Silicon Valley Tech Giant Will Give out Cash in Basic Income Trial

A major Silicon Valley company is funding a trial of Universal Basic Income in the U.S.

Cash in hand. (Photo credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)


A major player in Silicon Valley has rolled out an ambitious trial of basic income. Y Combinator, the start-up accelerator responsible for developing companies like Dropbox, Ainrbnb, Reddit and Stripe among many others, will give out cash to 3,000 people across two U.S. states for a period of up to five years.

The incubator has previously piloted a study in Oakland, California to see the effects of giving out universal basic income (UBI) regardless of employment status. This idea has been growing in popularity among Silicon Valley figureheads like Mark Zuckerberg and championed by Elon Musk as a way to counteract poverty and the inevitable job losses that come with automation. 

Y Combinator is selecting people at random and will compare the behavior of one group of 1,000 people who will receive the income of $1,000 per month to a group of 2,000 that will just get a $50 per month stipend. 

Elizabeth Rhodes, research director at YC's Basic Income Project, explained in a blog post that a randomized trial is one of the best ways to evaluate the impact of a proposed social policy. “

“By comparing a group of people who receive a basic income to an otherwise identical group of people who do not, we can isolate and quantify the effects of a basic income," wrote Rhodes. "Of course, no single study can answer all questions about basic income, and every program has an array of positive and negative effects. Nonetheless, we view this experiment as a strong foundation for a broad research agenda on basic income."

The participants will be picked with the help of data from government agencies. The study will focus on analyzing how the selected individuals use their time and finances, their mental and physical health and the effects on children and social networks.

The President of Y Combinator, Sam Altman, called eliminating poverty a “moral imperative” in an interview with CNBC.

"There's so much research about how bad poverty is,” said Altman. There's so much research about the emotional and physical toll that it takes on people. I think about the amount of human potential that is being wasted by people that are not doing what they want to do. I think about how great it would be to undo that. And that's really powerful to me.”

A UBI study is currently underway in Finland, with some encouraging early results.

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It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

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  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
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Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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