Speaking to students at a recent event, the chief economic advisor to the Government of Indiaexpressed support for a radical system of wealth distribution known as universal basic income.
Under the system, all citizens of a given society would receive a standard amount of money to ensure they could pay for essential items like food, clothing, and shelter.
If everyone had enough money to survive and contribute to society, the thinking goes, governments could eliminate poverty altogether.
Arvind Subramanian, speaking at an outreach event in the city of Bhubaneswar, fielded a student’s question about basic income.
The student wondered whether, given the growing popularity of basic income in Kenya, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, and the US, India might be next. The country has in fact already seen small pilots of the system lead to positive outcomes.
Subramanian told the student that basic income will play a major role in the next Economic Survey, an annual document presented to parliament that outlines the country’s financial health and makes suggestions for the future.
“People are dragged into poverty due to droughts, declining agriculture opportunities, disease, and so on,” he said, according to the Times of India. “So the safety net provided by the government should be quite wide, and that is why this [basic income] has some merit.”
Subramanian said basic income will be one of the big topics he and the other ministers of finance address in the survey.Amit Dave/Reuters
Despite being the second-most-populous country on Earth, India could likely implement a basic income policy relatively cheaply due to the low costs of living there. The median income in the country falls somewhere around $900 a year, compared to $52,000 in the US.
Subramanian cautioned that the idea of basic income still lives mostly in the world of hypotheticals, however.
“Both in terms of politics and economic[s] there is a whole range of very important things we have to look into, and are going to look at, very carefully,” he said, according to the Economic Times.
A massive 12-year basic income trial is now underway in Kenya, where thousands of people are receiving a set income of about $0.75 a day.
As more data come in, India and other countries around the world will have more ammunition to conduct ambitious experiments of their own.