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Universal Basic Income: an unconditional income as a right of citizenship?

Updated: Apr 16, 2019

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

The ever-growing robotisation and full automatization are predicted to have a major impact on the idea of citizenship and social order. In 2015 already the BBC, based on data provided by Oxford University, developed a search machine allowing users to discover the likelihood of their own job having disappeared in the near future, based on the prediction that ‘about 35% of current jobs in the UK are at high risk of computerization over the following 20 years’.

The prospect of a drastic decrease in (meaningful) jobs are leading to both utopian and dystopian views of the future. The idea of robots taking over monotonous and non-rewarding work is generally considered a positive development that should be welcomed. The wealth that is thereby generated can be used for an unconditional citizen’s basic income. What will be the impact of this trend on citizenship? Would an increase in spare time lead to a world, in Marx’s description of a communist society and popularized recently by the German Philosopher Richard David Precht, where ‘nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes’; where it will be possible ‘to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner . . . without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman, or critic’? Or might robotisation make Keynes’s prediction from 1930 come true after all, namely that people’s growing material wellbeing will lead to radically shorter (15 hour) work weeks?

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