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Interview: Hawaii becomes first state to study full basic income

Chris Lee, a Democratic state representative from Hawaii, made international headlines when he passed legislation creating a working group to study Universal Basic Income.

Lee recently joined the UBI Podcast to discuss the legislation.

He said the working group will analyze Hawaii’s exposure to automation and the potential for solutions, such as basic income, to address this issue. The working group will also look at the efficacy of Hawaii’s current social services system and whether it is adequate for the challenges of the future.

“It’s safe to say, that if we do nothing…these programs that we are already spending money on are going to go through the roof. To say nothing of unemployment and other changes in the economy that is going to exacerbate income inequality and limit the opportunity for people to work and make a living,” Lee said.

There is no end-date to the working group, and Lee said the key players will likely be organized by the end of this summer. Lee said he hopes that by the next legislative session in January the working group will have produced enough research to push for funding for deeper research into evaluating various proposals.

A potential outcome of the working group is to create a pilot program that is “not necessarily administered by the state,” but is tailored to the local economy, he said.

While the United States had a debate over basic income during the Nixon Administration, Lee said he hopes that initiatives like this working group can bring the discussion to a new generation.

“I think this is definitely an inflection point where we have to acknowledge that the challenges that face us are far larger than our existing infrastructure and economic system is equipped to deal with,” Lee said.

Lee said there must be some changes in the system.

“I think that ultimately we have no choice and it is inevitable that we see some sort of paradigm shift in the way we are doing things,” he said.

The legislation passed unanimously, and Lee said he has not encountered opposition to the proposal. The legislation had support from labor unions, the business community, social justice advocates, and regular Hawaiians.

There were even a handful of legislators Lee worked with on the working group that already had exposure to basic income previously, he said.

“I think that respect for one’s neighbor, that ‘aloha spirit’ is something that drives our value set so that when we come together and say that everybody should have the right to basic financial security — that’s something I think is meaningful to people. So I think everybody has at least been open to the idea of having this discussion and seeing where it will go,” Lee said.

About Tyler Prochazka

Tyler Prochazka has written 86 articles.

Tyler Prochazka is a PhD candidate in Asia Pacific Studies at National Chengchi University in Taiwan. He is the features editor of Basic Income News and the chairman of UBI Taiwan. Support my work with UBI Taiwan: @typro

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.


  • Michelle

    While the IDEA of a basic income is warm and fuzzy, the reality is that such a program is not sustainable, especially as the workforce shrinks due to aging, retiring baby boomers. In addition to that, let’s imagine–each island dweller receives say $500/month. We might argue that would help to offset the high cost of living in Hawai’i, specifically rent & groceries. Well, landlords and supermarket owners will be aware of the additional income everyone is receiving, & they will raise prices accordingly. This creates a never-ending cycle that leaves those currently struggling STILL struggling, while those with plenty just have an extra $6k/year in their pockets, which is nothing but pocket change to them anyway. So what’s the POINT of a program like this, unless the government starts regulating rents, fuel costs, food & sundry items, etc.? There IS no point. The market will adapt to folks having more money, & you’ll be right back where you started!

  • hiroland

    [oh,no of course my details will NAHT be published]…Madam, the proposal of a Universal Basic Income IS, in my considered opinion as a London born-and-bred British Citizen with 20 yrs ‘ full-time work behind me, ONE modest step towards the return of DIGNITY to ordinary citizens…IF any of us believe that Humanity has a higher purpose than spending all our time securing food and shelter, then here’s one way forward. Are the resources available? Ask Gaia….and other knowledgeable types.

  • UBI is Utopia

    This is pure Utopia. Universal Income might be possible only if there are no billionaires and other leeches that personally do not produce anything for this world. In sort: systems of Greed and Communism can not= coexist unless the society is setup using Hunger Games blueprint. But then – who decides what any person worth to this world? Group of inherently wealthy leeches that parasite on the rest of the world just because they can? Look at Soviet Union. They were suppose to have Communism by now.

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