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100 Oakland Residents To Receive Unconditional Basic Income (Free Money)

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As more and more jobs and industries are handed over to the robots, governments across the globe are wondering how to address the hundreds of thousands of people who will find themselves without avenues to earn a living in the coming decades. One idea being floated? An unconditional, universal basic income — i.e., paying people just for being alive.

The idea is not new. Thomas Payne proposed similar egalitarian models back in the late 1700s, and they have been promoted by thinkers across the political spectrum ever since — including Martin Luther King, Jr. — though mostly by leftists and socialists. Poverty would be abolished overnight, the argument goes, and funding could potentially come from current entitlement benefit programs that would no longer be needed, as well as innovations from workers with newly freed up time to be creative instead of worrying about their next paycheck, or doing soul-crushing, menial labor that automated systems are better at anyway.

Detractors say that eliminating incentive would destroy productivity. Proponents point out that there are other, better motivations than avoiding poverty, and it is not as if those who no longer participate in the workforce (retired people or stay-at-home parents) suddenly find themselves idling 24/7. In other words, there is always work to be done, even outside a capitalist structure.

The thing is, no one knows exactly what would happen if a universal basic income were to be implemented. It’s never been thoroughly studied. That is, until now.

Financial conceptThis summer, tech hub Y Combinator will be providing 100 Oakland residents, both employed and unemployed from a variety of social and economic classes, with somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 a month for six months to a year. The study is meant to see “how people’s happiness, well-being, and financial health are affected by basic income, as well as how people might spend their time,” according to the company. There will be no conditions for receiving the cash.

“People will be able to volunteer, work, not work, move to another country — anything,” Y Combinator wrote on its blog Tuesday. “We hope basic income promotes freedom, and we want to see how people experience that freedom.”

The company plans to work with the Oakland city government on the program, and if it goes well, Motherboard reports Y Combinator wants to expand it to a larger, five-year program in multiple cities.

“We’re not sure this is the best solution, but we want to study this because it hasn’t been studied,” Research Director Elizabeth Rhodes said. “We aren’t going to be able to answer all the questions, but the point of the study is to see how it might work and then move forward from there.”

Silicon Valley isn’t the only place the idea is being tested. Switzerland will vote June 5 on whether to provide citizens with 2,500 Swiss francs for adults and 625 Swiss francs for children. Government-approved basic income programs in Finland and the Netherlands are set to commence in 2017.

While tests like these may not be broad enough in scope or length to prove the efficacy of an unconditional basic income, it’s good that serious inroads are at least being made to start exploring it. A global jobs crisis is imminent, and without some sort of program in place to make up for lost income, widespread crime and public health catastrophes will soon follow.

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