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Universal basic income would pay a lot of people, but that's just half the story

CNET Now What finds that how UBI would be spent and what might be taken away in exchange are the most interesting parts of any plan.

When Universal Basic Income is mentioned, talk usually turns to who would receive checks and in what amount. But the most interesting angle might be who benefits from those recipients spending that money -- and what they might have to give up to get it. Viewed those ways, UBI could be seen as a vast permanent stimulus plan for American business or a public benefits shell game. Now what? 

Sarah Foster is US economy reporter at Bankrate (CNET and Bankrate are both part of Red Ventures), where she recently posted a concise explainer of UBI that struck me with its unbiased take -- something in short supply when it comes to UBI coverage.

Foster says one of the best ways to evaluate UBI is to realize that we've already done it: "Americans have an understanding of UBI by the recent stimulus checks. They were kind of a sister to what UBI is."

One of the biggest debates about those pandemic stimulus checks is their effect on employment: Reports of employers' difficulty filling jobs often list enhanced support payments as a factor.

The "universal" aspect of those stimulus checks can be UBI's most controversial feature: A true UBI program would pay everyone, from the poorest to Jeff Bezos, as opposed to a guaranteed income program that typically imposes a means test. "Everyone gets a check, for the same amount, regardless of whether they're working or how much they make," Foster explains about a true UBI program. "This is where you open up UBI to a lot of criticism. It's one of the reasons we think UBI is a long way in the distance." 

Foster and CNET's Brian Cooley explored many other aspects of UBI, including whether it's really just a pass-through program for American business, a perspective that could completely change the conversation about it. Catch their full conversation in the video.


Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal." There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all.