Entrepreneurs

Another tech titan joins Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg in supporting free cash handouts for Americans

Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack
Photo by Bloomberg
Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack

One by one, some of the biggest names in tech are publicly supporting the idea of giving cash handouts to all Americans.

The latest is self-made multimillionaire Stewart Butterfield, the CEO and co-founder of the workplace chat program Slack, which is reportedly in the process of raising $500 million at a $5 billion valuation. Butterfield also co-founded Flickr, which sold to Yahoo, reportedly for $35 million.

He joins Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Y-Combinator president Sam Altman, who all say society will both need and benefit from universal basic income (UBI), a guaranteed cash payment given to every resident irrespective of employment status.

It "doesn't have to be much, but giving people even a very small safety net would unlock a huge amount of entrepreneurialism," says Butterfield in a recent Twitter exchange about UBI.

"If you can't afford to take any risks, you generally won't take any risks," Butterfield adds.

Twitter user Austen Allred, founder of Lambda School, which provides students a computer science education with little or no upfront costs, notes that giant tech behemoths like Facebook and Microsoft were started by founders who were getting financial support from their parents. "That's the universal basic income argument that's compelling to me," he tweets. "[T]hat little cushion is so valuable."

Indeed, it's the same argument made by Zuckerberg himself.

"If I had to support my family growing up instead of having time to code, if I didn't know I'd be fine if Facebook didn't work out, I wouldn't be standing here today," says Zuckerberg in his Harvard commencement speech in May. The tech titan grew up financially secure thanks to his dad's career as a dentist.

"Now it's our time to define a new social contract for our generation. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things," Zuckerberg says.

In July, Zuckerberg also commented on the positive benefits of the state-widecash handout program in Alaska. "Seeing how Alaska put this dividend in place reminded me of a lesson I learned early at Facebook: organizations think profoundly differently when they're profitable than when they're in debt. When you're losing money, your mentality is largely about survival," he says.

Musk thinks universal basic income is a going to be a virtual necessity as more and more low-skilled jobs are replaced by robots and automation.

Altman agrees. "I'm fairly confident that at some point in the future, as technology continues to eliminate traditional jobs and massive new wealth gets created, we're going to see some version of [UBI] at a national scale," he writes. He's working on a pilot program in Oakland, Calif., to study how people behave when they are given such payments.

Even as Silicon Valley thought leaders talk openly about the idea of cash handouts, it's not likely to become reality in the near term. Culturally, the U.S. is a country that celebrates the idea of working hard to get ahead. And politically, the current administration is trying to repeal the universal basic health care.

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See also:

Elon Musk: Robots will take your jobs, government will have to pay your wage

Elon Musk says robots will push us to a universal basic income—here's how it would work

Mark Zuckerberg: Success comes from 'the freedom to fail,' so billionaires like me should pay you to do that