Life with A.I.

Billionaire Richard Branson: America should give out free cash to fix income inequality

Sir Richard Branson.
Cameron Costa | CNBC

One solution to income inequality is giving out free cash, according to the British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson.

“A basic income should be introduced in Europe and in America,” Branson told David Gelles of The New York Times.

Branson was responding to the question, “What do you think those in positions of power should do to address social problems like income inequality?”

In a report published in January, the global charity Oxfam found that 82 percent of the growth in global wealth in the previous year went to the top 1 percent of individuals ranked by riches. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent had no increase in their wealth, the report says.

“It’s a disgrace to see people sleeping on the streets with this material wealth all around them,” Branson said.

A universal basic income, as it's known, is a cash payment distributed to residents irrespective of their employment status.

Elon Musk: Robots will take your jobs, government will have to pay your wage
Elon Musk: Robots will take your jobs, government will have to pay your wage

Further, there are other reasons for cash handouts, according to Branson.

“I think with artificial intelligence coming along, there needs to be a basic income,” said Branson.

Gelles asked whether that's because robots will replace human jobs. “Because of job displacement?” Gelles asked.

“I think AI will result in there being less hours in the day that people are going to need to work,” Branson said. “You know, three-day workweeks and four-day weekends. Then we’re going to need companies trying to entertain people during those four days, and help people make sure that they’re paid a decent amount of money for much shorter work time.”

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has also said that AI will eventually mean less time spent working.

"[C]ertainly we can look forward to the idea that vacations will be longer at some point," Gates told FOX Business Network at the World Economic Forum in January.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence will make humans more productive, says Gates, which is generally a good thing.

A $1,000 per month cash handout would grow the economy
A $1,000 per month cash handout would grow the economy

"The purpose of humanity is not just to sit behind a counter and sell things. More free time is not a terrible thing," he said.

The interview with The New York Times published Friday is not the first time Branson has talked about automation necessitating a universal basic income.

"With the acceleration of [artificial intelligence] and other new technology ... the world is changing fast," Branson wrote on his blog in August.

"A lot of exciting new innovations are going to be created, which will generate a lot of opportunities and a lot of wealth, but there is a real danger it could also reduce the amount of jobs," he said.

"This will make experimenting with ideas like basic income even more important in the years to come."

A report from the McKinsey Global Institute confirms the idea that automation will cause major disruption to the job market globally. By 2030, 75 million workers around the globe will need to change occupational category due to automation, according to the December 2017 study, and 400 million jobs could be potentially displaced. The McKinsey Global estimates are based on analysis of 46 countries that include 90 percent of global gross domestic product and a mid level pace of adoption of automation.

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