Every January a bunch of of rich, powerful, self-unaware people get together in Davos, Switzerland, to talk about economic problems that they're not very good at solving. Then they go to swanky parties and ski.
There's always an official, milquetoast theme to the big Davos event as well as unofficial ones that come across in panels and meetings. There are also always protestors with a schtick, hoping to get some attention to their causes from the hordes of media in attendance.
This year, the milquetoast theme is “Committed to Improving the State of the World" because, who could argue with that? The unofficial themes seem to be 1) attendees are afraid of Donald Trump, and 2) they're also worried about rising income inequality. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the protestors hoping to go viral are focused on that topic, too. Meet the Basic Income Robot:
Income inequality has been a serious and substantial global concern to anyone who's been paying attention the last several years. "Basic income"—or, the idea of government giving citizens a set amount of money each month so that no one is in poverty—is a new part of the mainstream conversation, though. The money would come from wealthy people who'd pay higher taxes to fund such a program. Supporters argue that it's necessary because certain jobs are being automated at a faster rate than new types of jobs are being created to replace them. (Hence the dancing robot.)
In Davos, a panel of well-known economists also discussed the pros and cons of the idea. If you're into that kind of thing more than you're into dancing robots, here's a video summing up their main points:
Redistribution of wealth of that sort is not an especially popular concept in places like America, so we haven't heard a great deal about it. Even Bernie Sanders, the most progressive serious presidential candidate for 2016, has said that "the discussion about universal basic income is going to go nowhere in a hurry." But England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland are all toying with the idea, and if people at Davos are talking about it, don't be surprised if the term starts turning up more often.
I oversee Fusion's money section and have spent most of my time as a journalist writing about banks and finance. I live in Brooklyn with my partner Geoffrey & our two dogs, Captain & Tallulah. Favs: leopard print, Diet Coke, gummy candy, Ireland.