Facebook co-founder: Give the 99% a $6,000 raise by taxing big tech and the 1%

Chris Hughes earned nearly half a billion dollars after co-founding Facebook. Now he's arguing for fairer wages in the form of a $500 monthly 'social dividend' for low- and middle-class Americans.


Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes earned nearly half a billion dollars after working at the social media giant for several years. His story could be seen as evidence that the American dream is alive and well. But according to Hughes, it was “nothing but a lucky break” and an indication there’s something fundamentally unfair about the structure of the U.S. economy.

I think the American dream is safe to say if not dead it’s on life support,” Hughes told Big Think. “It’s this idea that if you do well you can get ahead in life and if you have family and kids they can perhaps do a little bit better than you did. And what we know by the numbers is that the median wages in this country hasn’t budged meaningfully in nearly 40 years, and yet the cost of living has increased by some counts by up to 30 percent.”

Hughes thinks the U.S. can fix that with a simple and radical change to the tax code, one that would raise taxes to 50 percent for those who earn more than $250,000, and give every working adult who makes less than $50,000 a monthly tax credit of $500, creating an annual income floor of $6,000.

“That’s not enough money to live on, but it is a massive amount of money in the lives of many working people in our country,” Hughes said on a recent episode of the Interesting People in Interesting Times podcast.

Hughes said it’s not quite universal basic income as a policy, which he said is “unaffordable, it’s redistributive in a negative direction, and it’s not what most Americans want.” Rather, it’d be similar to the earned income tax credit that rewards low- to moderate-income working Americans, particularly those with children. This social dividend, as Hughes called it, could be funded by taxing things like data or carbon.

Of course, that’d require a massive rollback of Trump’s tax reforms. But Hughes argues his plan would only cost Americans “just a bit more than the total cost of the Trump tax bill,” reasoning that the spending habits of lower- and middle-class Americans do more to energize the economy.


McDonald's restaurant employees rally after walking off the job to demand to demand a $15 per hour wage and union rights during nationwide 'Fight for $15 Day of Disruption' protests on November 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

“If you put $100 in the pockets of someone who’s working hard to make ends meet they’re going to spend a lot of that money, most of that money on things like childcare, housing, health care wherever their bills are the highest,” Hughes told Big Think. “You give someone who is in the one percent an extra $100 they might spend one or two, but the vast majority of that money is going to get parked in a bank account and not really become part of the productive economy.”

Big tech should also play a role in reshaping the American economy, according to Hughes.

“We all create immense amounts of data,” Hughes said on the Interesting People in Interesting Times podcast. “Not just your Facebook post, but your phones know where you are physically, your Fitbit knows your heart rate, your calendar knows where you’re going to be. The amount of data we’re creating is of historic proportions. And the profit margins of the Big 4 and of a whole host of companies are also historically high. There is an opportunity to say: Our collective data is powering these profits, we should all share a little bit in the upside. You could ask these companies to pay a small tax into a sovereign wealth fund and have that be distributed as a data dividend. A check to every single citizen as a recognition of the value they’re creating.”

Americans seem to be split on universal basic income. A 2018 survey issued by Northeastern University and Gallup showed:

  • 48% of Americans would support a universal basic income program
  • 46% of supporters would pay higher personal taxes to support it
  • 80% of supporters say companies should pay higher taxes to fund the program

Silicon Valley leaders like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Sam Altman have also expressed support for the idea in some form.

“I think we’ll end up doing universal basic income,” Elon Musk told the crowd at the World Government Summit in Dubai in 2017. “It’s going to be necessary.”

The reason it might be necessary is because Musk and his Silicon Valley contemporaries are rapidly creating technologies that will likely displace a massive chunk of the workforce in coming decades. A universal basic income, as Jathan Sadowski wrote in The Guardian, could become a consolation prize for workers replaced by A.I.

It all begs the question: How would the rest of society begin to regard big tech if that happens?

That existential anxiety could partially explain why Y Combinator, an American seed accelerator in Silicon Valley, is running its own universal basic income experiment.

“The motivation behind the project is to begin exploring alternatives to the existing social safety net,” Elizabeth Rhodes, the research director for Y Combinator’s UBI project, told Quartz. “If technology eliminates jobs or jobs continue to become less secure, an increasing number of people will be unable to make ends meet with earnings from employment.”

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
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Elizabeth Warren's plan to forgive student loan debt could lead to an economic boom

A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
  • The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Supreme Court to hear 3 cases on LGBT workplace discrimination

In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
  • The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
  • Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws effectively extending the Civil Rights of 1964 to gay and transgender people.
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