Entertainment Unleashed in an Era of Universal Basic Income

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Photo of Tim Mulligan
by Tim Mulligan

As the abnormal becomes the new normal following the official confirmation that the world has entered into a global pandemic event, the looming potential recession and enforced home entertainment experiment provides a glimpse into how the future might look in a decade-plus when universal basic income (UBI) could well make entertainment the most valuable economic activity on the planet.

Universal basic income is getting closer to the mainstream political conversation

Andrew Yang, the form tech libertarian entrepreneur who recently ran as a democratic candidate and dropped out following the first wave of primaries, campaigned on delivering a “freedom dividend “ of $1000 for every American over the age of 18. Since dropping out of the 2020 presidential campaign Yang has announced that he is launching Humanity Forward, a non-profit to advance the policies he pushed for during his recent campaign including universal basic income, economic reform and data as a property right.

While Yang’s chance of securing the Democratic nomination was always highly unlikely, his ideas increasingly chime with a zeitgeist of “progressive” capitalism seeking to find a way to mitigate some of the harshest aspects of market liberalism unleashed by the Chicago School back in the 1970s/1980s. The alternative, as many protectors of the current economic and legal system are nervously aware, could be the direct market interventionism championed by Bernie Sanders.

Yang defined his freedom dividend as enabling a new era of human capitalism and cited such illustrious disruptors as Thomas Paine and Martin Luther alongside Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg as proponents of a universal basic income. Even Chicago school icon Milton Friedman is on record as advocating a “negative income tax” to simplify and humanise disparate welfare provisions.

While there has long been a philosophical drive towards UBI, the move towards the mainstreaming of the proposition is being driven by the rapid acceleration towards automation of the workplace, with an estimated range of between 30-50% of existing US jobs disappearing over the next two decades.

Paying for this newfound state largess varies from taxing tech, to taxing the AI which is driving automation – and could well be viewed at the future corporate level as a necessary cost of conducting business.

UBI = entertainment unleashed

The biggest single winners out of UBI beyond the consumer and local businesses will be entertainment, as newly-monied audiences look to be entertained and have a predictable income to fund ongoing subscriptions. Streaming services are poised to become the digital circuses to the 21st human capitalist bread of UBI. With time on their hands and digital cash on their phones, future citizens are poised to spend heavily on entertainment in a way that time- and often resource-constrained 2020 consumers are unable to do. 

The current move towards “social distancing” mandated by the pandemic will provide us with an early glimpse of what this brave new entertainment future could look like, and comes at a time when direct-to-consumer has now tipped into the mainstream with 51% of consumers in English-speaking markets now paying for monthly digital premium video services (MIDiA Research Q4 2019 consumer survey data.)

The next few months will provide many strange, disturbing, and fascinating glimpses of what the future might hold, and the post-pandemic world will have invariably shifted another step closer towards UBI consumer behaviour.

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