The world is still a long ways off from universal basic income, a system of social welfare in which every person on the planet receives a standard salary just for being alive.
But advocates claim the US is on course to pass an important milestone this year: 2018 is shaping up to be the year basic income reaches mainstream politics.
"We're going to see concrete basic income proposals introduced in 2018, with a focus on the state and city level," Jim Pugh, a San Francisco-based basic income expert, told Business Insider.
Basic income is becoming mainstream
About a dozen experiments are running or in the planning phases in cities and countries around the world. Versions of basic income are playing out in Kenya, Finland, Canada, and California, and others could soon come to Scotland, India, and the Netherlands.
The theory is that by giving everyone an income "floor," governments can help people live healthy, prosperous lives.
Economists and tech experts who foresee a robot-run future where unemployment is high also like the idea for its potential to offset lost wages. They believe that even if a machine takes your job, basic income could save you from falling into poverty while you look for new work.
In July 2017, Hawaii State Rep. Chris Lee published a bill to investigate basic income for his state. Three months later, Mayor Michael Tubbs of Stockton, California announced his plans to launch a basic income study in his city, which became the first in the US to file bankruptcy back in 2012. The two men joined Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as political figures intrigued by the idea.
"When I talk to people now about basic income, nearly everyone is familiar with the concept, including elected officials," Pugh, the cofounder of the Universal Income Project, an advocacy group, told Business Insider.
Basic income goes political
Pugh and a handful of other experts Business Insider spoke with expect basic income to become more of a mainstream political idea in 2018.
"Remember, basic income is not one idea. It's a direction of thought," Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian and basic income advocate, told Business Insider. "We can make our current welfare state more basic income-ish in many ways," such as removing certain barriers to qualify, he said. "And there are a lot of politicians — mainly on the left — who are in favor of that direction."
Sam Altman, president of the startup accelerator Y Combinator, said despite the second phase of his company's Oakland experiment rolling out later this year, UBI is still slow-moving.
"I think interest will continue to grow. I don't think we'll see meaningful policy progress this year," he said. "But I think it's getting into people's minds in a way that is good and different than communism, and gradually people are getting more open to the idea."
Writer and basic income advocate Scott Santens was more optimistic, pointing to a handful of trials as reasons for being excited in 2018, including Stockton's, Scotland, and India. Santens also said to expect discussion in Poland, Mexico, and Japan.
"It's impossible to say for certain who the next three countries to announce UBI trials will be," Santens said, "but I do expect at least that many more countries to step up this year."
The way into basic income could be through a side door
Many of the experts pointed to the earned-income tax credit (EITC) as the best candidate for major welfare reform, particularly in California and Colorado.
"A discussion on welfare reform if it ever begins is an opportunity to promote cash transfers," Andy Stern, author and former president of the Service Employees International Union, told Business Insider.
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The EITC works like a large tax refund, paid out to low-income workers during tax season. The specific amount decreases or increases based on the person's income level: The less you make, the more you receive, up to around $2,500 a year.
A number of basic income enthusiasts expect EITC to be the on-ramp for full-fledged UBI.
Joe Sanberg, head of the nonprofit CalEITC4Me, is on a mission to help millions of Californians receive their EITC funds if they qualify. A possible candidate to run for US Senator in 2018, Sanberg pushed through a measure to expand the EITC in California from 600,000 people to 1.7 million.
Pugh and other experts believe states will only continue to ramp up these kinds of efforts.
"I'm confident there will be campaigns launched to implement these policies at some point this year," Pugh said.