypassing the bureaucracy thanks to mobile phones, internet banking etc.
While the Oakland program by YCombinator will teach us a few things, and we can debate whether we should extend earned income credit or create a universal basic income in United States, and European nations to tackle the future world where robots and AI may theoretically take all our jobs and render us jobless, there is a much more pressing & immediate problem of extreme poverty and corrupt bureaucracy today that we can solve with universal basic income.