Why giving everybody money could be good for education and innovation

So last weekend I went camping with a group of friends, sitting around the campfire with all the kids finally in bed, the wine flowed and the conversation went in strange directions and I found myself trying to explain why an idea from the Green party (see here) might not be quite as stupid as it at first seems.

Now its clearly silly season in EdTech (dont believe me check out this post) plus our summer upgrade and course rollover has gone swimmingly so I am going to be a bit frivolous this week and take up the argument I failed to make at 2am on Saturday morning (hey I was on the second bottle of wine – Im pleased I could make fully functioning sentences).

The Physical IllusionSo whats the idea?  Well its to give everyone in the country a “Citizens allowance” basically acknowledging they are human and part of society and it would be mean to let them starve to death.  Everyone gets it, without means testing, benefit forms etc etc from the person huddled in the shop doorway all the way up to the multi-millionaire in the penthouse.

So how does it work and how do you pay for it? Well the Green party doesn’t give many details, so here is a very back of the envelope estimate.  Lets say its £10,000 for each adult.

For the currently unemployed that’s roughly Unemployment benefit + Housing Benefit so lets say that its roughly cost neutral.  For others we currently get about £5,000 because the first 10K of earnings are not taxed, for the rest lets raise income tax by 20%.

  • Someone on minimum wage (£6) working 35 hours a week would be about £3,000 better off (Total income would be about £15K vs £12K).
  • Someone on the (mean) average salary of £26,000 wouldn’t gain or lose – £10K citizen allowance vs £5k tax free and £5K extra tax(26 x 20%)
  • Someone on £50K would be about £5K worse off.

(as a rule of thumb it works out for every £1000 below 26K you gain £200, for every £1000 above you lose £200).  It would make society more equal moving money from the rich to the poor (this is considered by some to be good for society as a whole – see “The Spirit Level“).  You could also make the argument that it would be good for the economy because poor people tend to spend money and rich people save it, spending money boosts the economy.

What if everybody did nothing! it would be a disaster the economy would plummet society would fail and everyone would starve, but as every person that decided to do less/nothing would see an immediate fall in their income it is unlikely that many people would do this.  Similarly because anyone that started doing some/more work would see their income rise it is likely that replacements would be found for those that decided to do less work.

So why is it good for education?  Well because being educated is expensive both because you have to pay for the education and because for the hours you are learning you are not getting paid.  With a guaranteed minimum income more people would find the time to study either full time at the start of their career and/or off and on part time for the whole of their career (looked at over a life time, young poor uneducated you would be given money to learn, then later old rich educated you would pay out money).

What about innovation?  Well if you look at this Ted Talk

and then this one

You can see that the standard salaried job might be much rarer in the future, particularly the unskilled low education job.  What we will be looking for is inventive creative un-repetitive thinking and imagining.  Giving people the space (and the safety net) to try interesting ways to make a living will be essential and some will fail!  The more people we have spending time thinking (and sharing their thinking) the more successes society will have and the successes will more than pay for the failures.

This surge of inventive thinking will in turn feedback into a demand for more education (if your career involves thinking you will want to have as many “thinking tools” as you can get). It might even transform education because the paradigm will shift from

“Here are all the things you must learn in order to get a successful job, even if you are not interested in them”

Becoming instead

“You need to try to do brilliant things, what are you interested in? Ok here is what we can teach you about that”


So while at first glance it seems a rather daft idea and a lot of people will struggle to get past the “whats the point of giving everybody money?” stage.  Looked at in more detail it has promise and it is unusual ideas like this that will help us get though some of the changes in work that will be coming in the next 50 years (if you don’t think that anything weird is already happening to employment have a look at the % unemployment in Spain).


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