A radical way to spread wealth to more people is gaining traction among major US politicians

A radical form of wealth distribution has been gaining popularity over the past couple years.

It’s known as universal basic income, and it involves paying every citizen a standard amount of money just for being alive.

Advocates claim the system could help reduce poverty and stave off the threat of widespread unemployment due to job automation. Skeptics claim the idea would cause people to stop working, producing a lazy society that lacks community or drive.

Basic income is still a niche idea, but a handful of politicians have weighed in. Here’s how the conversation is taking shape.


Hillary Clinton

Clinton has flip-flopped on basic income over the last year.

Last summer, in an interview with LinkedIn Executive Editor Daniel Roth, she criticized it as a form of “just giving up and saying, ‘Okay, fine … the rest of us who are producing income, we’ve got to … distribute it and you don’t really have to do anything anymore.'”

Following the release of her book “What Happened,” however, Clinton told Vox that she’d considered a version of basic income for her presidential campaign. It was based on an Alaskan dividend fund that pays residents about $1,000 a year.

Ultimately, she scrapped the idea because it raised a host of questions that would be difficult to reconcile with other aspects of campaign.


Barack Obama

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REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Last June, President Obama spoke with Bloomberg about the solutions America may need to consider if robots end up displacing huge swaths of the workforce.

“Because of automation, because of globalization, we’re going to have to examine the social compact,” Obama said. He hinted that basic income could be one possibility if enough people can’t make a living on work alone.

Separating the rise of automation from the obligation to keep people healthy and financially stable would be a huge misstep, Obama said. “It’s not an either-or situation. It’s a both-and situation.”


Joe Biden

The former vice president recently rejected basic income, recalling that his father taught him that a job is “about your dignity. It’s about your self-respect. It’s about your place in your community.”

“The theory is that automation will result in so many lost jobs that the only plausible answer is some type of guaranteed government check with no strings attached,” he wrote in a recent blog post. “I believe there is a better way forward. I believe we can – we must – build a future that puts work first.”


Bernie Sanders

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Scott Eisen/Getty Images

The senator from Vermont has addressed the question of his stance on basic income several times. On Reddit, Sanders said that government should help people maintain a minimum standard of living.

He said something similar in an interview with Vox Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein. He didn’t endorse or reject basic income explicitly, but said that he is “sympathetic” to the idea.

“That’s why I’m fighting for a $15 minimum wage, why I’m fighting to make sure that everybody in this country gets the nutrition they need, why I’m fighting to expand Social Security benefits and not cut them, making sure that every kid in this country regardless of income can go to college,” he said. “That’s what a civilized nation does.”


Chris Lee

Hawaii made waves in June when it passed the first piece of legislation aimed at exploring basic income.

The bill, HCR 89, directs the government “to convene a basic economic security working group,” a request that can be seen as the first tangible step toward a US basic income program. Lee, a Democratic state representative, said basic income could be useful in an automated world.

“Pursuing hard work enough to make a decent living no longer applies in an economy in which automation and innovation have taken that away from so many people,” he told Business Insider in July.