Y Combinator said it hopes that the study would provide answers to some theoretical questions about what happens when people are given a basic income. Sputnik discussed the issue with Alyssa Battistoni, a PhD candidate in Yale University's Department of Political Science and an editor at Jacobin Magazine.
Sputnik: What is your take on the planned experiment on universal basic income? I can imagine that many people who hear this are going to ask where they can sign up and other people are going to have big questions. A similar proposal was rejected by the Swiss in a vote.
Alyssa Battistoni: Switzerland had a referendum on basic income and it lost, although it might have been a bit of a publicity stunt to get some attention to basic income. Certainly, I think if it’s too good to be true is one of the big questions about basic income. This experiment is interesting because I think that it’s the first one that’s happened in the United States in 40 years or so.
They are going to be doing more qualitative research; they are really interested in how it affects people’s lives, they’re going to be asking people what their experience of getting more money without having to do anything for it is.
It seems interesting, the study itself seems fine, but what worries me is the fact that it’s being done by a major player in Silicon Valley and I think it represents a move of Silicon Valley tech companies and the tech industry into public policy.
Alyssa Battistoni: That’s a good question. I would not be surprised if it did show good results. A lot of the experiments that happened did show that people had better health outcomes, spent more time and money on education and spending time with their families. There were generally social and health benefits across the board in these small trials that happened in the 1970’s in the US and Canada.
That seems totally plausible to me unless you look at the framing of the Y Combinator’s experiment. There’s a video where they went around and asked people “what would you do if you had an extra thousand dollars a month?” Clearly, when they were asking people this, a lot of people could use the extra money; they were all saying: ”I’d pay my rent I’d buy more groceries. I’d pay off my student debt.” One of them people was a teacher and said that he would pay for books for his students.
I think that people are struggling with basic needs and with affording basic needs, as the economy is growing again in the US and I think that’s because the economic gains must have gone to the very wealthy. People who participate in this I’m sure will have a positive effect from having more money and I think a lot of people could use some more money.
It was an interesting policy experiment and idea. I think that’s still true, I think people think “That sounds great, but why? That can’t possibly work,” it seems, like I said, too good to be true.
So, the question really is what happens when you get some results and how you actually make a policy come into being – and that’s a political question.
Alyssa Battistoni: I think all of that is completely right. There are a lot of different versions of how people think about what basic income is, how much money you get and how it works.
I think that the version that you see coming out the Y Combinator and Silicon Valley is very much a result of this income inequality and it’s not trying to rectify it necessarily.
Silicon Valley is worried that technology is going to automate a lot of jobs and a lot of people are going to be left unemployed, underemployed or not making enough money to get by.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Alyssa Battistoni and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.