Education and Skills

Mark Zuckerberg – ‘We should explore universal basic incomes’

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the Alumni Exercises following the 366th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., May 25, 2017.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RTX37NKR

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Harvard Image: REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RTX37NKR

Ceri Parker
Previously Commissioning Editor, Agenda, World Economic Forum
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We need to look beyond GDP as a measure of success and explore new ideas like universal basic incomes, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, has said.


In his Harvard commencement speech, the Facebook founder said that too few people had the opportunity to try out new ideas – like building his world-conquering platform.

“We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful,” he said. Tackling inequality was one of three priorities for today’s graduates that he outlined in his speech.

“We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things. We're going to change jobs many times, so we need affordable childcare to get to work and healthcare that aren't tied to one company. We're all going to make mistakes, so we need a society that focuses less on locking us up or stigmatizing us. And as technology keeps changing, we need to focus more on continuous education throughout our lives.”

Zuckerberg famously launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm, before dropping out of college to build it into today’s $441-billion tech titan. But he was only able to do this because of his fortunate circumstances, he said – and the world needed to radically change to allow everyone to live meaningful lives.

Universal basic income (UBI) is one of a number of ideas that economists are mooting as technology continues to disrupt the job market. In a nutshell, it means guaranteeing everyone a wage each month that would meet their basic needs, replacing existing tax breaks and benefits. It would arguably provide a buffer in a world where 5 million jobs are expected to be lost to automation by 2020, and stable careers have largely been replaced by insecure work in the ‘gig economy’.


Scott Santens, an economist and advocate of the idea, claims:

“UBI would be a promise of equal opportunity, not equal outcome, a new starting line set above the poverty line.”

Such a bold move would not be free, although Santens argues here that it would actually be more cost-effective than the current US system of tax and welfare.

However, a new OECD report argues that a universal basic income would not consistently reduce poverty, because you would need to raise taxes and trim other benefits to fund it.

Addressing Harvard’s latest high-flying graduates, Zuckerberg said that it was up to the successful in society to shoulder the costs of trying out a new system:

“And yes, giving everyone the freedom to pursue purpose isn't free. People like me should pay for it. Many of you will do well and you should too.”

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