The Tesla co-founder answered a question on Twitter by saying “universal income will be necessary over time if AI takes over most human jobs”

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on June 20, 2018

Universal basic income (UBI) is a payment made by a government to all adult individuals to allow them to meet basic needs such as food and housing. It is made without any means or activity test.

Musk’s support for the idea on Twitter is not the first time he has raised the idea that UBI may one day be necessary.

In a November 2016 interview, Musk told CNBC: “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation.

“Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think (UBI) is what would happen.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also told an audience at his Harvard University commencement address that UBI could be introduced to stimulate entrepreneurialism.

“Let’s face it: There is something wrong with our system when I can leave (Harvard University) and make billions of dollars in 10 years, while millions of students can’t afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business.

“Now it’s our time to define a new social contract for our generation. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things.”

Another business leader to advocate further investigation of UBI is Richard Branson. In a post on the Virgin website, Branson wrote: “In the modern world, everybody should have the opportunity to work and thrive.

“Most countries can afford to make sure that everybody has their basic needs covered. One idea that could help make this a reality is a universal basic income. This concept should be further explored to see how it can work practically.”

Branson also pointed out Finland has already started to experiment with UBI for its unemployed citizens. According to the 2018 World Happiness Report, Finland has the highest level of happiness in the world.

A future without jobs?

Musk’s tweet is just the latest sign of UBI entering mainstream debate. Andrew Yang, a hopeful for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination has also made a form of UBI a central part of his platform.

The calls to further investigate UBI are part of a growing pessimism about the impact on the job market of technology among business leaders.

There is already some forecasting to lend weight to this pessimism; a detailed analysis of more than 2,000 work activities in McKinsey Quarterly concluded that “currently demonstrated technologies could automate 45% of the activities people are paid to perform”.

Another study of automation in the job market predicted only 9% of jobs would be automated, negating the need for UBI.

A 2017 survey conducted by Dalia Research showed widespread support for UBI. It found that 68% of respondents from across all 28 EU member states would “definitely or probably” vote in support of some form of UBI.