Y Combinator launches basic income project in Oakland, CA

Jun 16, 2016

The idea of a basic income, which would guarantee a base level of financial support for every person, seems like something born of the Myth of the Golden Age.

Now, a start up in Oakland, California will make basic income a reality – for a short-term study, at least. Y Combinator traditionally provides seed funding for startups, but its founder, Sam Altman, has looked into the future and sees a world in which jobs for humans grow ever more scarce.

“In a world where technology eliminates jobs, it will mean that the cost of having a great life goes down a lot,” Altman tweeted, “And I think we need something like basic income to have a cushion and a smooth transition to the jobs of the future.”

But basic income raises a lot of questions, not the least of which: Where will the money come from? Backed by a roster of wealthy investors, Y Combinator probably won’t have to worry about funding for the project, but government-funded and sustainable basic income is a far more complicated question.

Because basic income would provide every citizen with base-level financial support regardless of current wealth status, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has argued that basic income will increase poverty. The government will be forced to strip funding from welfare programs and essentially pump more money into the middle and upper classes.

Swiss voters recently rejected a referendum that would have granted universal basic income to all citizens by a wide margin. Detractors of the movement argued that the basic income measure would throw the country into economic chaos and encourage workers to quit their jobs.

But the moral argument for basic income is a strong one. The Basic Income Initiative Campaign in Switzerland strove to remind voters that, "People voting yes to the initiative will ensure that the principle of a dignified life guaranteed to all will be enshrined in the federal constitution.”

I will watch with interest as Y Combinator’s basic income project unfolds. It’s my belief that while we do work for a living, we also live to work – the manual, creative process is what pulls us to earth and grounds us in our humanity. I doubt that basic income will strip us of that desire.

Furthermore, even simply on a symbolic level, to formally recognize each and every person as a being in need and deserving of basic fulfillment is an empathetic gesture of the highest humanistic order.

...But that’s my opinion, what’s yours?

A new soul and media geek, Laura writes about community, poetry and pop culture. Find her @Pennyscientist or on Freelancers Union.

Laura Murphy

A new soul and media geek, Laura writes about community, poetry and pop culture.