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Y Combinator debuts basic income pilot for Oakland residents

The company is giving people income without stipulations, to soften the blow of a changing economy

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
May 31, 2016
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/45d2

The idea of robots taking our jobs is becoming pretty well established at this point. Most people think it will happen within the next half century, and even some of the most prominent names in tech have warned about what automation may mean for regular people going forward.

Specifically, what happens to the people who are displaced when their jobs disappear? As Vinod Khosla said, when it happens, society will need to do something to fix the inevitable income inequality that will arise.

Y Combinator is already attempting to solve the problem before it gets out of hand, though in a way that will likely be very controversial.

On Tuesday, the company revealed that it will be launching a pilot in Oakland, in which it will supply people with what it has termed "basic income," or, as Y Combinator described it when it first launched the program back in January, "giving people enough money to live on with no strings attached."

Essentially, it's a way of cushioning the blow of a changing work environment by giving people an income so that they don't fall through the cracks.

In the pilot, the income will be "unconditional," meaning participants will receive it for the entirety of the study, "no matter what."

"People will be able to volunteer, work, not work, move to another country—anything. We hope basic income promotes freedom, and we want to see how people experience that freedom," Y Combinator President Sam Altman wrote in a blog post.

Altman expanded upon the idea of what basic income means in a series of Tweets. 

Originally, the company had said it would be studying the effects of such an effort over a five year period, but it has since realized that it need to conduct a short-term study first in order "to prepare for the longer-term study by working on our methods--how to pay people, how to collect data, how to randomly choose a sample, etc."

Y Combinator decided on Oakland, Altman said, due to a variety of factors, including its diversity.

Altman called Oakland, "a city of great social and economic diversity, and it has both concentrated wealth and considerable inequality. We think these traits make it a very good place to explore how basic income could work for our pilot."

"It’s also close to where we live, which means we’ll be closer to the people involved.  We think our local resources and relationships will help us design and run this study effectively, and we hope that will enable us to produce the best research possible."

The company says that it has already been connecting with Oakland city officials and community groups for feedback, though it did not specify which groups it had been talking to.

There are a number of details that were also left out, including when the pilot program will be launchin, how long it will last, wow many participants there will be, and wow much money they will be given.

VatorNews reached out to Y Combinator for more details, and we will update this story if we learn more. 

In addition to the new pilot, it was also announced that Elizabeth Rhodes joined the Basic Income Project as its Research Director.

She recently completed a joint PhD in Social Work and Political Science at the University of Michigan, where her research focused on health and education provision in slum communities in Nairobi.

"We received over 1000 applications for this position (including tenured professors from Oxford, Columbia, and Harvard), and Elizabeth stood out as the right candidate based on her aptitude and her ambition. We’re very excited to work with her," said Altman.

The idea of giving people a cushion so they don't get hurt my the changing economy is a noble idea, but it is not without its detractors. It's not hard to see that many will simply see it as another form of welfare, and yet another entitlement that tax payers have to fund. 

"At first blush, universal basic income (UBI) seems a very attractive idea, especially to a progressive.  Yet it suffers from two serious problems.  First, the odds are very high that an effort to secure UBI would prove quixotic," Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research institute that conducts analyses on government policies and programs, wrote in a blog post

"Second, and more disconcerting, any possibility of overcoming the formidable obstacles to UBI will almost certainly require a left-right coalition that has significant conservative support — and conservative support for UBI rests on an approach that would increase poverty, rather than reduce it."

(Image source: plus.google.com)

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