In his Harvard University commencement speech Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg advocated for exploring a system in which all people receive a standard salary just for being alive, no questions asked.
The system is known as “universal basic income,” and it’s one of the trendiest economic theories of the last few years. Experiments in basic income have popped up in Kenya, the Netherlands, Finland, Canada, and San Francisco, California, among other places.
Basic income advocates say the changing nature of work — from human labor to artificially-intelligent robots — combined with rising wealth inequality signal the need for an overhaul of how money is distributed.
“We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful,” Zuckerberg told the crowd. “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.”
The announcement is Zuckerberg’s first public endorsement of the idea, which makes him somewhat late to the party as Silicon Valley goes. Tech executives including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Y Combinator President Sam Altman, and even Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes (now running a basic income fund called The Economic Security Project), have endorsed basic income.
Many point to the economic forecasts that find robots will displace much of the human workforce in the coming decades. A report from Oxford University in 2013, for instance, found 50% of jobs could get taken over within the next 10 to 20 years — a prediction backed up in a McKinsey report released in 2015, which suggested today’s technology could feasibly replace 45% of jobs right now.
“As our technology keeps on evolving, we need a society that is more focused on providing continuous education through our lives,” Zuckerberg told the crowd. “And yes, giving everyone the freedom to pursue purpose isn’t going to be free. People like me should pay for it, and a lot of you are going to do really well and you should, too.”