Give People Money

After finishing Rutger Bregman’s Utopia For Realists last week, I wanted to dive deeper into the concept of universal basic income (UBI). So naturally I turned to Annie Lowrey‘s Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World, a book I picked up about a year ago. It’s a compact book, at just over 200 pages, but it packs a wealth of information into those pages.

Annie begins Give People Money from a standpoint of skepticism, voicing the many concerns people espouse when confronted with the idea of a UBI. How could it actually help people? Wouldn’t they just spend the extra money on vices as opposed to real needs? Wouldn’t it discourage people from actually working? How is it fair for everyone else who works hard? And those questions notwithstanding, even if we enacted a UBI, how would we pay for it?

As Annie describes in the early chapters, she wasn’t necessarily in favor of a UBI when she first learned about it a few years ago. But she was intrigued, and this curiosity led her down a path towards the truth. She traveled the world to learn more about how UBI has worked in practice – from a small village in Kenya to a poor area in India, from parts of Finland to the state of Alaska here in the USA. She also explores the many ways our current financial and welfare systems fail people, leaving millions in poverty. Sure, we have different forms of aid, both internal and international, yet do they do enough to help the poorest people? The short answer is no.

Give People Money doesn’t spend too much time on past attempts at UBI or great thinkers’ theories on the subject, in contrast to the chapters dedicated to UBI in Rutger Bregman’s Utopia For Realists. Instead, Annie Lowrey is focused on the present, its practical effects, and what the future holds for us. It’s no secret that jobs are being automated, thanks to the rise of artificial intelligence, and it’s just a matter of time before there’s not enough work to go around. Indeed, some industries are already there. It’s also clear that certain groups of people are hit harder by our economies and inadequate welfare systems than others – see chapters on nonwhites and women, for example.

As Annie discovered through the course of her research, and as she details so clearly in Give People Money, a universal basic income would solve many of our financial issues. Of course, it would most benefit those who are poor or in poverty, and it would improve upon the complicated and restrictive welfare options we currently offer. It would also serve as a safety net for those whose jobs are on the way out, for people who face periods of unemployment, for those who want to pursue an education, raise kids, or care for their family.

All of this lays a compelling case in favor of universal basic income. Annie reaches a conclusion that UBI would streamline and improve things for our nations – especially for those in most need – and the reader will likely agree with that assessment. So, now for the elephant in the room: How would a nation pay for it?

The final chapter of the book tackles that question, presenting various ideas for how it could be funded without raising our taxes (at least, not by much). However, these are just options, and it doesn’t end with an obvious winner. But that Annie presents different ideas shows that UBI can be funded; we as a nation just need to decide which is the best path to get there.

Give People Money is a well-researched, well-written book that makes a strong case for universal basic income. It’s informative and offers plenty of real-world examples, and it asks a lot of the questions readers will likely wonder about. Perhaps most convincing about it is how Annie Lowrey comes at it from a critical standpoint. She’s not pushing her own agenda on the reader; instead, she comes to conclusions as the reader does.

If you have any interest in universal basic income – whether you’re for it, against it, or unsure of your position – Give People Money is a great place to learn more. Annie Lowrey may confirm your stance, change your mind, or simply give you more to mull over, but it will certainly provide you with a lot more to inform your opinions. It’s a great book, and one I recommend to anyone looking to improve our economies and help those who need it most.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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