VIDEO: Europe’s largest startup conference holds panel on basic income

VIDEO: Europe’s largest startup conference holds panel on basic income

Universal basic income (UBI) was a topic of discussion at Europe’s largest annual startup conference, Slush, which convened in Helsinki from November 30 to December 1.

A roundtable (or, more accurately, round-fire) discussion held on the second day of the conference, titled “Basic income – Our next moonshot”, featured three advocates of basic income: Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures, who has prominently promoted basic income as a response to automation; Matt Krisiloff of Y Combinator, who is a research director of the firm’s basic income pilot in Oakland, California; and Roope Mokka of Demos Helsinki, who wrote an article calling basic income “the moonshot of our generation”.

The discussion covered advantages of basic income, as well as potential hurdles in its acceptance and implementation. Wenger emphasized the potential for UBI to promote entrepreneurship, branding it as “seed money for the people”. Mokka, while agreeing that UBI “has to happen”, added that society additionally needs to conceive of new ways in which individuals can relate to society in a world with much less work for them to do. Krisiloff suggested that, rather than implementing a UBI all at once, it would more feasible to introduce a UBI gradually in a country like the United States, due to the cultural opposition to giving people “money for nothing”.

Two attendees, Sharetribe CMO Sjoerd Handgraaf and tech journalist Derek du Preez, have written summaries of the conversation with brief commentary:

Derek du Preez (December 2, 2016) “Slush 2016 – Universal Basic Income ‘has to happen’,” diginomica.

Sjoerd Handgraaf (December 2, 2016) “Universal Basic Income @ SLUSH 2016,” Medium.

Slush states that its mission is “to help the next generation of great, world-conquering companies forward.” This year, the non-profit event was attended by an estimated 17,500 individuals from 124 countries.


Watch the 30-minute fireside chat

YouTube player


Reviewed by Genevieve Shanahan 

Slush photo CC BY-NC-2.0 Taloudellinen tiedotustoimisto

SWITZERLAND: Future of Work conference videos online

SWITZERLAND: Future of Work conference videos online

The Future of Work congress was held in Zurich on May 4, 2016 to discuss ways to adjust society in the face of rapid technological change — including, especially, basic income.

Britain’s RSA (Royal Society of Arts) has now uploaded a complete video of the conference.

Moreover, Neopolis has made videos of particular sessions available on YouTube. Keynote addresses available for online viewing include those of former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis, former US Secretary of Labor Robert ReichMIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson, and the RSA’s Direct of Policy and Strategy Anthony Painter

Panel discussions include the Experiments Panel (Guy Standing, Michael Faye of GiveDirectly, Ville-Veikko Pulkka of Kela, Amira Jehia of Mein Grundeinkommen), Labor Panel, (Andy Stern, Nell Abernathy, Vania Alleva, Dorian Warren), and Entrepreneurs Panel (Albert Wenger, Natalie Foster, Robin Chase, Betsy Masiello).

What is the Role of Education in a “Jobless Future”?

What is the Role of Education in a “Jobless Future”?

If we are indeed approaching a jobless future, then our institutions of education must accommodate: schooling must be rethought to prepare people to live fulfilling and productive lives outside of paid employment.

This is the real lesson to take away from a recent blog post by Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in which he imagines the role of education in a future society — or a not-so-future society — in which machines have assumed most of the jobs, and a universal basic income provides a modicum of security to keep displaced workers off the streets.

Tucker imagines the techno-utopian vision of the future made popular by the basic income advocates of Silicon Valley (he cites Y Combinator’s Sam Altman and Matt Krisloff, along with Union Square Ventures’ Albert Wenger) and raises what is, to be sure, an important question: “What should those of us in the education community make of all this?”

It is worth quoting Tucker’s own reply at length, as it falls widely off the mark — and, in doing so, reveals a need for basic income proponents to be clearer, and more emphatic, about the role that education could play in a future society with fewer jobs and no need to work for living:

Consider what the educator might have to do if this vision of automated life comes to pass. We would be sorting students into two bins, one bin for the few masters of the universe who get the great jobs, create the future and amass enough money to make sure that it is their children who succeed them and not the children of the others who are not as fortunate as they to be in the driver’s seat when the ball got rolling. And then there will be the bin for the others, who really do not need all those wonderful skills that the masters of the universe need, because they will not need to earn a living and will not have an opportunity to gain the dignity that comes with paid work.

And how will we decide which bin to put each child into? We could do it on “merit,” but, given the overwhelming advantages enjoyed by the master class, we might just as well tell them that their children will automatically be assigned to an education designed to prepare them for the jobs their parents have.

In limning this dystopian vision, it seems that Tucker continues to cling to the very presupposition that must be rejected — that the main role of education is to prepare students for careers in paid employment.

Instead, in a society with mass automation and universal basic income, educational institutions could and should foster (gasp) learning, rather than merely existing to provide students with the credentials necessary to receive a job. Schools could return to a greater emphasis on the liberal arts — engendering students’ thirst for knowledge for its own sake — and even the arts proper. More classes could introduce service learning components, encouraging students to take an avid interest in helping to improve their communities. And, yes, schools could continue to include substantial components in STEM: many students display a nascent interest in designing new inventions, learning about modern technologies, or writing their own computer code, for instance, that emerges long before they begin to worry about what job they would need to afford a nice house in the suburbs. A school that fails to motivate students to acquire and produce knowledge, except insofar as they come to believe it necessary to obtain a well-paying job, is a school that has failed in its most fundamental purpose.

And we can, of course, cast aside the nonsense about sorting students into bins: all students deserve education in the sciences, humanities, and arts — all students deserve a chance to make valuable contributions to culture, society, and their local communities — irrespective of their eventual job prospects, all the more so when students will be liberated to pursue a multitude of projects beyond the confines of paid employment.

If Tucker’s point is that such education would be economically useless and so fall by the wayside, he misses the central point that, in such a society, economic concerns will no longer hold such sway over our lives.

Basic income advocates have not been silent on the topic of education — and, where they have addressed the matter, their words resonate with the points I have raised above.

For example, consider the views of two of the idea’s most prominent advocates: the economist Guy Standing, Professor at SOAS, University of London, and cofounder of Basic Income Earth Network; and the young Dutch journalist Rutger Bregman, whose book Utopia for Realists has done much to popularize the idea in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

In his two important and influential books on the precariat, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class and The Precariat Charter, Standing stresses the need to return “Enlightenment values” to education:

The neo-liberal state has been transforming school systems to make them a consistent part of the market society, pushing education in the direction of ‘human capital’ formation and job preparation. It has been one of the ugliest aspects of globalisation.

Through the ages education has been regarded as a liberating, questioning, subversive process by which the mind is helped to develop nascent capacities. The essence of the Enlightenment was that the human being could shape the world and refine himself or herself through learning and deliberation. In a market society, that role is pushed into the margins. (The Precariat, p. 68)

Education is supposed to provide a road to wisdom and to stimulate curiosity, ethical values and creativity. Instead, as the number put through education grow globally, for more and more people it is just about preparing them for jobs and competing for jobs. Education is a public good. That is under threat. Enlightenment values at the heart of education must be revived, giving more scope for health non-conformism and the learning of ethics, empathy and morality. (The Precariat Charter, p. 293)

In a similar vein, Bregman devotes a section of Utopia for Realists to criticizing contemporary debates about education for invariably revolving around the question “Which knowledge and skills do today’s students need to get hired in tomorrow’s job market – the market of 2030?” This, he says, “is precisely the wrong question”:

In point of fact, we should be posing a different question altogether: Which knowledge and skills do we want our children to have in 2030? Then, instead of anticipating and adapting, we’d be focusing on steering and creating. Instead of wondering what we need to do to make a living, in this or that bullshit job, we could ponder how we want to make a living. (p. 136)

In laying the groundwork for a “utopia” with a basic income and 15-hour work week, Bregman sees the institution of education as existing to prepare students “not only for the job market but, more fundamentally, for life.” (p. 137)

There is a need for proponents of universal basic income to be more vocal in expressing such visions — or demands — for reforming the education system.

For one, a new vision for education can be wielded to address one deplorably common concern raised in criticisms of universal basic income — that, without a job, individuals would find their lives meaningless and valueless. Indeed, elsewhere in the same blog, Tucker states:

If the people rebelling now feel that they have been cast aside, just wait until they are told that their services are no longer needed and government will take care of them with a handout. As I see it, the most devastating aspect of the condition of many people now out of work is the damage to their self-respect, their image of themselves as contributors to their family and their community, the kind of self-respect that comes from the dignity conferred by work that is valued by the community.

Perhaps the very problem here is that our educational institutions have not adequately prepared workers to lead lives as valuable and productive citizens outside of the bounds of a job.

Marc Tucker, “Paying People Not to Work,” Education Week, June 4, 2016.

Thanks for Genevieve Shanahan for reviewing a draft of this article.

Thanks to my supporters on Patreon. (To see how you too can support my work for Basic Income News, click the link.)

Switzerland’s Basic Income Referendum: A Retrospective

On Sunday, June 5, the Swiss people voted down the following referendum:

The initiative proposes to insert the following article in the federal constitution:

1. The government will provide a basic income.

2. The basic income will allow the people to live in a dignified manner and participate in public life.

3. Legislation will determine the funding for the system and the actual amount of the basic income.

Although the referendum met defeat, June 5, 2016 will be remembered as a watershed date in the history of the basic income movement — marking the first time that basic income has been submitted to direct democracy.

The Swiss popular initiative deserves accolades not only for making basic income a point of serious discussion in Switzerland but also for propelling the idea into the global spotlight.

This article looks back at highlights of the campaign previously featured in Basic Income News.

The Swiss popular initiative for an unconditional basic income was launched in March 2012. By October 2013, the campaign had collected 125,000 signatures — more than enough to guarantee that a national referendum would be held on the issue.

The Swiss Parliament voted on the initiative in September 2015, rejecting it 146 to 14 (with 12 abstentions). After this, a popular vote was scheduled.

Since its beginning, Switzerland’s basic income movement has employed novel and creative tactics to garner publicity. In October 2013, after the successful collection of signatures, campaigners flooded the ground outside of the Federal Palace in Bern eight million coins — one for every person in Switzerland.

Coins poured outside of the Federal Palace in Bern

Money flowed outside of the Federal Palace in Bern

The months leading up to the popular vote brought a string of new clever demonstrations.

Basic income advocates dressed as robots danced at Davos in January, during the World Economy Forum, and marched through the streets of Zurich in April.


In May, supporters of the referendum created the world’s largest poster, officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, which was broadcast in Times Square in New York City and later taken on tour to Berlin.

Biggest question in the world

Biggest question in the world

Finally, less than two weeks before the vote, a pro-UBI group gave away Switzerland’s first crowdfunded basic income to a randomly selected participant, and is currently raising money on its website for another basic income raffle.

However, the basic income movement comprised far more than flashy demonstrations and publicity stunts. It also ushered in much serious discussion of basic income, bringing internationally-known scholars, researchers, and political figures into the fold.

For instance, in the month prior to the vote, major conferences on basic income convened in Switzerland. The Future of Work Conference, held on May 4 in Zurich, featured keynote addresses by such noted individuals as Yanis Varoufakis (former Greek Minister of Finance), Robert Reich (former US Secretary of Labor), Erik Brynjolfsson (MIT economist), among others, as well as a series of panel discussions with equally impressive lists of participants (e.g., the Experiments Panel, Labor Panel, and Entrepreneurs Panel).

Additionally, on May 13, a UN-sponsored panel discussion on basic income was held at the Palace of Nations in Geneva. Thomas Vollmer from the Swiss Federal Social Insurance Office presented the government’s anti-UBI position, while BIEN members like Guy Standing and Ralph Kundig laid out the case in favor. (Click through the previous links for videos from the respective conferences, previously unpublished on Basic Income News.)

voting-for-freedom-195x300Switzerland’s basic income campaign — and the thoughts and questions behind it — also became the subject a new book, Voting for Freedom: The 2016 Swiss Referendum on Basic Income: A Milestone in the Advancement of Democracy.

In the book’s forward, venture capitalist Albert Wenger emphasizes the historical and global significance of the Swiss movement: “This vote represents a historic opportunity for social and economic progress. By embracing basic income in a peaceful vote, Switzerland could lead the way for others to follow.

Despite the ultimate failure of the referendum, the campaign has surely been a success for global basic income movement — where it will continue to inspire advocates and activists in other countries. Indeed, the campaign has already been the direct source of inspiration for a similar movement in Germany as well as one in Portugal.

In fact, despite the rejection of basic income on a federal level, the Swiss city of Lausanne might still proceed with its own basic income pilot.

Will Lausanne be the first Swiss city to test a BI? (Picture CC Alice)

Lausanne, Switzerland might still test BI (Credit: Alice)

One thing, for sure, is clear: thanks in large part to Switzerland, the world is now debating the merits of a basic income.

Glancing back at the few weeks prior to Sunday’s vote, we can quickly assemble an impressive list of international media outlets that published articles about the referendum: The BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The Independent, USA Today, Channel NewsAsia, CNN Money, Yahoo Finance, The Economic Times, CNBC, The Inquisitr, Tech Insider, Fortune, Express Tribune, Bloomberg, and AskMen, among many others.

No doubt the international conversation will continue and grow after the announcement of the results – and, although these results are negative, the campaign can surely count this a major success, and we basic income advocates throughout the world owe immense gratitude to the Swiss popular initiative.

Thanks to my supporters on Patreon. (To see how you too can support my work for Basic Income News, click the link.) 

SWITZERLAND: Book on Basic Income Referendum Published

On June 5th, the people of Switzerland will go to the polls to vote on a referendum to enact a basic income — marking the first time that a basic income has been submitted to the popular vote. Although the basic income initiative received little support in Parliament, about 40% of Swiss citizens support the referendum, according to a recent survey.

A new book, Voting for Freedom by Daniel Häni and Philip Kovce, lays out the arguments for a basic income in Switzerland, and explains why the referendum is a “milestone in the advancement of democracy.” 

41IfRO5Jd4LAs the book’s press release describes the basic income initiative, “The proposal creates new alliances and causes old ones to fall apart. The reason: Unconditional basic income asks the right questions.”

Daniel Häni was one of the instigators of the popular initiative for a basic income; he is also CEO and co-founder of unternehmen mitte, Switzerland’s largest coffee house. Philip Kovce is a freelance writer and a researcher that the Basler Philosophicum and Witten Institute of Economics and Philosophy, as well as a member of Think Tank 30.

Prominent venture capitalist Albert Wenger (partner of Union Square Ventures) writes the forward.

Thanks to my supporters on Patreon. (Click the link to see how you too can support my work for Basic Income News.)