Wealth variation in the US is at its worse, but it is not all doom and gloom as Y Combinator a startup accelerator based in the Silicon Valley has a notion that one way to solve the problem would be to give everyone some free money.
For the next five years the accelerator is planning to give a select a group of Americans a regular paycheck, with nothing expected in return. (If you would be interested in volunteering Y Combinator is now recruiting.)
Rather than these people having to get by on just their wage, they will also be a regular income that would cover some of their basic expenses such as food and shelter. This idea is not a new one, as the “guaranteed or basic income” idea has been operating in Europe since the early 60s, however what Y Combinator is offering is certainly a first in the US.
Sam Altman the president of Y Combinator writes that he thinks it is ridiculous that in years to come we will look back and see that using fear of not being able to eat was how people were motivated. Altman also states that he believes that it will be impossible to have equality of opportunity without a type of guaranteed income.
Currently the accelerator has not made a decision whether it will offer basic income to specific populations in a single region of the US or sprinkle the subjects all over the country.
The point of this experiment is to shed light on the main elements of uncertainties about basic income, such as whether people become lazier when they no longer need to work? Will people be happier? Will the high earners resent the idea?
The idea has been met with increasing interest in Europe over the past few months with the Dutch city Utrecht running an experiment in June 2015. They gave 250 people on welfare a steady monthly income whether they were in work or not. The experiment had spread to 24 other Dutch cities by August and Finland announced in December that it will be putting its own plan to the vote this year.
The system is no stranger to America as Richard Nixon tried the system in 1960s; however it failed as people’s values did not recognize the welfare models; however this sense of togetherness quickly fell apart when Vietnam hit and the country broke into fragments and the economic uncertainty of the 1970s became apparent.
The historian Michael Katz told the Remapping Debate in 2013 that the guaranteed income was a victim of a much larger example which affected every part of society. Talking to Tech Insider, Almaz Zelleke a researcher of basic income at NYU Shanghai explained how this idea could have problems getting people on board due to it being such a huge change and involves persuading everyone that the basic income should be seen as a democratic right in the same way as a vote.
However if the experiment that Y Combinator plans to implicate works, it could be the first real evidence that there really is the need for a major change to the wealth distribution in America.