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Universal Basic Income (UBI) | English Lesson

Mar 30, 2022

Our English vocabulary today has to do with the idea of a universal basic income. It is a good time to pick up some new words related to this concept since there is a good chance that policymakers will begin talking about it more in the coming months and years, though like all things, more in some countries than in others.

Okay. Let’s get started with the vocabulary.

VOCABULARY

  • Universal basic income: (UBI) A government-guaranteed payment to adult citizens, regardless of need with the goal of providing a basic standard of living.
  • Poor: lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society.
  • Poverty: the state of being extremely poor.
  • Need-based social programs: programs designed to ensure that the basic needs of a population are met. Examples are health insurance, food assistance, housing subsidies, education and childcare assistance.
  • Means test: a determination of whether an individual or family is eligible for government assistance by determining if they have the “means” (the money or the income) to pay for it themselves.
  • Disincentive: a factor that tends to discourage people from doing something.
  • Welfare: a person or group’s happiness, health, and prosperity. It can also refer to a type of payment to provide for basic needs.

DISCUSSION

Universal basic income –– or UBI for short –– refers to making a regular, guaranteed payment to citizens, regardless of their needs. The recipients can use this money on whatever they prioritize. They spend it however they want to spend it. The goal? Well, mostly, the UBI is paid in an effort to pull poor citizens above the poverty line and give them a better quality of life by providing access to basic goods and services. Universal Basic Income is different from need-based programs like food stamps or welfare payments. In fact, the UBI is promoted as a good replacement for many need-based programs, since these programs can be very expensive to run because of the filters they need to apply.

The logic behind giving a UBI goes like this: give people money and they will spend it more or less efficiently and in a way that will improve their welfare. All adult citizens will receive the payments and nobody has to take a means test to qualify. Citizens all get the payment, regardless of their needs.

And what about the citizens who receive the money who don’t really need it? Well, the idea is that the government will recapture that money through taxes.

Some early studies seem to show that providing a UBI does in fact lead to improvements in many measures of human welfare, including levels of happiness, health, safety, and school attendance. Researchers even found that regular UBI payments can even build trust in social institutions.

Wait! Sounds like a perfect plan, right? So why aren’t all countries implementing a UBI scheme?

Well, in the first place, many countries just can’t afford it, their taxation system is not good enough, or they just don’t have a good mechanism in place to distribute the payment. That’s not always an easy thing to do, especially in countries with a high number of unbanked citizens.

What about the countries that can afford it and who are able to distribute it efficiently? Well, critics there say that UBI is no solution. They say that it will do more harm than good. Why? Well, the fear is that a universal basic income will be a disincentive to work, in other words, with all that free money coming in, people will lose their desire to work and to contribute to society, and that will result in lower productivity overall. In other words, they think that a UBI will make people lazy and unhappy, and will hurt the economy.

But there is another side to that argument: supporters of UBI argue that regular, scheduled payments would provide people with better nutrition, which makes them smarter and increases their possibilities of employment. They also say that giving people some extra cash gives them new opportunities to educate themselves, and it reduces crime overall. All these results will help the economy grow, and create more wealth overall.

It is a debate that gets a lot of attention in developed economies, where robots and artificial intelligence (which you often see written as “AI”) are already reducing the number of available jobs. Policymakers and opinion leaders are beginning to really analyze the cost/benefits of UBI, and just by skimming the news headlines this week, I see that both Ireland and the United States currently have pilot programs in place. In other words, they are conducting small, practical experiments to see what they can learn.

For now, though it seems to be more of a debate in richer countries. In the less-developed, poorer countries –– which still struggle to collect income tax and lack an efficient way to distribute grant payments –– the implementation of a UBI plan seems a long way off.

Okay, friends. Did you understand the key vocabulary in the context of the topic summary?  And what do you think of the topic? Would the payment of a universal basic income in your country have more positive or negative effects? Do you think that some places will begin to pay UBI?

Here are the words one last time. Listen closely:

VOCABULARY REVIEW

  • Universal basic income: (UBI) A government-guaranteed payment to adult citizens, regardless of need with the goal of providing a basic standard of living.
  • Poor: lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society.
  • Poverty: the state of being extremely poor.
  • Need-based social programs: programs designed to ensure that the basic needs of a population are met. Examples are health insurance, food assistance, housing subsidies, education and childcare assistance.
  • Means test: a determination of whether an individual or family is eligible for government assistance by determining if they have the “means” (the money or the income) to pay for it themselves.
  • Disincentive: a factor that tends to discourage people from doing something.
  • Welfare: a person or group’s happiness, health, and prosperity. It can also refer to a type of payment to provide for basic needs.

CONCLUSION

If you enjoyed this lesson and would like to learn more vocabulary that you can use to discuss this aspect of the economy, check out our lessons on Grants, Subsidies, and Stimulus Payments and Pensions. Have any comments, questions, or suggestions about the English for Economists podcast? Contact me here – I’d really enjoy connecting with you. Until next time!

 

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