Should a Basic Income be conditional or unconditional?

Should a Basic Income be conditional or unconditional?

I think that at least initially a Basic Income should be conditional. There are several reasons that I take this stance:

1.) Political feasibility. The main problem BI advocates face is that on first glance the idea seems like “money to be lazy,” rather than what it really is, an efficient means to distribute productivity dividends within an economy. A BI program with a work requirement would be a lot more feasible politically than an unconditional basic income.

2.) Economic efficiency. An unconditional basic income would face the problem of people who wish to “drop out” of the economy for whatever reason, but who still have marketable skills, skills often acquired at public expense through public schools and/or subsidized student loans. The loss of the contribution that these skills make to the economy is an inefficiency that UBI cannot avoid.

3.) Social efficiency. We must consider what a work requirement in a Basic Income scheme would look like. Theoretically, Basic Income becomes feasible as increasing automation eliminates jobs and drives down wages. A work requirement would have two positive effects:

  • It would keep recipients in the labor force who do have marketable skills, but for whom the market price of those skills has dropped below that of a living wage
  • It would create a pool of available labor for social goods that the market cannot provide. A National Labor Pool (NLP) program, into which all BI recipients who are not full-time workers are enrolled, could be deployed for tasks such as disaster relief, city beautification, and, with proper screening, childcare services. All non-full-time BI recipients who claim that they are not able to find private employment would be subject to “call-up” by the NLP.


What constitutes a “full-time” worker could be subject to political debate and change over time. For example, mothers caring for young children could automatically be considered full-time workers. The number of hours per week needed to qualify as full-time would also be adjustable, and, ideally, decreased over time as technological progress obsoletes more and more human skill sets.



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