Universal Basic Income: Understanding the Debate


Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a government-backed system that gives everyone a minimum amount of money regularly, regardless of their income or work status. It aims to reduce poverty, inequality, and the negative effects of automation and globalization on jobs and incomes. 

In today’s lecture, I will cover a basic discussion of UBI, the current interest related to the rise of A.I., the advantages of adoption, some of the specific policy proposals that have been advanced, the disadvantages of adoption, and then different counterplans and kritiks.

Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in UBI because of the amazing progress we’ve seen in AI in the last few months, which many people say will at least cause a temporary rise in unemployment, as millions of workers could potentially lose their jobs and it will take a bit of time to create new ones.

UBI, Artificial Intelligence and Automation

There are varying predictions about the number of jobs that will be lost due to artificial intelligence, but according to a report by Goldman Sachs, 300 million jobs could be lost or diminished by this fast-growing technology. Another source states that 375 million jobs are expected to vanish by 2030 due to automation.

Some examples of jobs that may be lost due to artificial intelligence include translators, video editors, data entry operators, journalists, call center workers, bank tellers and cashiers, and delivery boys. Additionally, sectors such as office administrative support, legal, architecture and engineering, business and financial operations, management, sales, healthcare and art and design may also be impacted by automation. 

Although some argue this will create new jobs, that is uncertain, and, at the very least, it would take a considerable amount of time for these new jobs to be created, as they haven’t even yet been invented.

Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, spoke about UBI at the World Government Summit in Dubai. Musk said that due to the mass disruption in employment caused by automation, “I don’t think we’re going to have a choice.” I think it’s going to be necessary. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better.

Sam Altman, the CEO of Open AI, the business that developed ChatGPT, is funding a UBI pilot program in Oakland, California, in part because Star Trek inspired him. He agrees with the policy because he knows that the tech industry’s push for automation will make UBI necessary.

I will talk more about this later. For now, just note that this is currently a very hot topic and that it is something easy for you to research.

Before we go into more pros and cons, however, let’s talk in more detail about what a universal basic income is.

What is UBI?

It is a bit tricky to talk about it because a truly universal basic income, where one receives payment regardless of their current income, has not been tried anywhere.

Finland conducted a two-year basic income experiment from 2017 to 2018 where 2,000 unemployed Finns were given a monthly flat payment of €560 (around $630): 1. The aim was to see if a guaranteed safety net would help people find jobs and support them if they had to take on insecure gig economy work. While employment levels did not improve, participants said they felt happier and less stressed.

Canada has also experimented with UBI. In Ontario, a pilot project was launched in 2017 that provided 4,000 low-income citizens with a basic income of up to $13,000 per year for a single person and around $18,000 per year for a couple. However, the newly elected government canceled the pilot in 2018 before it had even finished.

In Kenya, the charity GiveDirectly has been running a 12-year basic income experiment since 2016 that provides more than 20,000 people in rural villages with a guaranteed income of around $22 per month.

In India, a basic income pilot project was conducted in the state of Madhya Pradesh from 2011 to 2013. The pilot provided over 6,000 individuals in eight villages with a monthly payment of $3 for each adult and $2 for each child. An evaluation of the pilot showed that it led to improvements in living conditions, nutrition, health, schooling, and economic activity.

Each of these experiments had unique features that made it effective in its own way. In Finland, the basic income led to improvements in well-being. In Ontario, Canada, the basic income provided financial stability to low-income citizens. In Kenya, the basic income has provided a steady source of income to rural villagers. In Madhya Pradesh, India, the basic income led to improvements in living conditions and economic activity.

There have been several Universal Basic Income (UBI) programs tried in the United States. For example, the city of Stockton, California, launched a basic income program called the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration – SEED-  in 2019 that provided low-income residents with hundreds of dollars a month. The program has been considered a model for other cities that have followed in its footsteps. SEED says that the participants’ job prospects, financial stability, and overall well-being all got better.

Other cities and states have also launched UBI programs. For example, Forbes lists nine big UBI/cash transfer programs in the US, including California’s Compton Pledge, Colorado’s Denver Basic Income Project, Florida’s Just Income Gainesville, Georgia’s In Her Hands, Illinois’ Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot, Louisiana’s Shreveport Guaranteed Income Program, New Jersey’s Newark Movement for Economic Equity, and New York’s The Bridge Project 2.

One example of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) program is one where everyone gets the same minimum income regardless of any additional income they may have. For example, Alaska has a program called the Permanent Fund Dividend that has been in place since 1982. All eligible Alaskans, no matter how much money they make, get an annual payment from the program. The amount of the payment varies from year to year based on the performance of the Alaska Permanent Fund, but it is typically between $1,000 and $2,000 per year. It is significant to note that only a small amount—roughly $150 per month—of oil revenue supports this program.

The Affirmative

I began this essay by outlining one of the most well-liked justifications for a UBI: providing a safety net for people whose jobs are at risk due to generative AI. It’s important to give people this lifeline because unemployment can have a lot of negative effects on people and on society as a whole. People who are unemployed may have less money coming in, which can make it hard for them to pay for things like food and rent. Being unemployed is also a highly stressful situation, so it may cause stress-related health issues such as headaches, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, back pain, and insomnia. These health issues often result in increased visits to the doctor and increased use of medication to manage the health conditions.

The longer a person is unemployed, the more likely they are to experience potential negative effects and contribute to the multiplier effect that unemployment has on the community. Unemployment may lead to an increase in social unrest and tension. It can also make the economy worse by making the unemployed more dependent on the people who do have jobs.

Beyond providing a safety net, a UBI can promote freedom. There are four ways a UBI can promote freedom.

One, economic freedom. UBI provides a financial safety net for individuals, which can give them the freedom to take risks and pursue entrepreneurial activities without the fear of poverty or financial ruin. This can enable people to choose jobs that align with their interests and passions, rather than being forced to work for a living.

Two, social freedom. UBI can give people more control over their lives by reducing their dependence on employers and other institutions. This can enable them to make choices based on their personal preferences rather than external pressures, such as the need to earn a living or meet certain societal expectations.

Three, political freedom UBI can increase political freedom by reducing the influence of wealthy donors and corporations on political campaigns and policy-making. This is because individuals would be less reliant on these institutions for their livelihoods and more able to make choices based on their own values and beliefs.

Four, dignity. UBI can promote dignity in multiple ways. UBI can provide individuals with a stable source of income, which can help them meet their basic needs and live with dignity. It can help reduce the stress and anxiety that come with living in poverty and let people focus on their own growth, health, and well-being.

It can also reduce the stigma associated with receiving social welfare benefits. Unlike traditional welfare programs, UBI doesn’t look at a person’s income or need to decide if they should get it. This can help reduce the shame that comes with being poor and make it easier for people to get help without feeling ashamed or left out. 

It can also give UBI that recognizes and values unpaid work, like caregiving, volunteering, and community work, which is often done by women and people from marginalized groups. By giving everyone a regular income, UBI can help people see how important their contributions are and promote social inclusion.

Finally, UBI can promote individual autonomy and agency by giving people the freedom to make choices about their lives without being forced to depend on others for financial support. This can help people reach their goals and aspirations, improve their skills, and make meaningful contributions to society.

There are multiple ways UBI can foster innovation. 

It can encourage people to start their own businesses by giving them a safety net that lets them take risks and start their own businesses without worrying about going broke or living in poverty. This can lead to the creation of new businesses, products, and services, which can drive economic growth and innovation. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, told the audience for his speech at the Harvard commencement ceremony that he favors UBI as a driver of innovation. “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas,” he said as part of his speech.

It can give people the chance to invest in their education and training, which can help them improve their skills and knowledge and open up new career options. This can lead to the creation of new technologies, scientific discoveries, and creative works that can benefit society as a whole.

It can give people the freedom to explore their creative potential and go after ideas that are different or risky. This can lead to new works of art, cultural products, and social innovations that can make society better and help it move forward.

And it can help people work on social innovation by giving them the tools and support they need to solve social problems and make good things happen in their communities. This can lead to the development of new social programs, community initiatives, and advocacy campaigns that can improve the lives of marginalized groups and promote social justice.

Economic stimulus. UBI can help the economy grow by getting people to spend more money and buy more goods and services. This can lead to the creation of new jobs and businesses, which can drive innovation and economic development.

UBI can also promote gender equality. UBI has the potential to promote gender equality in several ways.

Reducing the pay gap between men and women. UBI could help reduce of the pay gap between men and women by giving everyone, regardless of gender or employment status, a basic level of financial security. This could help to reduce the reliance of women on low-wage jobs, which are typically associated with a higher risk of poverty.

Supporting unpaid care work. Women often bear a disproportionate burden of unpaid care work, such as childcare and eldercare. UBI could provide a financial cushion for women who may need to take time off work to care for family members, which could help reduce the gender gap in unpaid care work.

Getting more people to start their own businesses. UBI could give women the money they need to start their own businesses or do other entrepreneurial things. This could help to reduce the gender gap in entrepreneurship and provide women with greater economic independence.

Reducing domestic violence. Domestic violence affects women more than men, which can hurt their chances of getting a job and make them poor. UBI could give women a financial safety net that could help them leave abusive relationships and work toward becoming financially independent.

Reducing the poverty gap, Women are more likely than men to live in poverty, particularly women of color and women with disabilities. UBI could help to reduce the poverty gap between men and women, which could promote gender equality and reduce social and economic disparities.

UBI could promote racial equality. There have been discussions about using Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a form of reparations. For instance, as part of a reparations program, the Movement for Black Lives recently endorsed UBI. The compensation for reparations could take a number of forms, but most arguments call for direct cash payments, which is where the concept overlaps with the idea of an UBI. However, it is important to note that UBI and reparations are two separate concepts that can be implemented independently of each other.

Most people think of reparations as a way to make up for past wrongs or injustices, like slavery or discrimination. If a UBI program were put in place as a form of reparations, it would probably be aimed at groups that have been wronged or put at a disadvantage in the past. If the same amount of UBI were given to everyone regardless of their race or ethnicity, it would not be considered a form of reparations.


Now that we’ve discussed many of the general benefits of a universal basic income, we are going to discuss ways of implementing one. You may want to specify these things in your plan or you may not, but these are the broad things you want to consider.

Does what you are proposing apply to everyone? There are different “universal” basic income schemes, but most (other than Alaska’s) only apply to a limited number of people, usually those with a low income. There are advocates, however, for providing it to everyone. The resolution oanly requires that the proposal be a basic income, not a universal income. 

Andrew Yang, The entrepreneur and former Democratic presidential candidate, made UBI a central part of his campaign platform, proposing a “Freedom Dividend” of $1,000 per month for every American adult.

The more people that are included, the more this will cost.

Does your proposal include cutting “means-tested” welfare? Means-tested welfare programs are social welfare programs in which eligibility for benefits is based on the individual’s or family’s income and assets. In other words, programs that look at a person’s income are meant to help; the second type relates to the broader economic and political effects.

We have now covered the basics of the affirmative side of the topic.


Let’s now look at the arguments on the negative side.

First, let’s look at the disadvantages related to workers and the economy.

One way a UBI could decrease the motivation to work is that it would encourage millions of workers to stop working. If people receive money without doing anything, it may encourage them to be lazy.

Working less could lead to a decrease in economic growth. Work volume typically determines productivity, and productivity is crucial to the economy. If less work is done, productivity and the economy decline.

Second, let’s cover issues related to the broader economic and political effects.

What do I mean by the broader economic effects? Well, I mean the effects of pushing trillions of dollars in government spending into the economy, and even that is divided into two areas—where does the money come from and what is the impact of it being there?

Let’s start with where the money comes from.

Money for new government programs can come from one of three sources: borrowing; tax increases; or program cuts. Smaller UBIs (ones that only fund a limited number of people who meet certain requirements) would probably require modest funding changes. Others that propose money for everyone and that could potentially cost $3 trillion annually would likely require borrowing, tax increases, and program cuts.

In other lectures, we’ll talk about the problems with borrowing, like how it would lead to more annual debt, tax hikes that could hurt investment and growth, and cuts to programs that could hurt both the poor and the military. For now, just note these as a set of disadvantages.

Second, let’s look at the impact of pumping potentially trillions of dollars into the economy. There may not be a net injection of all of the money into the economy, as some may be taken out through program cuts or tax increases, but there would likely be a net injection. Pumping more money into the economy could increase inflation if individuals receiving UBI have more money to spend, which could lead to an increase in demand for goods and services. If production capacity does not increase at the same rate, the result could be a rise in prices as suppliers are unable to keep up with demand.

A second set of disadvantages concerns the political consequences. Putting a new policy into place can take a lot of political capital, which is the money and support that politicians and policymakers have at their disposal. The political disadvantage argument argues that implementing a UBI could use up political capital that would be better spent on other policy prioritie

This opposition is likely to emerge from many corners.

First, Fiscal conservatives. Fiscal conservatives are concerned about the potential cost of implementing a UBI. They argue that providing a regular income to all individuals would be too expensive and could lead to a significant increase in government spending, deficits, and debt.

Second, Corporations and the wealthy. Some corporations and wealthy individuals oppose UBI because it could lead to higher taxes or reduce the power and influence of the wealthy elite. They argue that UBI is a form of redistribution that would discourage hard work and entrepreneurship.

Third, ideological opponents. People who don’t believe in social welfare or want the government to stay out of the economy could be against UBI for ideological reasons. They argue that UBI is a form of socialism that would lead to a nanny state and undermine individual responsibility and initiative.

Fourth, labor unions. Some labor unions are opposed to UBI because they fear it could lead to a reduction in wages and benefits for workers. They argue that UBI could give employers greater bargaining power and could lead to a reduction in the social safety net for workers.

Fifth, social conservatives. Social conservatives may oppose UBI because they believe that it would undermine traditional family structures and work ethics. They say that giving everyone a basic income would make people lazy and dependent, and it could lead to a loss of social values. A big program like this could cost the Democrats some political capital, but it could also have effects on the election that could make or break their chances of keeping the presidency.

A big program like this could cost the Democrats some political capital, but it could also have effects on the election that could make or break their chances of keeping the presidency.


Now that we have covered the main disadvantages, let’s look at the core philosophical objections, also known as kritiks.

Libertarianism/Coercion. Libertarians generally believe that the role of government should be limited to protecting individual rights and promoting a free market economy. UBI, as a government-funded income support program, could be seen as an expansion of government intervention in the economy, which goes against libertarian principles. Libertarians might say that UBI would be coercive because it would have to be paid for by taxing people. They argue that taxation is a form of coercion that violates individual freedom and property rights, and that UBI could lead to a net loss of individual freedom and welfare.

Capitalism. There are a few ways a UBI could reinforce a capitalist system. One of the main drivers of anti-capitalist sentiment is economic inequality and poverty. UBI could help reduce poverty and give people a basic level of financial security, which could reduce social unrest and provide support for movements that are against capitalism. It could also give people a safety net that would let them take risks and start businesses without worrying about going broke or living in poverty. This could lead to the creation of new businesses and innovations, which could drive economic growth and support for the capitalist system. A UBI could promote social inclusion in addition to economic inclusion by giving people the money and help they need to be a part of society and pursue their goals and dreams. By giving people a basic level of financial security, UBI could help reduce social exclusion and make people feel like they belong in the capitalist system.

Anti-blackness.  UBI has been suggested as a possible solution to a wide range of economic and social problems, but some people worry that it could be anti-black, which means that it could hurt black people and communities more than other groups. Here are some ways in which a UBI program could be anti-black.

First, the wealth gap.  Black individuals and families have, on average, significantly lower levels of wealth and income than their white counterparts. A UBI program that offers a fixed amount of income to everyone would not account for this wealth gap and might not effectively address the economic disadvantage that black people experience.

Second, structural racism.  A UBI program might not address the underlying causes of economic inequality and disadvantage, which are frequently due to structural racism. A UBI program might not be able to help black people get ahead financially if it doesn’t address these root causes.

People who are black may have to deal with social stigma and discrimination, which can hurt their jobs and access to resources. A UBI program might not take into account these social and cultural factors, which could make it less effective at helping black Americans make up for their economic disadvantages. Black people and communities may not have easy access to things like good education, health care, and housing, which could make it harder for them to benefit from a UBI program. individuals.

Access to resources. People and communities of color may not have easy access to resources like good education, health care, and housing, which could make it harder for them to benefit from a UBI program. If these structural barriers aren’t fixed, a UBI program might not be able to help black people get ahead financially.


The negative team simply advances alternative plans as counterplans. There are many types of counterplans that serve different purposes, but a common type of counterplan is one that is designed to solve the harm the affirmative identifies (e.g., unemployment and poverty) while avoiding a unique disadvantage. For example, at a basic level, someone may suggest a counterplan to extend unemployment benefits and argue that it would be much cheaper than providing a UBI for everyone.

Expanding means-tested programs is one alternative.  Rather than provide funding for everyone, we could only provide it to those in need. Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, isn’t opposed to the UBI concept, but he doesn’t think the time is right to implement it. Gates feels that resources are too limited to make it happen now, and instead more targeted programs need to happen first.

Another alternative is to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a tax credit for low- and moderate-income individuals and families. It is meant to get people to work and cut down on poverty by giving them money to work instead of just getting help from the government.

The EITC is a refundable tax credit, which means that individuals who qualify for the credit can receive a refund even if they do not owe any taxes. The amount of the credit depends on a number of factors, including the individual’s income, marital status, and number of children.

The EITC is designed to be progressive, which means that people and families with lower incomes get a bigger credit. The maximum credit amount for the 2021 tax year is $6,728 for families with three or more children, and the income limit for eligibility is $57,414 for single individuals with no children and $86,880 for married couples with three or more children.

People have said that the EITC does a good job of reducing poverty and getting people to work, especially low-wage workers. Studies have shown that the EITC has led to increased employment and earnings, as well as improvements in health outcomes and educational attainment for children in low-income families.

Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady and U.S. presidential candidate, said of UBI that she was “not ready to go there” but instead favored expanding the earned income tax credit.

Minimum wage increases are another strong alternative. Minimum wage laws require employers to pay a minimum wage to their workers. The goal of minimum wage laws is to ensure that workers are paid a fair wage and to reduce poverty among low-wage workers.

Guaranteed jobs. A guaranteed jobs program would provide a job to anyone who wants one, regardless of their qualifications or work history. The goal of this policy proposal is to ensure that everyone who wants to work can do so and to reduce unemployment and poverty. This was a recent L-D topic and we will be making those arguments available.

Guaranteed income. On a related note, others argue that everyone should receive a guaranteed income. This could be drawn from an employer, the government, or a combination of the two. It is one of the other suggested novice cases.

Universal basic services. Universal basic services (UBS) are policies that make sure everyone in a country has access to basic services like health care, education, and housing. The goal of UBS is to make sure that everyone has access to basic needs and to reduce poverty and inequality.

There is also the tried-and-true policy debate, States versus the federal government acting, like the politics and elections disadvantages, are avoided.  The States Counterplan just has the state governments make the policy and put it into action. This way, the bad things about the federal government, like politics and elections, are avoided. This will likely be one of the most popular counterarguments on the topic and will be discussed separately.

An Artificial Intelligence World

One thing I encourage all debaters to think about is what an artificial intelligence world means for a UBI. And I’ll just plant two seeds there.

One, if there will be mass unemployment as a result of AI advances, the argument that UBI discourages work doesn’t apply because there is no work to discourage one from engaging in.

Two, if AI can generate (generative AI) products and services very quickly and at no cost, inflation should not result, as there will be no increase in demand that cannot be met.

Anyhow, those are just a couple things to get you thinking about how a UBI may work in an AI world.


UBI is one of the core novice case areas, and there is a reasonable chance it will become a core varsity case area. And regardless of whether or not it becomes a core area, the issues discussed within the UBI literature are core issues on the debate topic, and any cards you cut from the literature base will be relevant to many of your debates.