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Surprising Science

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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