Interviews; Opinion

UBI Calculator answers basic income’s big question

Conrad Shaw wants America to know about Universal Basic Income, and he has two big projects to help make it happen.

Shaw’s documentary project is filming 21 Americans across 10 states who are receiving a basic income for two years. The documentary series will be released throughout 2020.

More recently, Shaw created the UBI Calculator to show individuals how much they would gain (or lose) from various basic income proposals.

The goal behind these two projects was to “answer the two main questions you get when you’re having a discussion about UBI.” That is, what would people do with the money and how do you pay for it.

The UBI Podcast spoke with Shaw about the UBI Calculator and what it could mean for the basic income movement.

Many people are worried that basic income “is just going to be taxing the middle class.” The UBI Calculator helps answer this concern about whether the middle class would be taxed more or would gain more under a basic income program.

With the calculator, an individual can type their own household income, social assistance, and other information to see how basic income plans would affect them, including Andrew Yang’s plan. 

Shaw spent “hundreds” of hours on Google Spreadsheets developing the math behind the calculator, along with an intern who spent ten weeks assisting the development. He said he made the calculator based on “conservative” assumptions so that individuals can see the “worst-case scenarios” rather than paint a more rosy picture of each plan.

“I think credibility comes from not only the depth of the analysis when you’re talking about web tools I think it also comes from the ease of use and just the ease of functionality,” he said.

To build the calculator, Shaw raised $70,000 USD “to make the version of it that I thought it needed to be.”

For the future, Shaw plans to make a “policymaker mode” where individuals can “go in and play with the actual economics themselves.”

“Maybe they’re against you know taking money from the military and flat taxes and so they really want to have a carbon tax and see how much can be made from that and a land value tax,” he said.

Another area to explore is the “dynamic effects” of basic income, which looks at how UBI might affect the broader economy.

“We can have windfalls from the reduction in costs of poverty crime and health emergencies we can have a windfall from the economic stimulus of just putting money in the hands of consumers which creates jobs and creates extra revenue,” he said.

Building this calculator and preparing his documentary was meant to have an “impact on the national discussion in time for the 2020 election,” Shaw said.

“Right now it is a very powerful moment in the UBI movement,” he said. “UBI needs to be more of a grassroots movement if it’s going to get something legislated.”

About Tyler Prochazka

Tyler Prochazka has written 85 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.


  • Charles

    My only comment is that I had a basic income account I logged in daily for the 18 months and then one day it vanished my account was substantial , very substantial .I would like just to find out why and what happened for me to lose it after agreeing to the terms and conditions by putting in the time required ?

  • vecima

    No link to the calculator? Or did I just miss it?

  • gespil

    if you examine the different plans for funding UBI you will discover that none of them is based on taxing ownership of Wealth.
    Those plans are all ideas for fake UBI including the Yang’s fake UBI…because they all lack in terms of Sustainability or Sufficiency or both.

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