Basic income, the theory that every human should be paid a base salary just for being alive, is one of those political pipe dreams that seem like they would never work. It's a restructuring of the American welfare state so radical, most political candidates would laugh it off. But before the robot job cataclysm threatens to totally devastate the middle class, academics and radicals are going to do their best to turn basic income into a major progressive cause.
Basic income finally has an organized, Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group called Basic Income Action, which will try to pull together the disparate chapters, organizations and online communities to try and wield a modicum of political power. Or, for now, make a little noise.
Community organizer Dan O'Sullivan started BIA with a group of economic thinkers and basic income wonks like Steven Shafarman, Diane R. Pagen and Scott Santens. They gathered in February with basic income supporters at a Brooklyn activist space for progressives called the Commons, and started planning shortly after.
"The main thing for now is building public support," O'Sullivan told Mic. "There have been several false starts in the past where people have gone straight to lobbying, but right now it's about getting this in front of as many people as possible."
The 2016 Election is their best shot of putting basic income in the spotlight. Basic Income Action will wage what O'Sullivan calls an "aggressive online campaign" to put the idea of basic income in front of as many people as possible, and look for candidates in the upcoming election who would likely bring the topic into popular consciousness.
"You've got candidates like Bernie Sanders trying to outflank Hilary on the left," O'Sullivan said. "We're going to mobilize and take our message to those candidates."
The first step is a petition for these candidates to take a stand for basic income — even though simply having any of the candidates talk about basic income at all would be leaps and bounds ahead of where we are now.
"It would put money in the pockets of every American family, which would stimulate our economy, boost small businesses and strengthen our communities," the petition says. "Every American will have true financial freedom and an equal opportunity to succeed."
Basic income has been played with from time to time in American history. Right now, we're in the third wave of basic income as an idea in American society. The last time around, it was activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and philosophers like Erich Fromm who were advocating for a basic wage to put an end to poverty in the face of increased automation.
But now that industries of the American middle class are at risk, basic income is becoming more popular as a solution to the theoretical job apocalypse. As for the question of whether or not such a radical overhaul of the welfare state could ever gain traction, O'Sullivan's eyes are on movements that have made strides more recently — seemingly audacious political battlefronts like marriage equality and the legalization of recreational marijuana.
"Marriage equality, marijuana legalization — those movements weren't about tinkering with the system," O'Sullivan said. "They had big, bold demands. Basic income is a big, bold demand."