eBay founder Pierre Omidyar speaks during the panel session Democracy and Voice: Technology For Citizen Empowerment and Human Rights during the annual Clinton Global Initiative.

eBay Founder Begins Funding Universal Basic Income Program

The founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, has pledged nearly $500,000 to a program that will provide a basic income to 6,000 people over the next 12 years, according to a recent report by the International Business Times‘ AJ Dellinger.

The program, which is called GiveDirectly, plans to use the data it collects on the 6,000 people receiving the basic income over the next 12 years to further research into the more widespread viability of a universal basic income (UBI), which is also referred to as a basic income guarantee or several other names from organization to organization and country to country.

The idea of a universal basic income dates back to Thomas Paine’s 1795 pamphlet Agrarian Justice, at least, but the idea has not gained much traction or broad support among world governments. However, there has been renewed interest in recent years as governments, corporations, nonprofits, and philanthropist recognize that the increasing number of jobs that can be filled by robots, automated services, and artificial intelligence could lead to an overall decline in the number of available jobs.

“The American workforce is going to change dramatically as robots and automation continue to take the place of humans,” Dellinger writes. “To combat that, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar has pledged nearly half a million dollars to test a universal basic income program.”

Omidyar is not the only wealthy entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist to support a universal basic income.

Gotz Werner, “a billionaire owner of a German drugstore chain,” has been advocating a universal basic income for years. He argues that by providing every citizen with roughly $1,000 a month, we could live in a much healthier society where people actually pursue their dreams instead of worrying about making ends meet. Most importantly, advocates argue, it could put an end to extreme poverty.

People would still be free to take on employment to earn additional income of course, but those who wanted to take time off to pursue academic, creative, or personal endeavors could do so knowing that they had an economic safety net. Werner and other advocates believe everyone could live much happier lives in this scenario.

Last year, the people of Switzerland voted on a referendum that would have provided a basic universal income for every citizen. The referendum was defeated by a margin of 77 percent opposed to 23 percent in favor, but supporters said those numbers showed that the idea of universal basic income was gaining popularity.

Omidyar is donating the $500,000 to GiveDirectly via the Omidyar Network, his nonprofit philanthropic organization. The program will focus on rural residents of Kenya and study how the basic income economically effects recipients and their communities.

“The idea of UBI is gaining traction as technology fundamentally changes the nature of work,” a post on the Omidyar Network website reads.

“In [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] and even middle-income countries like China, India, and Brazil, automation is replacing traditional jobs, while at the same time technology is enabling a new ‘gig economy,’ which may make employment far less stable and reliable for supporting a livelihood. Similarly, in many poor countries—especially those in Africa—automation and globalization are creating the prospect of ‘premature deindustrialization,’ where cheap labor isn’t drawing stable manufacturing jobs. This is especially worrying as that has been the primary road for countries to create better jobs and climb the income ladder in the past.”

GiveDirectly plans to give the 6,000 Kenyan test subjects 75 cents per day, which is roughly half the average income for rural Kenyans. In addition to the 6,000 Kenyans receiving the basic income, roughly 26,000 additional Kenyans living in 200 villages will receive cash transfers of an undisclosed amount.

Omidyar and others hope that, if the program proves beneficial, it will help promote the cause of a universal basic income in other countries.

[Featured Image by Brian Harkin/Getty Images]

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