In 2016, the policy proposal for Universal Basic Income (UBI) grew more favorable in American opinion. In that year alone, Martin Ford (author of "Rise of the Robots"), Robert B. Reich (former U.S. Secretary of Labor), Andrew Stern (former president of the SEIU) and Charles Murray (a conservative intellectual) all published books putting forward an unconditional basic income as an innovative and essential policy tool for confronting economic insecurity. Here in Silicon Valley, many have expressed their support for UBI, viewing it as providing a safety net for those who are already marginalized from the labor market and those who, because of increasing automation, may be displaced in the future. Y Combinator Research went further and set aside millions to start experimenting with unconditional cash transfers among low-income households in Oakland. Poverty, structural unemployment, growing inequalities, automation, and precariousness are some of the concerns that basic income proponents sought to address with a policy that was described as a "disarmingly simple idea": Give everyone cash, no strings attached, unconditionally and individually.
There is an increasing need for in-depth academic research on how to design a universal basic income and how to evaluate its implementation — assessing the visions that underpin unconditional cash, the political and economic feasibility of various proposals, as well as its strengths and weaknesses as a measure to alleviate poverty, precariousness and inequalities.
The time is ripe to establish an independent initiative that will serve to stimulate research on UBI, to advise those developing basic-income policies and carrying out experiments, to aggregate and disseminate research findings, and to convene scholars, policy makers and leaders in business, think tanks, nonprofits and foundations around the politics of UBI.
What kind of basic income would work? What would people do with free cash? Would they stop working, would they work more, would they volunteer more? Under which condition (if any) can people thrive without a job? Would a basic income cause inflation? Is it affordable? The Basic Income Lab at the McCoy Center for Ethics in Society will help to answer some of these questions. BIL has received a seed grant from the Economic Security Project.
Juliana Bidadanure is an Assistant Professor in Philosophy affiliated with the Center for Ethics and Society. She has been working on basic income for over six years. In 2015, she organized an International conference on basic income at the European University Institute in Italy, and she is now teaching on basic income at Stanford. She serves as BIL's research director.
Rob Reich is a professor of political science and currently serves as faculty director of the Center for Ethics in Society.
For inquiries about the Basic Income Lab, email firstname.lastname@example.org.