Video: Universal Basic Income — Panacea or Waste of Resources?

Economists from Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia discussed the possibilities for and primary questions about the novel public policy as part of the response to the COVID-19 crisis. 


  • Laura Carvalho, Associate Professor of Economics, Universidade de São Paulo&
  • Marcela Eslava, Economics Professor, Dean of the School of Economics, Universidad de los Andes
  • Eduardo Levy Yeyati, Dean of the School of Government, Universidad Torcuato di Tella
  • Cecilia Tornaghi, Managing Editor, Americas Quarterly (moderator)

As the COVID-19 crisis sparks a discussion among economists and policymakers in Latin America about the use of a universal basic income (UBI), experts from Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia spoke on an AS/COA panel that gave the scope of the situation UBI would address in the region. They also discussed if UBI programs could be viable solutions as governments work to address the economic crises brought on by the pandemic.

Laura Carvalho explained that in Brazil—where an emergency basic income plan was temporarily implemented because of COVID-19—more than 40 percent of the population already held informal jobs. The current emergency program is equivalent to 2 percent of the country’s GDP, which is projected to shrink by 5.0 percent in 2020 according to the World Bank. Latin America already uses several conditional cash-transfer programs and transitioning these social polices toward UBI would require a whole restructuring of countries’ social systems to address the fiscal situation, including heavily taxing the rich, Marcela Eslava explained. Eduardo Levy Yeyati said political and moral discussions about a truly universal UBI program, which would send checks to the already wealthy or investing in targeted vulnerable populations, have yet to take place, while noting that in the past UBI has come up in discussions about job automation as a way to complement expected reduced work hours and lower salaries.