Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes, Harvard Law School and Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society Professor Yochai Benkler, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and Alaska State Senator Bill Wielechowski may not agree on everything, but they agree on this: Cash handouts have the potential to help Americans and the American economy.
Given the challenges posed by automation and globalization, which are replacing workers and leading to stagnating wages, direct payments to workers may, in fact, be the only solution.
More than 100 organizers, activists, researchers and technologists, including Y Combinator President Sam Altman and former President of the Sierra Club Adam Werbach, have come together to support research being done by a new group into the viability of universal basic income in the U.S.
The group, announced this week and called The Economic Security Project, has raised $10 million to fund two years of exploration and experimentation of the idea of a universal basic income, which is a cash payment made to individuals by the government. With universal basic income, residents get regular, reliable payments regardless of whether they have a job.
"Our faith in the good nature of our fellow citizens has never felt more brittle, and many people on the left and the right are thinking about how to create a more inclusive, empathetic America.
"This collective anxiety has many sources, but one of the most important is a diminishing faith in the American ideal of equal opportunity for all," writes Hughes, one of three co-chairs of the group, in a post for Medium.
The group posits that universal basic income payments are a solution to the dire, and growing, problem of inequality. "We know from research in the US and internationally that recurring, unconditional cash stipends are a shockingly effective way to encourage work, improve health and education outcomes, and create a ladder of economic opportunity," says Hughes.
The U.S. is not alone in considering a universal basic income. Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada and Holland are all in some stage of discussions, according to The Economic Security Project.
Already, Alaska has a version of a universal basic income. All state residents receive yearly cash dividends of $2,072 from state oil revenues, the group says.
"It's time for a game-changing solution to address the economic anxiety and concerns faced by too many Americans," says Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren, one of the co-chairs of the group, in a written statement announcing the launch of the group. "We believe we can end the downward spiral for working families in America by providing a guaranteed basic income for every man, woman, and child – but the precise approach for implementing a cash benefit system needs additional research."
Some of the biggest names in tech have also been promoting the idea of a universal basic income. In response to Amazon's announcement of a grocery store with no check-out registers, reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian tweeted out, "We needed to start talking about Universal Basic Income a few years ago…"
Elon Musk, the legendary futurist and founder of SpaceX and Tesla, said recently that he considers universal basic income a nearly foregone conclusion. "There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation," Musk told CNBC. "Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen."
"America ought to be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead – that's the promise of the American Dream and the lesson we've been taught for generations. But far too many Americans are struggling to survive, instead of thriving and pursuing passions that could create a better world for all of us," says Natalie Foster, future of work expert and the third co-chair of the new group.
"Basic income could be the bold solution we need to remake the economy so it works again, for all of us."