Basic income is an idea that’s been talked about for decades and is currently being hotly debated around the globe, but it’s never actually been fully tried and tested. So we’re going to do it and study it.
What is a basic income?
A basic income guarantee is a public policy that would provide all people a basic floor—an income that is enough to live on and that is provided irrespective of work simply because the recipient is a member of that community. It is provided to everyone, regardless of need, forever.
Since the time of Thomas More, people from across the political spectrum have expressed interest in the idea, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to theconservative economists Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek. Some argue this is the moral thing to do; others argue replacing a patchwork of existing government programs with a basic income is more efficient; technologists argue the coming robotization of the workforce makes it necessary. And it’s not just words; in countries where basic income is up for debate, trillions of dollars of social services are at stake.
What is the evidence?
The deep evidence base for unconditional cash transfers provides plenty of reasons to be intrigued by basic income. We know people who receive cash transfers don’t blow it on drinks or stop working but rather increase their earnings, their assets, and their psychological well-being.
But, we know less about basic income. We haven’t yet seen a rigorous evaluation of a program that is:
- universal within well-defined communities (not means tested or targeted towards a specific group),
- long-term, and
- enough to cover a minimum standard of living.
A number of studies provide helpful information, and there are some pilots coming online, but none so far has met all of these criteria.
|Manitoba (Mincome), 1975–1978||1300||✗ *||✔||✗||✔|
|New Jersey, 1968–1972||1216||✗||✔||✗||✔|
|Rural Iowa & North Carolina, 1970–1972||809||✗||✔||✗||✔|
|Gary, Indiana, 1971–1974||1799||✗||✔||✗||✔|
|Madhya Pradesh, India||6000||✔||✗||✗||✔|
|Eastern Band of Cherokees Casino Dividend||15000||✗||✗ ***||✔||✗|
|Mein Grundeinkommen, Germany||✗||✔||✗||✗|
|Ontario, Canada||no details yet|
|*||included a single saturation site as part of overall study|
|**||provided long-term payments to only 169 families|
|***||varies with profits|
Additionally, a basic income trial should use rigorous experimental research—randomized controlled trials (RCTs)—to measure impact.
What are we doing?
While we don’t have a position on the ultimate value of a basic income absent further evidence, as an organization that has worked extensively on cash transfers, we have an opportunity to help answer some of the big questions associated with basic income. Will people devote more time and capital to valuable enterprises like entrepreneurship or family care? Will basic income disincentivize work, create dependencies, or reduce overall productivity? With your help, we will run a long-term, universal basic income and study it rigorously to find out.
We think the whole thing will cost roughly $30M, of which around 90% of the funds will go directly to very poor households. Running the project in an emerging market, where meeting basic needs is far cheaper, will make it affordable to enroll enough people to generate statistically robust evidence. At the same time it will let us directly inform policy debates in those emerging markets, which are the front lines of the global fight against poverty.
To get started, we’re putting in $10 million of our own funds to match the first $10 million donated by others.
How can I participate?
Please consider joining us to fund and test a basic income. At a minimum our money will shift the life trajectories of thousands of low-income households. At best, it will change how the world thinks about ending poverty. We’ll provide updates on this page and continue to add more resources about basic income to those below.
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