The universal basic income is there – it just looks different than expected


Carried by this success, Tubbs formed an organization, Mayors for Guaranteed Income, to expand his town’s pilot. To date, 42 mayors have enrolled across America, and more projects are now being carried out in cities across ab Hudson, New York, and Gary, Indiana, to Compton, California.

Since the results of the first year of SEED were published in March, Tubbs has been asked many times what he has learned from them. “I’m tempted to say ‘nothing’,” he told me in late March.

He says the pilot hadn’t told him anything he wasn’t aware of: he knew from his own experience that many stereotypes about poor people (especially poor black people), as he put it, are not “rooted in reality”.

Tubbs was born in Stockton to a teenage mother and an imprisoned father. He attended Stanford on an needs-based scholarship and returned home after graduation. Soon he was elected to the city council before becoming mayor at the age of 26.

Tubbs didn’t need the data to know he could trust people to make rational financial decisions, but the experience helped him “learn the power of narrative.”

He realized that “sometimes ideology, sometimes racism” affects people’s perception. Part of his job as mayor has been “to illustrate what is real and what is not,” he says. He saw an opportunity to “illustrate what is actually supported by data and what is supported by bias”.

The need to change narratives through research and evidence was also clear to Nyandoro of Magnolia Mother’s Trust. A few days before the third cohort was paid, I asked her what research questions she hoped this new cycle would answer.

“We now have more than enough data to prove that cash works,” she told me. Now, your question was not how cash would affect those on a low income, but rather, “What is the data or topic of conversation we need to reach policymakers … to move their hearts?” What evidence might be enough to make guaranteed income a federal policy?

As it turned out, the difference was no longer research, but a global pandemic.

The pandemic effect

As home-stay contracts shut down many businesses and shattered jobs, especially for low-income workers already at risk, the gap in American inequality became harder to ignore. The food lines stretched for miles. Millions of Americans have been displaced. Students with no internet access at home sat in public parking lots to connect to WiFi so they could take classes online.

This was all worse for people with color. By February 2021, black and Hispanic women, who make up only a third of the female workforce, accounted for nearly half of all job losses in women’s pandemics. Black men were almost twice as likely to be unemployed as other ethnic groups, according to the census data analyzed by the Pew Research Center.

All of this changed the conversation about the cost of guaranteed income programs. When the comparison was made between the basic income and the status quo, they were viewed as too expensive to be realistic. In the face of the recession caused by the pandemic, aid packages were suddenly seen as necessary to stimulate, or at least avoid, the American economy, what Jerome Powell, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, called a “downward spiral” with tragic results.

“Covid-19 really illustrated all of the things that those of us who actually work and work for and are related to people know who are economically unsafe.”

“Covid-19 really illustrated all of the things that those of us who actually work and work for and are related to people know who are economically unsafe,” says Tubbs. That is, poverty was not an issue “for the people. It’s with the systems. It’s up to the guidelines. “

Stimulus payments and increased unemployment benefits – that is, direct cash transfers to Americans without any conditions – were passed with great public support. An Extended Child and Dependent Tax Credit (CTC) was launched earlier this year, giving most American families up to $ 3,600 per child in monthly installments.

This new benefit, which is scheduled to last a year, is also available to families who do not earn enough money to pay income taxes. They were omitted in previous versions of the tax credit. By paying monthly payments of up to $ 300 per child instead of a single year-end discount, families have a better way to plan and budget. Child poverty is expected to be cut in half.

Washington may not have used guaranteed income language, but these programs fit the definition.

The CTC is “a game changer,” says Natalie Foster, co-founder of the Economic Security Project, which funded many of the Guaranteed Income pilots, including both SEED and Guaranteed Income Mayor. It “overturns decades of punitive welfare policies in America,” she says, and creates the conditions for more permanent policies.

While her organization originally thought it could take a decade of data from urban pilot programs to “inform federal policy,” the CTC means the guaranteed income has arrived, at least temporarily.

The stimulus programs and the CTC also make Tubbs “now more bullish than ever” that guaranteed income could soon become a staple of federal politics.

“We live in a time of pandemics,” he says. “It’s not just Covid-19. It’s an earthquake in the next month. They are forest fires. All of these things happen all the time – not to mention automation. We need our people’s ability to build economic resilience. “

The responsibility for poverty rests “on politics,” says Michael Tubbs, the former mayor of Stockton, California.


But even if rhetoric has turned away from the technocratic concept of the UBI, Silicon Valley’s interest in universality has not gone away. Last April, Jack Dorsey announced a new philanthropic initiative, Start Small LLC, to give away $ 1 billion.

Donations would initially focus on helping with Covid-19 and then move on to universal basic income and girls’ education after the pandemic, he said. Dorsey stated that “the best long-term solutions to the world’s existential problems” are to use money for these purposes.

Despite the announced focus on the universal basic income, StartSmall has become one of the largest funders for guaranteed income. It donated $ 18 million to Mayors for Guaranteed Income, $ 15 million to the Open Research Lab (formerly known as the Y Combinator Basic Income Experiment), $ 7 million to Humanity Forward, Andrew Yangs Foundation, and most recently 3, $ 5 million to set up a Cash Transfer Lab at New York University to do more research on the subject.

Yang, who is now running for Mayor of New York City, has also turned away from his focus on universality. Instead of sending $ 1,000 checks to everyone every month, he is now advocating a guaranteed minimum income of $ 2,000 a year for New Yorkers living in extreme poverty.

Tubbs claims to have some credit for these shifts. He recalls a conversation with Dorsey in which he said to the billionaire, “It will take some time to reach universality, but it is imperative that we have a guaranteed income. We can test the income guarantee. Let’s start there. “

If his donations are an indication, Dorsey took Tubbs’ words to heart. It is unclear, however, whether he and other technology leaders view guaranteed income as a stepping stone for UBI or an end in itself. (Neither Dorsey nor Start Small responded to requests for an interview.)

Scott Santens, one of the earliest Basic Income Brothers, believes the tech sector’s initial interest in UBI as a solution to job losses remains relevant. The pandemic led to an increase in sales of automation and robots. Reports of reports on Amazon’s call center technology have increased, as has the purchase of warehouse robots to replace warehouse workers.

Meanwhile, Sam Altman, who started Y Combinator’s UBI experiment before heading up the artificial intelligence startup OpenAI, recently wrote a manifesto about the situation. In it, he urged that we continue to focus on the bigger picture: even if the pandemic caused a short-term shock, technology – artificial intelligence in particular – will have the greatest impact on employment over time.

Altman demanded that the UBI be funded through a 2.5% corporate tax. “The best way to improve capitalism is so that everyone as a shareholder can benefit directly from it,” he wrote.

But would “everyone” include people of color who are already disproportionately harmed by the prejudices of AI? And could a dividend from artificial intelligence spoil this damage? In particular, Altman’s manifesto omits any mention of race.

Reaching out for comment, he sent a statement through an OpenAI representative saying, “We need to build AI so that traditionally marginalized communities don’t get more harm. In addition to building the technology justly and equitably, we also need to find a way to broadly share the benefits. These are important topics independently of one another. ”


Steven Gregory