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Andrew Yang: Alaska proves a universal basic income can work
Andrew Yang argues that the Alaska Permanent Fund shows the path to implementing a nationwide universal basic income.
- The Alaska Permanent Fund directs oil revenue into a fund that pays Alaskans a yearly dividend, usually between $1,000 and $2,000.
- Andrew Yang points to this and other experiments to support the efficacy of a universal basic income.
- However, Alaska's model leaves several important questions unanswered.
What does Andrew Yang have in common with Thomas Paine, Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King Jr., Charles Murray, Carole Pateman, and Elon Musk? They all have advocated for a universal basic income (UBI).
Yang calls his UBI proposal the Freedom Dividend. In his book The War on Normal People, he explains his reason for the moniker: "It's analogous to a company giving dividends or money to its shareholders. No one regards that as a waste of money, because the shareholders theoretically are the owners of the company. Are we not, as the citizens of the United States, the owners of this country?"
This Freedom Dividend would provide every American adult $1,000 a month, no strings attached. But an impediment Yang and other UBI defenders have always come against is a lack of data. No country has ever implemented a UBI policy to scale.
To meet this challenge, in interview after interview Yang points to Alaska to support UBI's efficacy. You read that right: A Democratic candidate for president is lauding the deep red state of Alaska as proof that a government spending program can work. Come again?
Looking toward Alaska
First, a bit of history. Alaska established the Alaska Permanent Fund in 1976, after a general election amended the state's constitution to allow for dedicated funds. The article commissioned the legislature to set aside a percent of oil and mineral revenues into a general fund. The Fund is managed like an investment fund and pays dividends to Alaskan citizens. Today, its value exceeds $60 billion.
Payouts began in 1982, and since the mid '90s, Alaskans — including children but excluding criminals — have regularly received dividends between $1,000 and $2,000 a year.
While the Alaska Permanent Fund isn't technically universal income, it is the largest, longest running distribution of such money to citizens. For this reason, economists, politicians, and researchers look to the state as a source of data for how a UBI could potentially affect economic wellbeing.
According to Mouhcine Guettabi, a researcher at the University of Alaska's Institute of Social and Economic Research, the data shows payouts are beneficial overall, but not miraculous godsends.
For every additional $1,000, women work an hour less and men's work increases by roughly 1.8 percent. Likely, this difference stems from mothers choosing to work less and spend time with families. As Guettabi clarifies, more men work in Alaska, so that uptick amounts to about 2,000 additional jobs in the three months after distribution. That's at a cost of about $600 million to the state.
Looking to children, every additional $1,000 reduces the likelihood of obesity by 4.5 percent. Statewide, that equals about 500 cases of obesity potentially alleviated.
Property crimes decrease by 8 percent; meanwhile, substance-related crimes increase by about 10 percent. However, these figures do not mean Alaska is a state filled with druggies sporting a strong sense of personal space. These divergences apply only to the first weeks after payout. Since distribution is annual, not monthly, this means the payouts have a marginal effect on crime.
Dipping our toes in the UBI pool
Other experiments have supported some of the data coming from Alaska.
From 1968 to 1971, the New Jersey Graduated Work Incentive Experiment offered cash payments to families. The experiment was designed to look at the impacts a negative income tax would have on people living below the poverty line. It showed no major withdraw from the work force and no effect on health or perceived life quality. However, families were more likely to upgrade their living conditions and enhance their economic well-being.
Moving to Europe, Finland recently concluded an experiment in universal basic income. Kela, the Finnish government's unemployment agency, gave 2,000 people a tax-exempt income of 560 euros a month for two years. The study found the income distributions didn't affect employment attainment or work hours. It did, however, elevate people's perception of their wellbeing and reduced their stress.
"Our results weren't that surprising as it kind of confirms what we know from other pilots," Minna Ylikännö, a lead Kela researcher, told Wired. "People's wellbeing is enhanced when they have some kind of financial security. They feel secure, so they feel better – that's something which we see in other countries too, not just a Finnish experience."
However, these experiments are limited in what they can tell us about UBI. Both were short-term, narrowly focused, and had small sample sizes. They only offered money to specific groups — those below the poverty line and the unemployed, respectively — not to a randomly selected group of citizens. As such, the Alaska Permanent Fund offers a much deeper history from which to draw preliminary inferences on UBI's efficacy.
The Big Yang theory
Data from Alaska and other small-term experiments suggests that many concerns over universal basic income are overblown. A UBI likely won't discourage citizens from working. It won't lead people to fund a lifestyle of decadence and depravity off the backs of hardworking taxpayers. And it's certainly not socialism.
With that said, Alaska's example can't help us answer many of the lingering questions surrounding a nationwide UBI. Foremost, whether we can afford it.
The Alaska Permanent Fund pays out once a year, and the amount fluctuates based on, for example, stock market performance and whether the legislature diverts funds to other projects or investments. Conversely, the annual $12,000 advocated by Yang and other UBI proponents is significantly higher and will not be allowed to fluctuate to match market pressures (whether it adjusts to offset inflation depends on how it is established).
Cost estimates of a nationwide UBI vary, but hedge-fund manager Ray Dalio calculated the cost to be more than $3 trillion annually. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculated a similar amount. For reference, the Congressional Budget Office estimates federal revenues for 2019 to be $3.5 trillion.
Yang's solution is to consolidate current welfare programs and then implement a 10 percent value-added tax (VAT). This new tax would specifically target business titans such as Amazon, which in 2018 paid effectively no taxes on $11 billion of profits. As Yang told George Stephanopoulos on This Week:
What we have to do is, we have to join every other advanced economy and have a value-added tax that would fall on the Amazons of the world, and because our economy is now so vast at $20 trillion, up $5 trillion in the last 12 years, a value-added tax at even half the European level would generate over $800 billion in new revenue.
The second major concern: offering money to every citizen helps the rich as much as the poor. Effectively, wealth inequality persists. Yang's response, we need to give everyone the UBI to make it stick and then use the VAT to ensure the poor become better off.
As described on Yang's campaign website: "By giving everyone UBI, the stigma for accepting cash transfers from the government disappears. Additionally, it removes the incentive for anyone to remain within certain income brackets to receive benefits. If it's paid for by a value-added tax as in my plan, a wealthy person will likely pay more into the system than he or she gets out of it."
Others disagree. An analysis from the Tax Policy Center argues that a VAT has the potential to reduce household income by either raising the prices of goods at market or reducing the business revenue available to workers. Additionally, a VAT won't tax the returns on capital investments, which make up a large portion of income for upper-class households but little-to-none for low-income ones. The Center concludes that a VAT would ultimately be regressive unless introduced alongside a sweep of policy changes.
The final concern we'll consider is that a UBI diverts funds from programs with a proven track record of success. This is why Yang's proposes an opt-in program. Under his plan, those who prefer existing welfare programs can stick with them. Furthermore, people who draw more than $1,000 of assistance these programs will still receive the difference should they opt in.
Ultimately, any dollar that goes into a UBI program is a dollar that can't be spent elsewhere. Would providing everybody a $1,000 a month help uplift children in impoverished families more than, say, universal preschool and lunch programs? Is it better to offer people $1,000 per month to assist paying for healthcare or to enshrine health as a universal right?
Yang correctly points to Alaska to support his Freedom Dividend, as data from the state can help us begin the conversation. However, it can't help us answer the fundamental questions mentioned above. For those, we'll need to debate the topic with honesty, good data, and solid arithmetic. This conversation may take a while yet.
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So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
The distances between the stars are so vast that they can make your brain melt. Take for example the Voyager 1 probe, which has been traveling at 35,000 miles per hour for more than 40 years and was the first human object to cross into interstellar space. That sounds wonderful except, at its current speed, it will still take another 40,000 years to cross the typical distance between stars.
Worse still, if you are thinking about interstellar travel, nature provides a hard limit on acceleration and speed. As Einstein showed, it's impossible to accelerate any massive object beyond the speed of light. Since the galaxy is more than 100,000 light-years across, if you are traveling at less than light speed, then most interstellar distances would take more than a human lifetime to cross. If the known laws of physics hold, then it seems a galaxy-spanning human civilization is impossible.
Unless of course you can build a warp drive.
Ah, the warp drive, that darling of science fiction plot devices. So, what about a warp drive? Is that even a really a thing?
Let's start with the "warping" part of a warp drive. Without doubt, Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity ("GR") represents space and time as a 4-dimensional "fabric" that can be stretched and bent and folded. Gravity waves, representing ripples in the fabric of spacetime, have now been directly observed. So, yes spacetime can be warped. The warping part of a warp drive usually means distorting the shape of spacetime so that two distant locations can be brought close together — and you somehow "jump" between them.
This was a basic idea in science fiction long before Star Trek popularized the name "warp drive." But until 1994, it had remained science fiction, meaning there was no science behind it. That year, Miguel Alcubierre wrote down a solution to the basic equations of GR that represented a region that compressed spacetime ahead of it and expanded spacetime behind to create a kind of traveling warp bubble. This was really good news for warp drive fans.
The problems with a warp drive
There were some problems though. Most important was that this "Alcubierre drive" required lots of "exotic matter" or "negative energy" to work. Unfortunately, there's no such thing. These are things theorists dreamed up to stick into the GR equations in order to do cool things like make stable open wormholes or functioning warp drives.
It's also noteworthy that researchers have raised other concerns about an Alcubierre drive — like how it would violate quantum mechanics or how when you arrived at your destination it would destroy everything in front of the ship in an apocalyptic flash of radiation.
Warp drives: A new hope
Credit: Primada / 420366373 via Adobe Stock
Recently, however, there seemed to be good news on the warp drive front with the publication this April of a new paper by Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martre entitled "Introducing Physical Warp Drives." The good thing about the Bobrick and Martre paper was it was extremely clear about the meaning of a warp drive.
Understanding the equations of GR means understanding what's on either side of the equals sign. On one side, there is the shape of spacetime, and on the other, there is the configuration of matter-energy. The traditional route with these equations is to start with a configuration of matter-energy and see what shape of spacetime it produces. But you can also go the other way around and assume the shape of spacetime you want (like a warp bubble) and determine what kind of configuration of matter-energy you will need (even if that matter-energy is the dream stuff of negative energy).
Warp drives are simpler and much less mysterious objects than the broader literature has suggested.
What Bobrick and Martre did was step back and look at the problem more generally. They showed how all warp drives were composed of three regions: an interior spacetime called the passenger space; a shell of material, with either positive or negative energy, called the warping region; and an outside that, far enough away, looks like normal unwarped spacetime. In this way they could see exactly what was and was not possible for any kind of warp drive. (Watch this lovely explainer by Sabine Hossenfelder for more details). They even showed that you could use good old normal matter to create a warp drive that, while it moved slower than light speed, produced a passenger area where time flowed at a different rate than in the outside spacetime. So even though it was a sub-light speed device, it was still an actual warp drive that could use normal matter.
That was the good news.
The bad news was this clear vision also showed them a real problem with the "drive" part of the Alcubierre drive. First of all, it still needed negative energy to work, so that bummer remains. But worse, Bobrick and Martre reaffirmed a basic understanding of relativity and saw that there was no way to accelerate an Alcubierre drive past light speed. Sure, you could just assume that you started with something moving faster than light, and the Alcubierre drive with its negative energy shell would make sense. But crossing the speed of light barrier was still prohibited.
So, in the end, the Star Trek version of the warp drive is still not a thing. I know this may bum you out if you were hoping to build that version of the Enterprise sometime soon (as I was). But don't be too despondent. The Bobrick and Martre paper really did make headway. As the authors put it in the end:
"One of the main conclusions of our study is that warp drives are simpler and much less mysterious objects than the broader literature has suggested"
That really is progress.
The Black Death wasn't the only plague in the 1300s.
- In a unique study, researchers have determined how many people in medieval England had bunions
- A fashion trend towards pointed toe shoes made the affliction common.
- Even monks got in on the trend, much to their discomfort later in life.
Late Medieval England had its share of problems. The Wars of Roses raged, the Black Death killed off large parts of the population, and passing ruffians could say "Ni" at will to old ladies.
To make matters worse, a first of its kind study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology has demonstrated that much of the population suffered from another plague — a plague of bunions likely caused by a ridiculous medieval fashion trend.
If the shoe fits, it won't cause bunions
The outlines of a leather shoe from the King's Ditch, Cambridge. It is easy to see how these shoes might be constricting. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit.
The bunion, known to medicine as "hallux valgus," is a deformity of the joint connecting the big toe to the rest of the foot. It is painful and can cause other issues including poor balance. The condition is associated with having worn constrictive shoes for a long period of time as well as genetic factors. Today, it is often caused by wearing high heeled shoes.
The medieval English didn't care for high heeled shoes as much as modern fashionistas, but there was a major fashion trend toward shoes with long, pointed toes called "poulaines" or "crakows" for their supposed place of origin, Krakow, Poland.
This trend, already silly-looking to a modern observer, got out of hand in a hurry. According to some records, the points on nobleman's shoes could be so long as to require tying them to the leg with string so the wearer could walk. At one point, King Edward IV had to ban commoners from wearing points longer than two inches. A couple years later, he saw fit to ban the shoes altogether.
But, just knowing that people back in the day made poor fashion choices doesn't prove they suffered for it. That is where digging up old skeletons to look at their feet comes in.
Beauty is pain: the price of high medieval fashion
To learn how bad the bunion epidemic was, the researchers looked to four burial sites in and around Cambridge. One was a rural cemetery where poor peasants were buried. Another was the All Saints by the Castle parish, which had a mixed collection of people that tended toward poverty. The Hospital of St. John's burial ground contained both the poor charges of a charity hospital and wealthy benefactors. Lastly, they considered the cemetery of a local Augustinian friary, home to monks and well-to-do philanthropists.
The team considered 177 adult skeletons that were at least a quarter complete and still had enough of their feet to make studying them possible. The remains were classified by age and sex by observation and DNA testing. Each was examined for evidence of bunions and signs of complications from the condition, such as falling.
Those buried in the monastery's graveyard were the most affected. Nearly half, 43 percent, of the remains found there had bunions. This includes five of the eleven members of the clergy they found. Twenty-three percent of those laid to rest at the Hospital of St. John had bunions, though only 10 percent of those at the All Saints by the Castle parish graveyard did.
The rural cemetery had a much lower rate of instances, only three percent, suggesting that these peasants were able to avoid at least one plague.
Overall, eighteen percent of the individuals examined had bunions, with men more likely to have them than women. Those at cemeteries known for exclusivity were more likely to have them as well, though it is clear that the condition also affected members of other classes. This makes sense, as it is known that these shoes had mass appeal.
The authors note that the rural cemetery having fewer cases is partly because that cemetery "went out of use prior to the wide adoption of pointed shoes, and it is likely that those residing in the parish predominately wore soft leather shoes, or possibly went barefoot."
Those skeletons with evidence of bunions were more likely to have fractures indicative of a fall. This was more common on those estimated or recorded as having lived past age 45.
In our much more enlightened times, 23 percent of the population currently endures having bunions, most of them women, and one of the leading culprits behind this is the high heeled shoe.
Some things never change.