The radical idea of a universal basic income is far from new, but it’s finally being tested around the world — even in America
By Zach Patton | Governing
ight now in Oakland, Calif., there’s a family getting $1,500 a month for doing, well, whatever it wants to do. This family, along with 99 others in the city, is receiving a monthly check without conditions of any kind. They can work, not work, travel, volunteer with a charity. They can spend it on food or rent or medicine — or yoga classes or movies or bikes. It’s all part of a nascent effort to answer a question that’s on the minds of a lot of economists and social scientists and a growing number of public officials: Can giving people cash without any strings attached help lift them out of poverty?
This is universal basic income, the idea that everyone deserves a certain level of economic security — and a regular paycheck — regardless of their level of employment. While it remains a radical concept, it’s lately been getting a serious look from thought leaders and policymakers all over the globe. Prominent proponents range from Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg to Mark Muro of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who has said that basic income is “inevitable.” Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian, advocated for basic income at this year’s TED conference; his speech drew a standing ovation and has been viewed online by more than a million people since it was uploaded in May.