he 20th century income distribution system has broken down irretrievably. The world is witnessing an unprecedented wave of scientific and technological progress in digitalisation, robotics, artificial intelligence and genomics, to name the most relevant. This new era is termed the 4th industrial revolution and it is challenging the sustainability of employment and the social organisation of work. Some studies point out that around 47% of current jobs will disappear in the next decade or two. This future scenario is attracting increasing attention from policymakers, business, academia and civil society all over the world, as the social organisation of the current capitalist system is under threat.
Increasing levels of inequality and unemployment are already a reality in most places, seriously affecting the social cohesion in cities, regions and countries. The income of the precariat is falling and becoming more volatile. And chronic insecurity will not be overcome by minimum wage laws, tax credits, means-tested benefits or workfare. Numerous striking questions arise. Will new technologies not only destroy but help create jobs in the long run? What will local, regional and national governments do in order to guarantee access to basic services? Will we get our retirement subsidy? What is the role of the private sector and civil society? Can we find new governance mechanisms to address these challenges?
Cities have become not just the place where the majority of the world’s population live, but also the nest for scalable innovations and experimental policies. Some cities are deploying pilots for testing the feasibility of a universal basic income (UBI), a fixed monthly income that all citizens would receive, unconditionally, regardless of their social status and economic income level. They argue that this scheme would guarantee social cohesion by safeguarding access to basic services, eliminate transaction costs around bureaucracies, and foster entrepreneurship, innovation and consumption. Is this an old idea whose time has come?
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