28 March 2017

Brady Dale

Should all Americans be given a guaranteed basic income, just enough money that any person could scrape by on their monthly check from the government? New York City’s Upper West Side gave the idea a very firm no vote last week.

“The universal basic income is supported across the political ideologies because it’s a fix—efficient and flexible and humane—and can end poverty once and for all,” former union chief Andy Stern said of the idea, but his case fell largely on deaf ears in the end.

Nevertheless, the idea of a universal basic income has been taking up a lot more cultural space lately. Elite startup accelerator Y Combinator has been cooking up an experiment to test how cash without conditions compared to prescriptive help (such as support specifically for housing, job training or child rearing). The non-profit GiveDirectly is testing the same question, but in the developing world, which Annie Lowrey took a close look at for The New York Times Magazine. Wired even ran a science fiction story about a world in which everyone had a guaranteed income, called “The Hunger After You’re Fed.”

In technology circles, increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence will mean that there won’t be enough jobs out there for people. First they will come for truck drivers, but eventually they’ll take out writers, too. On the positive side, one could also argue that a basic income could open opportunities for entrepreneurship to strata of society too financially stressed to consider starting something today.

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