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  • Do you guys want some free money?

  • Excuse me, would you like some free money? Free money?

  • No, thank you.

  • No?

  • Free money?

  • Free money!

  • It's free!

  • I'll take some for my friend too.

  • You can take some for your friend.

  • Okay, thank you.

  • Would you like some free money sir? Okay, wow, we've got a lot of takers here.

  • Handing out free money sounds like a pretty radical idea.

  • But it's actually an economic concept gaining a lot of traction around the world.

  • We're talking about universal basic income.

  • Universal basic income is pretty much what the name suggests:

  • an income for everyone in the form of a cash transfer. No strings attached.

  • Finland is among a handful of countries experimenting with universal basic income

  • as a way to address unemployment in the country.

  • Meet our fictional character Leena.

  • She works in a salmon factory in Finland.

  • Then an economic downturn hits. People can't afford to buy as much salmon, and Leena loses her job.

  • Under the universal basic income scheme, Leena would get around $650 a month from the government.

  • She can use that $650 to cover living expenses while she looks for a new job.

  • But even once she gets a new job, she would continue to receive the cash.

  • A key feature of the universal basic income is that you can spend the money however you like.

  • So in the Finland example, you could take that $650 and spend it on about a third of month's rent here in Helsinki.

  • Or you could spend it on 100 cans of smoked herring and 26 bottles of red mulled wine mix.

  • We'll take 26 of these, please.

  • The idea of handing out cash to every citizen isn't new.

  • Philosopher Thomas Paine proposed the idea of payments to every person all the way back in 1797.

  • Martin Luther King Junior fought for a guaranteed income in the 1960s.

  • And even free-market champion Milton Friedman endorsed the negative income tax,

  • similar to basic income, as a way to reduce welfare costs and bureaucracy.

  • But lately tech titans in Silicon Valley, like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,

  • are some of the biggest advocates of the idea.

  • They argue a universal basic income could provide a cushion to an estimated millions of people

  • who could lose their jobs if they're replaced by automation or by robots.

  • Hello!

  • It's clear robots are already changing the future of work.

  • Some in Silicon Valley say universal basic income could give workers

  • an opportunity to retrain for today's workforce.

  • Other advocates say a basic income would alleviate poverty

  • and help address growing income inequality across the developed world.

  • It could give people freedom to start their own business, or flexibility to pursue creative interests.

  • The idea has support across the political spectrum,

  • from libertarians who say it would simplify the existing social welfare state,

  • to socialists who want to redistribute wealth toward the lower and middle class.

  • Finland isn't the only country experimenting with universal basic income.

  • Other trials are underway in the Netherlands, Kenya, Canada and the United States.

  • But not everyone is crazy about the idea.

  • Critics say universal basic income could actually disincentivize people like Leena

  • from getting another job if they know they're getting paid not to work.

  • And of course there's the big fat question of how to pay for universal basic income.

  • If every person here in Finland got that $650, it would cost the government more than $3.5 billion per month.

  • That number would be in the trillions of dollars per year in the United States,

  • where the population is much bigger.

  • And labor economists argue basic income would need to be a lot more than $650 to have a meaningful impact.

  • Research from the OECD shows that if the existing system of social and unemployment benefits

  • was eliminated or reduced to pay for a basic income, poverty could actually increase.

  • Other critics say there's no reason that people who are already well-off

  • should be getting more cash from the government.

  • So it's not looking like free money is going to become the norm for everyone anytime soon.

  • Hey everyone it's Elizabeth. Thanks so much for watching!

  • You can check out more of our videos over here.

  • We're also taking your suggestions for future CNBC Explains,

  • so leave any of your ideas in the comments section.

  • And while you're at it, subscribe to our channel.

  • Bye for now!

Do you guys want some free money?

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What is universal basic income? | CNBC Explains

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    Rachel Kung posted on 2018/02/09
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