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Why Pope Francis is pushing for universal basic income

The policy could help ease poverty in Asia, where about 60 percent of people do not fall under any form of social protection

Why Pope Francis is pushing for universal basic income

A slum area of Philippine capital Manila. According to the World Bank, over 20 million people in Asia have been pushed into poverty and 100 million dislocated due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: AFP)

Workers across the world are looking forward to the day capitalism takes the road of human equity with universal basic income (UBI), which would give them much-needed succor after the trial by fire of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pope Francis is among the world’s economists, thinkers and billionaires who support UBI as a way of altering the relationship between capital and labor, the two main pillars of the laissez-faire system that wants to keep the government outside all capitalist activities.

The relation between capital and labor cannot be the same once UBI becomes a policy, promising every adult — rich and poor, working and non-working — a regular income from the state.

High-profile policymakers have concluded that after disruptive digital technologies become part of and parcel of social life in the new norm of the post-Covid-19 world, privatization of profit and socialization of loss will not go in tandem in the long run.

In the coming years, artificial intelligence, robotics and automation will render the toiling human capital redundant worldwide.

Cars and trucks without drivers will reduce millions of jobs in transportation, while national armies will be replaced by a sea of autonomous drones and, eventually, actors will be shown the door and movie production will thrive without much human labor.

By 2030, the talk of the town will be the automation of operations.

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, among the elites of the world, Milton Friedman and Thomas Paine, among thinkers, and Pope Francis, among spiritual leaders, have put their trust in UBI.

Other fans of UBI include Nobel economics laureates Peter Diamond and Christopher Pissarides, tech czars like Mark Zuckerberg and billionaire oligarchs like Elon Musk.

In his recently published book, the pope renewed his pledge to UBI after the pandemic exacerbated the rift between people and technology and between the haves and the have-nots.

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In Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, co-written with Briton Austen Ivereigh, Pope Francis strongly advocates a basic income.

“The UBI could reshape relations in the labor market, guaranteeing people the dignity of refusing employment terms that trap them in poverty,” Pope Francis wrote.

Those who cite UBI as the key catalyst to the technology-driven transition go to the extent of saying that if the top 1,000 transnational companies are fairly taxed, a modest UBI for people across the world is a possibility.

In Western cities where UBI has successfully been implemented, the working population has welcomed the modern version of England’s Poor Law.

They see UBI paving the way for the abolition of “wage slavery” to which the working professionals are unknowingly tied to.

Now that the pandemic has disrupted the global economy, UBI has returned from the fringes to the mainstream.

Pope Francis is actively pushing it because the poor are at the center of his pontificate. For him, a Catholic Church that does not speak and act for the poor of the world is no church at all.

Social protection in Asia

Decades of unequal economic growth, marked by severe exploitation, recurring financial crises and the launch of disruptive digital technologies and ecological disasters, have exhausted the Asian workforce as their bargaining power has diminished.

Due to this, Asia perennially remains the hub for cheap labor for the world economy. The pandemic has added salt to these wounds.

Experts say that welfare schemes and subsidies rolled out by Asian governments can be converted into UBI. According to them, these sops currently end up in the hands of the relatively rich or are pilfered by middlemen.

They put forth UBI as an effective poverty-eradication tool in Asia, where about 60 percent of inhabitants do not fall under any form of social protection.

Since the pandemic has further drained their resources, the economic toll is expected to be astronomically high in post-pandemic Asia.

According to the World Bank, over 20 million people in Asia have been pushed into poverty and 100 million dislocated due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Human Development Index measuring income, health and education has reached an all-time low in Asia since records began in 1990.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, 80 percent of students in Asia do not have access to education as a result of the pandemic.

While mooting UBI for Asia as a panacea, a few tips can be obtained from Spain, which has launched the largest test yet of UBI.

On June 15 last year, hit by the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout, the EU member state offered monthly payments of up to €1,015 (US$1,145) to Spain's 850,000 poorest households. It will cost the state exchequer at least €3 billion per year.

Before the Spanish rollout, the biggest trial was done in Kenya, which allocated 2,250 Kenyan shillings ($21) to 2,100 adults.

Many nations have experimented with UBI. But the schemes were limited to a few thousands of people. Scotland and Canada are mulling the possibility of UBI to tide over hardships caused by the pandemic.

It is not that UBI is a novel concept in Asia. UBI has already gained momentum in South Korea and has become a major poll plank among politicians.

Championed first by Gyeonggi province governor and presidential hopeful Lee Jae-Myung, UBI was quickly hijacked by presidential contenders from all sides.

India tried UBI in small projects with encouraging results in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. A limited version of UBI came up in India when main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi pledged to create "the world's largest minimum income scheme" if his party triumphed in elections.

Gandhi promised the poorest 20 percent of households 72,000 rupees ($1,050) per year as part of the proposed Nyay (justice) scheme.

The post-pandemic world calls for a new social contract to rebalance deep economic inequalities and build a sustainable future across societies.

For the upcoming fourth industrial revolution to take root in the largest continent, which is home to 60 percent of humanity, those rendered jobless by disrupting technologies would have to be given an economic chance to get on with their lives.

With the rollout of UBI worldwide, “human capitalism” that is inclusive of the poor will take birth in the world.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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