On Universal Basic Income

Last week, Wired magazine published a feature length article about a 20-year study of the Cherokee Indian tribe’s casino profits. Twice a year, the tribe pays members of the community $2000 as their share of the profits. Researchers used data from the study to study the idea of a universal basic income and how it can change a community, but not necessarily a culture.

At the end of the article, the researchers conclude that a universal basic income can be very positive, and that the negative effects commonly associated with it; contentment, reliance, waste, refusal to work, etc.; were largely absent. In fact, instances of behavioral and psychological problems were significantly reduced, college graduation rates significantly increased, and many families were able to pull themselves above the poverty line by using the money as an opportunity to find work. However, it did not solve issues like drug dependence, alcoholism, or overdoses.

I recall reading about a universal basic income several years ago. It appeared to me at the time to be an exaggerated version of America’s current welfare program. There was no way possible that this could work without actually creating dependence on a system which only seems to leave more and more people behind every single year. After reading this article it seems that a universal basic income may actually work. Not an income that completely replaces the minimum wage, but a stipend that allows you the opportunity to test new waters.

If you received a $2000 grant every year, what would you do with it? I bet a lot of people would buy a new computer, phone, or tablet, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need communication and access to information to be creative. I’m also sure there’s plenty of people out there that would completely waste the money, probably on things like drugs and alcohol. But we can’t control them, they have to make their own choices. That’s just how the world works.

In my family of three, we already make enough money to support ourselves with a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. We don’t really want for anything. But a $2000 grant, per person, every year, would make a huge difference in our opportunity to create something or try something new. On a whim, my wife and I talked about trying to get in on the T-shirt business this year. That’s a pretty risky business to be in. But to be able to spend $2000 without having to worry about a major loss would very likely give us the courage to give it a shot.

I’m excited about the possibilities a universal basic income could provide. And I also buy into the idea that it’s going to be necessary in the future. It sounds like a lot of sci-fi right now that the future will be full of robots that will handle our basic needs, but it’s also pretty likely to actually happen. And when it does, not everyone will have the will or the desire to be a doctor or lawyer. Regardless, we will all need something to sustain ourselves.