‘I spend most of time thinking about how to combat income inequality through the guaranteed income…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) A consortium of Silicon Valley progressives, led by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, is piloting a program to give free money to residents of Stockton, California.
The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration will team with the city, 80 miles east of San Francisco, to distribute $500 a month for 18 months to 100 residents with no strings attached.
Organizers of said they hoped to provide “an unprecedented opportunity to radically reimagine our social safety net and reinvent the 21st century Social Contract.”
Originally announced in October by Stockton’s 27-year-old mayor, Michael Tubbs, the experiment has garnered increasing attention through recent stories from national outlets like CNN and The New York Times, which likened it to Sir Thomas More’s 16th-century work Utopia.
Despite its proximity to the wealthy Bay Area, where property values are among the most inflated in the world, Stockton faced hard economic times when the housing bubble burst, resulting in a foreclosure crisis that (along with poor fiscal management and unrestrained spending) led the city to declare bankruptcy in 2012.
According to the SEED website, “Stockton is in many ways a microcosm of the United States. [M]ajor shifts in the economy such as persistent wage stagnation and rising inequality have made it increasingly difficult for hardworking people to make ends meet.”
The SEED initiative is slated to begin in 2019 and will be evaluated by researchers from the University of Tennessee and the University of Pennsylvania.
The program is privately funded through a $1-million grant from the Economic Security Project.
Among its co-chairs is Hughes, a former Harvard roommate of Mark Zuckerberg and one of Facebook’s five original co-founders.
Hughes’s past progressive projects include helping direct digital initiatives for the Obama campaign and a four-year stint as publisher/editor of The New Republic, which he helped steward into insolvency before selling it off in February 2016.
In a profile on the site Medium.com, Hughes said, “I spend most of time thinking about how to combat income inequality through the guaranteed income.”
With broad support from tech industry tycoons such as Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, California Democrats added the Universal Basic Income to their official party platform in March.
But while private funding could help get it off the ground, Hughes acknowledged in an interview with UBI advocate Irv Garfinkel that the true aim may be to establish the ultimate government entitlement.
“[T]he real utility of the concept is to set a very aggressive goal like Social Security for all,” he said. “The big goal is useful because it makes other policies seem modest in comparison—Food stamps, SSI, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and so on.”