Universal Basic Income Explained in 5 Minutes

By 2030, robots and automation will force you to think about work in a very different way.

Alec Zaffiro


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a cumbersome topic, widely misunderstood and still unheard of by many; it’s subject to surface-level criticisms such as “How does that work? Can we afford to pay every American $1,000/month with no strings attached? Is it really even a good idea to give people free money?”

Admittedly, I knew very little about UBI just a few weeks ago. But, then I came across Andrew Yang — serial entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate — who explicitly laid out all the facts, data, and research behind the idea in a recent podcast. Afterwards, I spoke with several of my colleagues about it and the following setiment became very clear to me: most people know nothing about UBI.

What is Universal Basic Income?

As the name suggests, UBI, or Citizen’s Income, is a type of social security dividend paid to all members of a nation without any test or work requirements. In other words, it’s “free money” for every citizen in America. The leading proposal entails $1,000/month for every US adult.

Why Universal Basic Income?

The overt benefits of UBI include:

  • Financial stress relief
  • Decreased crime rates
  • Improved health and well-being
  • Entrepreneurial incentive
  • Support for job displacement due to automation

The cardinal justification for UBI is that last point: to combat the loss of millions of jobs due to automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Understandably so, the average person grossly underestimates the impact of new technology coming in the next five to ten years — some reports say it’s reminiscent of a fourth Industrial Revolution. While the idea that “upright robots will take over” still feels improbable and rather absurd, we have to keep an eye on the less anthropomorphic advancements knocking at the door, threatening our work force.



Alec Zaffiro

I write to think and organize my ideas. I like psychology, philosophy, and self-improvement—em dashes are my specialty. Not an expert.*