Written by: John Boik

For many good reasons, the concept of a basic national income is enjoying a surge of interest within academia, civil society, and political sectors. I am proposing a program that, in theory, is a mutually supportive cousin of basic income. Unlike typical basic income programs, this system is implemented at the local (e.g., community or city) level by non-governmental entities. Moreover, it can be implemented in parallel with more traditional basic income programs to help achieve expanded goals.

John Boik

Before describing it, I pose a question: What is the purpose of an economic system? As analogy, the purpose of a tractor is to pull or push farm equipment. Tractors are designed to meet user requirements, and the optimality of a particular design can be assessed by how well it does so relative to alternative designs. What are the user-requirements of an economic system? It is an uncommon question, but if we can answer it with clarity we would be in a better position both to assess alternative designs and monitor progress.

In a recent paper I argue that relative optimality of an economic or governance system is a measure of its capacity to help communities solve problems and organize activities to elevate collective wellbeing. Collective wellbeing refers to social and environmental flourishing, both local and global. Problem solving is the proximal aspect of relative optimality, and elevated wellbeing of the distal aspect, or result, of good problem solving.

Viewed this way, existing economic and governance systems are suboptimal relative to need. Indeed, they might be incapable of addressing today’s complex problems (climate change, pollution, and inequality, for example). In the paper, I call on the science and technology sectors, and the academic community, to play a pivotal role in developing and testing new, more effective systems. Further, I suggest that the prudent approach to do so is at the local level. Once simulations and other preliminary work are completed, new designs can undergo scientific field testing via community-based volunteer clubs. This approach will allow testing by relatively small groups, at relatively low cost and risk, in co-existence with existing systems, and without legislative action.

A prototype for this approach — and a cousin to basic income — is the Local Economic Direct Democracy Association (LEDDA) framework, now in early stage development. This bi-currency system uses money (both a local digital currency and national currency) as a bone fide voting tool in a type of direct economic democracy. An interactive model of currency flows in an idealized system is available at the Principled Societies Project website.

A published agent-based model reveals similarities and differences to basic income proposals. Once a LEDDA has matured, participants receive a very high and equal income (the equivalent to about $110,000 per family, the 90th percentile of US family income). Employees receive income in the form of wages, but any member who is not employed or not in the workforce unconditionally receives this income as well, from the novel crowd-based financial system. Members also use the LEDDA financial system to fund the types of jobs that they desire and deem useful.

John Boik, PhD
Founder, Principled Societies Project

About the author:

John Boik received a BS in civil engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder; a master’s degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine from Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, Portland, Oregon; and a PhD in biomedical sciences from the University of Texas, Health Sciences Center, Houston. He completed postdoctoral work at Stanford University, in the Department of Statistics. He is the author of Economic Direct Democracy and other books and papers, and founder of the Principled Societies Project.