Count Richard Branson among the advocates for giving away free money to everyone.
The Virgin founder became the latest high-profile entrepreneur to put his support behind universal basic income (UBI) on Monday. In a blog post on Virgin's website, Branson wrote that the concept should be further explored to see if it can be put into practice.
"Most countries can afford to make sure that everybody has their basic needs covered," he wrote. "This concept should be further explored to see how it can work practically."
The idea of providing all citizens with a living wage has been a hot topic of late, as fears continue to grow that automation will massively reduce the size of the work force. Several tech titans have chimed in. In November, Elon Musk said he believed that UBI someday would be necessary due to automation. Musk recently tweeted that he believes robots will be able to outperform humans at all tasks sometime between 2030 and 2040.
During his commencement speech at Harvard in May, Mark Zuckerberg offered his support for the policy, presenting it less as a necessity than as a facilitator of innovation. "We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas," he said.
Sam Altman's startup incubator Y Combinator is working on getting a basic income experiment underway in Oakland, California. "I...think that it's impossible to truly have equality of opportunity without some version of guaranteed income," Altman wrote in a blog post last year. "And I think that, combined with innovation driving down the cost of having a great life, by doing something like this we could eventually make real progress toward eliminating poverty."
Now Branson is climbing on board. In the blog post, the CEO wrote that he met with the worldwide human rights group The Elders in Finland earlier this year. Finland is one of several countries currently running UBI experiments. Two thousand citizens who were unemployed when the study began on January 1 will receive checks of approximately $650 each month. The study will last for two years, and the people will continue receiving their stipends even if they find work.
Canada is in the early stages of its own UBI program, and it's been debated widely in places like Scotland, France, and the Netherlands. Nonprofit company GiveDirectly is in the midst of multiple basic income experiments in Kenya.
Part of the support for the concept revolves around the idea that many current welfare programs, like those in the U.S., discourage people from finding jobs, since benefits are immediately eliminated when a person starts working.
While it might sound like a leftist principle, the concept has received support from thinkers on the right, since it could potentially remove some of the many layers of bureaucratic red tape inherent to welfare programs. Richard Nixon tried but failed to pass a form of basic income during his tenure as president. Milton Friedman, the famed economist and free market advocate, promoted the idea in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom.
In time, it's possible that countries will turn to the idea out of necessity. In his post, Branson touched on this possibility.
"A lot of exciting new innovations are going to be created, which will generate a lot of opportunities and a lot of wealth, but there is a real danger it could also reduce the amount of jobs," he wrote. "This will make experimenting with ideas like basic income even more important in the years to come."