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Rutger Bregman speaks Tuesday at TED2017 in Vancouver, Canada.

Rutger Bregman speaks Tuesday at TED2017 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo: Bret Hartman/TED/flickr/cc)

Because It's Time for 'New, Radical Ideas,' TED Talk on Universal Basic Income Gets Thunderous Applause

'Just imagine how much talent we would unleash if we got rid of poverty once and for all,' said historian Rutger Bregman during talk

Andrea Germanos

The post will be updated to include video when the Bregman's TED Talk becomes available.

If the kind of reception the idea of a universal basic income received Tuesday is any gauge, political leaders should take note.

According to Business Insider, it "just got a standing ovation at this year's TED conference."

The cheers came during historian Rutger Bregman's talk at TED2017 in Vancouver, in which he touted the social welfare concept of providing people with income to pay for their basic needs as a means of tackling poverty.

The TEDBlog wrote:

According to Bregman, a basic income in the United States would cost $175 billion, just a quarter of the U.S.'s military budget. And universal basic income impacts the future of work itself—it's a complete rethink of what "work" actually is. Ultimately, Bregman believes in a "future where the value of your work is not determined by the size of your paycheck, but by the amount of happiness you spread and the amount of meaning you give."

Bregman also said in his talk: "Just imagine how much talent we would unleash if we got rid of poverty once and for all."

The concept the Utopia for Realists author is floating is far from new, and recent examples are easy to find. As Laura Williams, activism officer at the U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now, noted recently: "In 2008-2009 Namibia experimented with the world-wide first Basic Income Grant pilot project in Otjivero – Omitara and found that the project led to reduction in poverty, increase in economic activity, and improvements in health. A similar series of trials in India produced similar results."

More evidence is set to come from the Canadian province of Ontario, where a pilot universal basic income program is set to launch in three cities.

"If we look at the evidence, we don't have to be worried at all about huge reductions in work hours, or that people will be lazy," Bregman said to Huffington Post Australia last month. "In fact, it's to the contrary, especially for people living in poverty. They will have the means to get up and do something and contribute to the common good, and a lot of people not in poverty but in so called 'bullshit jobs' will be able to quit those jobs and do something that they consider to be fulfilling and useful," he added.

Writing last month at the Guardian, Bregman likened universal basic income to "venture capital for the people":

While it won't solve all the world's ills—and ideas such as a rent cap and more social housing are necessary in places where housing is scarce—a basic income would work like venture capital for the people. We can't afford not to do it—poverty is hugely expensive. The costs of child poverty in the U.S. are estimated at $500bn (£410bn) each year, in terms of higher healthcare spending, less education, and more crime. It's an incredible waste of potential. It would cost just $175bn, a quarter of the country's current military budget, to do what Dauphin [a city in Manitoba, Canada, which had a successful experiment in basic income] did long ago: eradicate poverty.

That should be our goal. The time for small thoughts and little nudges is past. The time has come for new, radical ideas. If this sounds utopian to you, then remember that every milestone of civilisation—the end of slavery, democracy, equal rights for men and women—was once a utopian fantasy too.

Bregman's new talk comes amidst increasing inequality and as automation (read: computers and robots) takes over some lower-wage jobs, thus setting the stage to "amplify economic disparities." 

Looking at a possible "robot uprising," George Dvorsky, contributing editor at Gizmodo, wrote:

Advocates argue that a basic income is essential to a comprehensive strategy for reducing poverty because it offers extra income with no strings attached. But looking ahead to the future, we may have little choice but to implement it. Given the ever-increasing concentration of wealth and the frightening prospect of technological unemployment, it will be required to prevent complete social and economic collapse. It's not a question of if, but how soon.


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