Y Combinator announces basic income pilot experiment in Oakland
Y Combinator announced today that it would launch its first basic income experiment in Oakland, CA. The startup accelerator began researching the concept of basic income last fall and will soon start paying salaries.
Y Combinator initially said that it wanted to pay basic income to a group of people over a five-year period and study the effects, but now the company has changed course. It will begin the research with a short-term study in Oakland, Y Combinator announced in a blog post: “Our goal will be to prepare for the longer-term study by working on our methods — how to pay people, how to collect data, how to randomly choose a sample, etc.” Depending on how the pilot goes, Y Combinator may continue with the longterm study.
The idea of basic income, which would guarantee a base level of financial support for every person, has gained steam recently. In just a few days, the Swiss will vote on a referendum for basic income. Basic income also has its champions in tech. Y Combinator president Sam Altman has argued that, as technology usurps jobs, the need for a universal basic income will become more pressing.
“In a world where technology eliminates jobs, it will mean that the cost of having a great life goes down a lot,” Altman tweeted today. “And I think we need something like basic income to have a cushion and a smooth transition to the jobs of the future.”
But the concept also has its detractors. One of the biggest questions about basic income is where the money will come from. Y Combinator, with its roster of wealthy investors, may not have to worry about funding its basic income project, but funding is a more pressing concern for governments. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has argued that a government-funded basic income would increase poverty by stripping funding from federal programs supporting the poor and instead inject that money into the middle and upper classes.
“Suppose UBI [universal basic income] provided everyone with $10,000 a year,” CBPP’s Robert Greensteinwrote today. “That would cost more than $3 trillion a year — and $30 trillion to $40 trillion over ten years.” The Swiss government has urged voters to reject the basic income referendum, citing its cost.
But Y Combinator sees the pilot program as a way to model basic income for the future, saying government funding may not be the right approach. Its Oakland research will be led by Elizabeth Rhodes, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Michigan.
“In our pilot, the income will be unconditional; we’re going to give it to participants for the duration of the study, no matter what. People will be able to volunteer, work, not work, move to another country—anything. We hope basic income promotes freedom, and we want to see how people experience that freedom,” Altman said.
The accelerator says it is already working with Oakland city officials and community groups to plan the pilot, which does not yet have an official launch date.Featured Image: Jesse Richmond/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE
The Oakland Experiment
There’s been a lot of talk lately about “basic income”—the notion of a guaranteed financial disbursement to every human being simply for being alive.
It’s an idea that has garnered a great deal of support in certain circles, for obvious reasons (free money); however, many see it as the natural progression of society…as the only viable way of dealing with issues like increased automation, poverty, etc. Indeed, many see in a universal basic income (UBI) an instrument of liberty, and an effective tool for combating the threats of social unrest, economic dislocation, and various other forms of civil strife that are often the corollaries of unemployment.
There’s even a major national referendum on basic income to be held June 5 in Switzerland. And now thestartup accelerator, Y Combinator, whose guiding ethos is seeding and incubating avant-garde businesses and ideas, has stepped into the fray. It plans to launch a short-term pilot program in Oakland, California, a preparatory first step to a longer, five-year experiment.
“Our goal will be to prepare for the longer-term study by working on our methods—how to pay people, how to collect data, how to randomly choose a sample, etc.,” the company explained in a blog post.
There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, believes that a UBI is a necessary—even an inevitable—evolution in our society, considering the widespread unemployment expected to result from the increased mechanization of jobs.
“In our pilot, the income will be unconditional; we’re going to give it to participants for the duration of the study, no matter what,” Altman explains.
“People will be able to volunteer, work, not work, move to another country—anything. We hope basic income promotes freedom, and we want to see how people experience that freedom.”
Of course, not all are onboard. Some in the Swiss government have urged citizens to reject the referendum, explaining that the exorbitant costs would become prohibitive and might bankrupt the country. Which is, of course, is very likely if not managed properly; however, Y Combinator thinks a government model might not be the best choice and that smaller scale operations may prove to be more viable.
There’s no firm date yet for the launch of the Oakland experiment; all we know is that the company is working with city officials and groups to work out the details, and that the program will be headed by Elizabeth Rhodes, a PhD graduate from the University of Michigan.
Without doubt, UBI advocates will be watching the results of the Oakland experiment with great interest.