During a recent appearance in South Africa, former President Barack Obama called on world leaders to back the idea of a universal basic income to address wealth inequality.

“It’s not just money that a job provides. It provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose. So we’re gonna have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, like a universal income,” Obama said on Tuesday. “We’re gonna have to worry about economics if we want to get democracy back on track.

As more and more industries opt for automation as a way of increasing efficiency while decreasing costs, basic income could be a way for Americans to be able to maintain a respectable standard of living even as their jobs are taken over by machines. As Grit Post previously reported, self-driving cars alone are estimated to replace approximately five million jobs in the near future. Venture capitalist Kai Fu Lee predicted that automation would eliminate roughly half of all jobs around the world just in the next decade.

Basic income is also not entirely foreign to the United States. Alaska has had a successful version of basic income for decades, due to a fund created with taxes on oil companies operating in the state. In 2015, all Alaskans got more than $2,000 from the fund, just for living in Alaska. Economic studies have also shown that, contrary to some basic income opponents, providing a guaranteed income doesn’t disincentivize people from working.

“We’re gonna have to be more imaginative,” Obama said during his speech at the 2018 Nelson Mandela lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa. “The pace of change is going to require us to do more fundamental re-imaging of our social and political arrangements to protect the economic security and the dignity that comes with a job.”

Obama also called for the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, using his own example of how people with a much higher share of the wealth should be asked to contribute a higher percentage toward making sure people are cared for, and funding infrastructure like universal healthcare.

“Right now I’m actually surprised by how much money I’ve got. And let me tell you, I don’t have half as much as most of these folks, or a tenth, or a hundredth,” the former president said candidly, to loud applause. “There’s only so much you can eat. There’s only so big a house you can have. There’s only so many nice trips you can take. I mean, it’s enough. You don’t have to take a vow of poverty just to say, ‘let me help out a little.’ ”

Click here to watch Obama’s full speech.


Logan Espinoza is a freelance contributor specializing in economic issues. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and daughter. Contact him at logan DOT espinoza AT yahoo DOT com.

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