Hawaii may become first US state to adopt basic income

Two women in costume perform traditional hula dance, Hawaiian Islands. © Danita Delimont / Global Look Press

An unprecedented bill supporting the idea of universal basic income (UBI) has been introduced in the American state of Hawaii.

The bill, titled House Concurrent Resolution 89, was brought by Hawaii State Representative Chris Lee and was passed by both houses of the state legislature in a unanimous vote.

The resolution declares that all the islanders “deserve basic financial security.”

It also orders government offices to weigh the state’s economy and find ways to ensure all families have basic financial security, including an evaluation of different forms of a full or partial universal basic income.

“As innovation and automation and inequality disrupt our economy, we want to make sure that everybody benefits and nobody is left behind. It’s past time that we had a serious talk about not just tweaking our economic policies, but having a new discussion from the ground up about what our values and priorities are,” said Lee as quoted by US online magazine Mother Jones.

According to Lee, the measure is necessary due to Hawaii’s excessive cost of living, which is reportedly the highest in the country, as well as the state’s heavy reliance on low-paid service industry jobs.

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The bill reportedly keeps focus on Hawaii’s service-focused economy, vulnerable to any disruptions that might be brought by job-killing tech change, including e-trading and automation of basic service processes.

The idea of a UBI, first proposed in the US by former President Richard Nixon in 1969, is widely debated with critics saying that free money may lead to more lax attitude about work. Moreover, such a program is almost impossible to finance.

At the same time, some experts advocate the system due to potential to improve social welfare programs and diminish unemployment created by automation.

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“Planning for the future isn’t politically sexy and won’t win anyone an election. But if we do it properly, we will all be much better off for it in the long run,” Lee wrote in a Reddit post.

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