The Universal Basic Income concept has been around for a long time and seems to have significant support from both sides of the political spectrum. But we only seem to have a precious few times it has been tried—even on a small scale.

Why hasn't the Universal Basic Income been tried (or experimented with) more often than it has been?

Disclosure: A similar question was written by a different user and deleted after I had written my answer.

  • 2
    The most obvious answer is economic: it is very expensive. So expensive that, even if the long term benefits were significant, doing the experiments to prove that on a large scale would be out of reach for most governments.
    – matt_black
    Feb 14, 2017 at 10:31
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    I don't know where you got the idea that this has significant support from both sides of the political spectrum.
    – jalynn2
    Feb 14, 2017 at 13:55
  • @jalynn2 If you go far enough to the side the sides become small and within those small sides there is support ;-)
    – gerrit
    Feb 14, 2017 at 16:55
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    Can you add links that show that it has support from 'both sides of the political spectrum'? Feb 14, 2017 at 22:49

3 Answers 3


It is hard to experiment with a Universal Basic Income because of its inherently universal nature.

One argument for UBI is that it replaces existing welfare systems such as unemployment benefits and state pensions. The implementation of existing welfare systems is often on a national level. The benefit of reduced bureaucracy is lost when implemented on a smaller level.

UBI is hard to combine with freedom of movement. It is typically limited to citizens, which is an inherently national concept. There may not be the bureaucracy in place to replace one system by another only for "citizens" of a particular city.

UBI may require the government to raise more taxes than it currently does. Taxes are often decided nationally. Whether taxes are raised based on income, capital, or production, any of those are more likely to move between cities than between countries.

Another argument is that the government may stimulate consumption by enriching the poor; the argument is that the poor are more likely to spend extra money entering their bank accounts. However, this Keynesian effect of economic stimulation only works on a large scale; within smaller economic units, economic stimulation may not work because money can more easily flow out of the system.

None of those objections are insurmountable, but they are all practical hurdles that might limit the ability of local governments to experiment with UBI.


One potential reason for it is change. We've never been at a point where we can envision a world so automated that there might not be a need for certain kinds of labor, and the elimination of that kind of labor (manual manufacturing and assembly work, the need for truck drivers to haul goods, etc) would not see a commensurate shift to other types of labor needs. So, as a human society, where so much of the emphasis has been on preparing and improving the productivity of the workforce, and people's lives center around the labor they contribute to economies, what do you do when you don't NEED everyone to work?

While the idea may have been around for a while, it was probably deemed impractical due to the existing paradigms. Now we're reached a point we have to figure out how the future will look with drastically altered paradigms, so it's being looked at with different eyes or perspective.

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    Without disagreeing with the content, this is more an answer to "Why should we do more experiments" (which BTW, would be an off-topic question) than an answer to the OP question.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 14, 2017 at 16:59
  • @SJuan76 - "Why hasn't it been done more before?" "Not nearly the potential need/urgency" seems to very directly answer the basic question. Feb 14, 2017 at 17:07

UBI isn't actually something that needs to be widely tested for people to understand the mechanics behind it - the majority of people seem to have rejected the idea on the basis of political and academic research.1

Similar welfare schemes have existed in many countries where a minimum income is guaranteed to everyone, and a lot of people may see providing free money to people who are financially secure to be bizarre.2

There's also the cultural issues surrounding UBI. In certain cultures, a strong desire to avoid using charitable/welfare services may allow for extravagant welfare systems to flourish, but in other cultures where a strong desire to avoid charitable/welfare systems doesn't exist, there might be good reason to limit welfare. 3

For example, many people in Australia/Canada/Europe take offense at the idea of large tracts of muslims/minorities living on welfare in their segregated 'muslim' ghettos, and call for a limitation of muslim migration and a reduction of welfare benefits. 4 and 5

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    Have any of the points you made actually been stated by any actual political decision makers as arguments against basic income experiments?
    – Philipp
    Feb 14, 2017 at 15:44
  • I updated the text with some citations.
    – gayhindu
    Feb 14, 2017 at 16:19
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    All the "citations" you added are just opinionated blog posts written by random commentators.
    – Philipp
    Feb 14, 2017 at 16:52

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