Why Pope Francis is Pushing for Universal Basic Income


The policy could help ease poverty in Asia where about 60 percent of people do not fall under any form of social protection




Pope Francis is among the world’s economists, thinkers, and billionaires who support Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a way of altering the relationship between capital and labor, the two main pillars of the laissez-faire system that wants to keep the government outside all capitalist activities.

The relation between capital and labor cannot be the same once UBI becomes a policy, promising every adult–rich and poor, working and non-working–a regular income from the state.

High-profile policymakers have concluded that after disruptive digital technologies become part and parcel of social life in the new norm of the post-COVID-19 world, privatization of profit and socialization of loss will not go in tandem in the long run.

In the coming years, artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation will render the toiling human capital redundant worldwide. Cars and trucks without drivers will reduce millions of jobs in transportation while national armies will be replaced by a sea of autonomous drones and, eventually, actors will be shown the door and movie production will thrive without much human labor.

In his recently published book, the pope renewed his pledge to UBI after the pandemic exacerbated the rift between people and technology and between the haves and the have-nots. In Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, co-written with Briton Austen Ivereigh, Pope Francis strongly advocates a basic income. “The UBI could reshape relations in the labor market, guaranteeing people the dignity of refusing employment terms that trap them in poverty,” Pope Francis wrote.

Those who cite UBI as the key catalyst to the technology-driven transition go to the extent of saying that if the top 1,000 transnational companies are fairly taxed, a modest UBI for people across the world is a possibility.

In Western cities where UBI has successfully been implemented, the working population sees UBI paving the way for the abolition of “wage slavery” to which the working professionals are unknowingly tied to.

Now that the pandemic has disrupted the global economy, UBI has returned from the fringes to the mainstream. Pope Francis is actively pushing it because the poor are at the center of his pontificate. For him, a Catholic Church that does not speak and act for the poor of the world is no church at all.

Social Protection
Decades of unequal economic growth marked by severe exploitation, recurring financial crises, and the launch of disruptive digital technologies and ecological disasters, have exhausted the Asian workforce as their bargaining power has diminished. Due to this, Asia perennially remains the hub for cheap labor for the world economy. The pandemic has added salt to these wounds.

Experts say that welfare schemes and subsidies rolled out by Asian governments can be converted into UBI. They put forth UBI as an effective poverty-eradication tool in Asia, where about 60 percent of inhabitants do not fall under any form of social protection. Since the pandemic has further drained their resources, the economic toll is expected to be astronomically high in post-pandemic Asia.

According to the World Bank, over 20 million people in Asia have been pushed into poverty and 100 million dislocated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the United Nations Development Programme, 80 percent of students in Asia do not have access to education as a result of the pandemic.

Examples In Other Countries
On June 15, 2020, after being hit by the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout, Spain offered monthly payments of up to 1,015 (US$1,145) to Spain’s 850,000 poorest households. It will cost the state exchequer at least 3 billion per year.

Before the Spanish rollout, the biggest trial was done in Kenya, which allocated 2,250 Kenyan shillings ($21) to 2,100 adults. Many nations have experimented with UBI but the schemes were limited to a few thousand people. Scotland and Canada are mulling the possibility of UBI to tide over hardships caused by the pandemic.

In Asia, UBI has already gained momentum in South Korea and has become a major poll plank among politicians. Championed first by Gyeonggi province governor and presidential hopeful Lee Jae-Myung, UBI was quickly hijacked by presidential contenders from all sides.

A limited version of UBI came up in India when main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi pledged to create “the world’s largest minimum income scheme” if his party triumphed in elections. Gandhi promised the poorest 20 percent of households 72,000 rupees ($1,050) per year as part of the proposed Nyay (justice) scheme.

The post-pandemic world calls for a new social contract to rebalance deep economic inequalities and build a sustainable future across societies. For the upcoming fourth industrial revolution to take root in the largest continent, which is home to 60 percent of humanity, those rendered jobless by disrupting technologies would have to be given an economic chance to get on with their lives. Published in Ucanews

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