News; News & Events

Elon Musk reaffirms UBI prediction at World Government Summit

Elon Musk — the famed entrepreneur behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX, who now sits on a panel of economic advisors to President Donald Trump — was a featured speaker at the World Government Summit, held February 12 through 14 in Dubai.

In a dialogue with UAE Minister Mohammad Al Gergawi, Musk reaffirmed his belief (first expressed in a CNBC interview) that “some kind of universal basic income is going to be necessary” to cope with unemployment due to automation of labor.

Musk’s attitude was not entirely optimistic, however. He noted that technological unemployment, and the resultant need for UBI, is something he thinks will happen as a matter of fact — not something he wishes will happen — and he expressed concern that many people might lack “meaning” in a world with mass technology-driven unemployment.  

As quoted in Fast Company News, Musk said, in full:

There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better. I want to be clear. These are not things I wish will happen; these are things I think probably will happen. And if my assessment is correct and they probably will happen, than we have to think about what are we going to do about it? I think some kind of universal basic income is going to be necessary. The output of goods and services will be extremely high. With automation there will come abundance. Almost everything will get very cheap. I think we’ll end up doing universal basic income. It’s going to be necessary. The much harder challenge is, how are people going to have meaning? A lot of people derive their meaning from their employment. So if there’s no need for your labor, what’s your meaning? Do you feel useless? That’s a much harder problem to deal with.


According to its website, the World Government Summit drew over 4,000 attendees from more than 130 countries. In addition to Musk, featured speakers included Ruler of Dubai H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde, World Bank President Jim Kim, UNESCO Director Irina Bokova, Linked-In co-founder Reid Hoffman, and many others.

Elizabeth Rhodes, director of Y Combinator’s basic income research project (currently conducting a pilot study in Oakland), attended the World Government Summit as part of a panel on the “legacy of the 21st century” — which also examined the societal impact of automation.    


See also:

Elon Musk warns global governments about the future,” World Government Summit, February 14, 2017.

Reviewed by Cameron McLeod

Elon Musk photo CC BY 2.0 Heisenberg Media

About Kate McFarland

Kate McFarland has written 512 articles.

Former lead writer and editor of Basic Income News.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.


  • Robert Minton

    He asks if theres no jobs, how do people have meaning since so many people derive their meaning from their work? Can’t believe he missed this one. Reconnect with humanity. Spend time with each other, derive meaning from family, community, friends, etc. Most people might spend 4 to 5 hours a weekday with their kids (if they work), and thats a lot for many, it might be 2 to 4 hours. So not working reconnects us and requires we focus on the things that really matter most, our human relationships and interactions. We will need to learn to put down devises and engage with one another. Meaning will come for the family unit and community.

    • Serf Jester

      The truth is only seen through the lenses of people who don’t take themselves seriously.

    • Hi Robert, that’s true that we should reconnect with humanity. That will be easy for people who already derive meaning from their relationships and not their job so the automation won’t bother them. However, I think that there are some people who identify with their jobs and returning to their families full time may not be an easy transition. They might become disoriented and lose meaning (temporarily) in their lives.

  • Robin the Unemployed

    Some kind of volunteering requirement for getting existing benefits might help to ease us in the right direction.

    You would have to leave the choice of how and where to volunteer in the hands of the volunteer, to stop them from becoming ‘volunteers’.

    I’m not in favour of ‘volunteering’, with quote marks, but the genuine thing could help solve so many problems.

    • M. A. Keena

      Most humans are already doing volunteer, or unpaid work. Humanity has great creative forces driving it. Once freed of the need for a “job” then work is done for the love of it. Humanity could be free to explore so many other things. The mind boggles.

  • realist

    It’s true that a lot of people derive meaning from their work. But let’s distinguish between forced labour and occupation you do because you like it. The latter will never disappear nor will art, society and God.

  • June Ryan

    “Robin the Unemployed” is ‘spot on’.

    Small autonomous groups, co-ordinated, rostering skills or labour, shared hours and shared benefits

    without need for endless meetings. Paid co-ordinators is an avenue of employment for young and old.

  • Middle class

    The middle class greatly outnumbers the small group that stands to capitalize off of the absence of human workers. Billions are being invested in advancing this technology for the sole purpose of maximizing profits. I will fight before I accept living a life where the posibility prosperity and a better life isn’t possible. I wont live in a world where I’m given the bare minimum absent of a purpose while a small group lives In luxury robbing the dreams of our children. This is our country, these technologies were funded using our tax dollars! We won’t accept living a life of a zoo animal. If we are forced to live in a life of nothing than so should guys like Elon Musk. IT wont happen in the United States without an American Revolution.

  • Martin Gibson

    The drive behind economic activity since the first stick was used to reach higher up the fruit tree has been to leverage human effort with tools, and in the process to do more with less. That will not change, but it leads inevitably to automation and the ability to produce more that we need to live and more people than we need to produce it, resulting in more leisure time for one and all.

    What we do with that leisure is up to each of us. Some people such as Mr. Musk have chosen to use it for fun and profit by working in technology. The purpose of technology is not to maximize profits, but to enhance orderly control of the process of making, selling and distributing stuff, some of which is for basic survival and some of which is for play.

    I see a UBI as an inevitable part of that technological process, designed to someday give every citizen enough money for basic survival and some play, without limiting their ability and opportunities to use their time for other ventures, self employed or working with others, for fun, helping others or for entrepreneurial efforts that result in becoming the next Elon Musk. I don’t see it as preventing life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness in any way, in fact it will enhance it for those who are currently under or unemployed and are constantly trying to make ends meet and along with some other innovations will help smooth out the ups and downs of the business cycle.

  • It is very hard to think about.

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