Why has there been so much talk about a universal basic income?

Although the theme is not new, there has never been so much talk about universal basic income as in recent days. Motivated mainly by the creation of the Basic Emergency Income (RBE) due to the economic impact caused by the coronavirus to many Brazilian families.

Its concept, in general, is that all people would have the right to a minimum income to survive, regardless of their economic or social situation.

Universal Basic Income is seen as a solution to several current problems. 

From conservatives to liberals, there are points of convergence and also of divergences when it comes to universal basic income. Some argue that the market would be strengthened and people would have more freedom to decide what they would do with their money. Others argue that it is the best way to reduce social inequalities and eradicate, once and for all, poverty .

Influential people in the world, like Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook creator, Elon Musk – Tesla CEO and Angus Deaton – Nobel Prize in Economics, defend the institution of a universal basic income. Mainly based on the forecast of extinction of several jobs that will soon be replaced by technology.

However, there are those who say that the measure would be expensive for the State and that many people would stop working or spend that amount on drugs and alcohol. From another angle, this would be a way of guaranteeing the minimum of well-being and dignity to all individuals, with greater opportunities to become professional, for example. Another benefit would be the emancipation of countless women who live abusive relationships due to the financial dependence of their partners. A basic income would also contribute to facing situations of violence against women .

How would a universal basic income work?

A universal basic income has the following characteristics:

  • Universal: all citizens must receive income, regardless of their social class, origin, sex or age;
  • Unconditional: there are no conditionalities as in Bolsa Família . The individual may, for example, have a job and still receive basic income;
  • It supplies the expenses with all the basic necessities like, food, health, education and housing;
  • It is financed by the State;
  • It has regularity – the transfer of the minimum income can be, for example, monthly or yearly.

Is Basic Universal Income already used in any country?

The discussion around Universal Basic Income is old. To give you an idea, it has been used by Alaska since 1982. There is a fund that is maintained by the country’s mining and oil activities and it is this revenue that finances the basic income of its inhabitants.

Tests are being prepared and carried out in different parts of the world, as in the case of Finland, Holland, Ontario (Canada), Barcelona (Spain), United Kingdom, India and Italy.

There are also non-governmental initiatives that are experiencing Universal Basic Income. This is the case of the companies Y Combinator and Give Directly that test, respectively, in Oakland (California) and Kenya.

Historian Rutger Bregman, in his book Utopia for realists , brings a series of experiences that demonstrate that when people receive money, most of the time, they do not waste it, but use it in the pursuit of their dreams. According to a survey conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), even with monthly assistance, people are still looking for a job.

In practice, there are more experiments than actual evidence on the functioning of a universal basic income. In many countries where the measure was adopted, its concept has been modified over time and has undermined a concrete assessment of its applicability.

The truth is that, in the face of pandemic scenarios and the replacement of the workforce by technology, Universal Basic Income has never been so considered.

Difference between Universal Basic Income and Emergency Basic Income

Due to the coronavirus crisis, several countries are adopting the transfer of an emergency income to the most affected families. This is the case in Brazil, which on April 1, approved Bill No. 873 of 2020 that creates the Basic Emergency Income ( RBE ) in cases of epidemic and pandemic.

RBE, unlike Universal Basic Income, has a deadline to end – 3 months – and is aimed only at a group of people who meet certain conditions. In addition, the amount to be transferred varies between R $ 600 and R $ 1,200, which makes it impossible to meet all the basic needs of a family .

To receive the RBE, the following must be observed:

  • Informal workers registered in the Single Registry are the main beneficiaries;
  • The receipt of aid is limited to two members per family. Since, if any of them receive Bolsa Família, they should choose only one of the benefits;
  • RBE will be granted only to individuals where:
    • per capita monthly income is up to half a minimum wage;
    • family income is up to three minimum wages.


Although the Basic Emergency Income is not the same as the Universal Basic Income, many believe that the RBE can become, at some point, a universal income.

In fact, this is an old project by ex-senator Eduardo Suplicy who, in 2004, obtained approval from the Federal Congress, but was blocked by the Executive Branch. Since then, Suplicy has been spreading the idea of ​​Universal Basic Income through books and lectures around the world.

Regardless of the development of the Basic Emergency Income in Brazil, an alert was triggered so that we can take advantage of this opportunity and evaluate the possibility of a universal basic income in the country for the coming years. Why not?


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