While delivering remarks Tuesday at the 16th annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg, Obama appeared to endorse the idea of creating a universal basic income, the policy where the government grants citizens a minimum annual income to live on.
“It’s not just money that a job provides,” Obama said in a portion of his speech devoted to economic policy. “It provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose. So we’re gonna have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, like a universal income.”
“It’s not just money that a job provides. It provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose. So we’re gonna have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, like a universal income.”
As recently as October 2016, Obama had expressed more skepticism about the idea of a UBI. In an interview with Wired at the time, Obama questioned whether a UBI could earn enough support from the American public.
“Whether a universal income is the right model — is it gonna be accepted by a broad base of people?” Obama said. “That’s a debate that we’ll be having over the next 10 or 20 years.”
UBI has long been a policy supported by some young progressives and left policy thinkers. It’s often discussed alongside or in place of a universal job guarantee — a policy that recently earned support among a number of presidential hopefuls including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
The city of Stockton, California, has committed to a groundbreaking new UBI pilot program that will offer low-income families a stipend of $500 per month.
And in Chicago, a majority of city lawmakers have signed onto a similar pilot plan they hope will soon receive support from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Now, with the possible backing of a former Democratic president, the idea of a government-provided basic income may begin to be pick up steam.