NewCo Shift Forum
The case for basic income
The Shift Ignite series, curated by Brady Forrest at the NewCo Shift Forum, featured five minute talks from a diverse set of leaders, including Rose Broome, CEO of HandUp. In this talk (transcript and video below), Broome makes the case for a basic income in the United States.
Rose Broome: Hi everyone. By now, most of you have probably heard about Universal Basic Income. It’s a social safety net that gives everyone a payment that covers their basic cost of living. The basic income has had support on the left and the right. Martin Luther King believed that it would help end poverty.
Conservative economist Milton Friedman like it because he thought it would cut down on government bureaucracy and promote freedom. That was 50 years ago. Now everyone’s talking about because the robots are coming. I’m guilty of this, too. While it’s true that the nature of work is changing, historically, technology and automation have actually created more jobs.
That gets us to the big question, could the basic income actually happen in the US? I think so. I’m going to outline the three main steps that I think we need to take to get there. The first is that we need to accept that poverty is here now. We need to start now. We don’t need to wait for self-driving cars.
50 million Americans live below the poverty line. It’s already affecting our political stability. I see this up close in my own work. I’m the CEO of a tech startup called HandUp that lets you donate money directly to people who are experiencing homelessness and poverty. We work with people like Julianne who became homeless for the first time when she was seven months pregnant.
She used HandUp at first to help pay for her food, for her baby and supplies. Now she uses it to help pay for school. She’s studying accounting. With the basic income, Julianne would have these basic needs met. Of course, she can turn to our existing social safety nets, but it’s a mess. We have over 80 programs that cost a trillion dollars a year.
Which of these programs should we cut? Which should we keep? How would we pay for our basic income? I think these are really interesting questions. Unless you’re a policy wonk, I think spending too much time on these questions can be a big distraction. Instead, I think we need to start small, step two.
Great examples of these are, a Y Combinator that’s launching a pilot of the basic income in Oakland, and the universal income project that hosts meet ups and hackathons that help get the word out. We need to support efforts like these and create more. Another example is starting small is looking at existing programs, like in Alaska where everyone gets $1,000 a year from oil revenues.
Social Security is another example. These existing programs could be grown into something like a basic income. We don’t have to start from scratch. Starting small is how Finland is doing it. They just launched a pilot of the basic income with 2,000 citizens who are unemployed and each will get €560 a month for two years.
They think this will create, excuse me, security while also helping promote work because it doesn’t dis-incentivize people from getting a job. The third and most important step is that we need to build a movement with a broad coalition of people in organizations who will rally behind the basic income, who will get the word out, give ignite talks about it and fight for experiments and policy.
A movement that’s inspired by a new American dream where everyone has the basics economic security, where poverty is seen not as a character flaw, but as the systemic issue that we know it is, a dream where everyone can pursue the work that they care about like teaching our children and where that work is valued and imbued with meaning even if it doesn’t pay.
Where everyone, regardless of their background, can be an entrepreneur or start a business. It is so much more than an answer to automation. The basic income represents a paradigm shift about the way we live our lives. Imagine if everyone around you actually was free to do what they love. That’s the dream of the basic income that will inspire a movement to make it a reality.
Only a crisis produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. Just a few months ago, Obama said that over the next 10 to 20 years as a nation, we will need to debate the basic income.
Let us start now, start small and build a movement so when that time comes, the basic income is one of the most researched and loved ideas that is lying around. This is some of my work. I hope you’ll check it out and join us.