Chris Hughes, the Co-Founder of Facebook has just launched a $10 million dollar 2 year long initiative aimed at analyzing universal basic income.
Announced on December 8th, the Economic Security Project (ESP) will analyze basic income, a system in which every citizen receives a monthly stipend which covers their basic needs.
Backed by over 100 activists, academics, and experts from Silicon Valley, this project aims to learn as much as possible about the dominant idea in the fight against poverty.
ESP will be co-chaired by Natalie Foster from the Institute for the along with Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren, and Chris Hughes.
The funds will be divided over 6 separate organizations tasked with investigating and advocating cash transfer policies such as those made popular by charities such as GiveDirectly.
There’s a reason for the increasing popularity of basic income given the plethora of promising studies supporting it. Countries such as Tanzania, Kenya , and Honduras have all consistently found a direct correlation between direct cash transfers and improvements in the qualities of people’s lives with virtually no behavioral consequences or aggressive dependency.
With few exceptions (Alaska and Manitoba), North America is yet to introduce full-fledged basic income. ESP however, may provide essential insight into the potential benefits of having no incomes below the poverty line.
Hughes is optimistic, stating that despite having more questions than answers that “we do know we can unite around the fact that financial security should be a human right and cash is an underutilized tool.”
Supporters of this particular example of wealth distribution view basic income as an effective solution to the worsening issue of wealth inequality. Basic income provides for a somewhat of a win-win situation as liberals support it due to its focus on caring for the underprivileged, while conservatives support it because it reduces the government’s role while potentially increasing purchasing power.
There is still much research to be done and until then basic income will have to simply remain a promising theory. However ESP is not alone, as many organizations are conducting experiments of their own.
In Kenya and Uganda, 6,000 people will receive a basic income for a 12 year period as part of an experiment organized by Give Directly. Starting next year in Oakland, California, Y Combinator is planning a small scale experiment involving 100 families which they believe will hopefully usher in a larger experiment in the coming years.
The importance of these experiments is not lost on Sam Altman, Y Combinator’s president, who believes that the increasing displacement of laborers by robotic automation necessitates basic income and thus further research is needed.