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British billionaire Richard Branson wants the US to hand out free money to help income inequality

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British billionaire Richard Branson believes the U.S. government should introduce a basic income for citizens. (Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images)

British billionaire Richard Branson believes the United States government should give free money to citizens to help solve income inequality in the U.S.

"A basic income should be introduced in Europe and in America," Branson told the New York Times in an interview published Saturday.

A basic income, also known as universal income, is a periodic payment or stipend that's regularly paid to residents regardless of work or financial status.

"It’s great to see countries like Finland experimenting with it in certain cities," Branson said, who is the founder of the Virgin Group and ranked No. 29 among the wealthiest people in the world, according to The Telegraph.

"It’s a disgrace to see people sleeping on the streets with this material wealth all around them. And I think with artificial intelligence coming along, there needs to be a basic income," the billionaire continued.

Branson said he believes A.I. will lead to shorter work days and work weeks and that will increase the need for basic income.

"You know, three-day workweeks and four-day weekends," he said. "Then we’re going to need companies trying to entertain people during those four days, and help people make sure that they’re paid a decent amount of money for much shorter work time."

Is the basic income experiment working in Finland?

No. Finland's government is planning to end the experiment that gave 2,000 unemployed residents $690 a month with no strings attached. Participants between 25 to 58 years old were selected at random by Kela, the country's social security institution, Business Insider reported in April.

The government argued that people might choose not to gain employment for fear of losing their unemployment benefits. The basic-income test was supposed to work as an incentive for people to find work.

The experiment was initially planned to expand to include people who are employed, but it didn't happen. The study's researchers said without working participants, it's difficult to study whether a basic income helps people make career moves or seek further education.

In December, the Finland's Parliament passed a new "activation model" law, which requires job seekers to enter a training program or work at least 18 hours a week within three months of receiving unemployment benefits. Benefits begin to shrink for those who don't find a job.

Do other wealthy entrepreneurs believe basic income is necessary?

Yes. Some other well-known billionaires have made similar comments to Branson.

"Universal income will be necessary over time if AI takes over most human jobs," Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted earlier this month, according to Business Insider.

"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. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a commencement address at Harvard, his alma mater, in May.

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