America’s first crowdfunded basic income campaign, created and managed by the San Francisco-based My Basic Income team, has hit its initial $15,000 crowdfunding goal, and is now preparing to raffle off a no-strings-attached Basic Income. In early spring, the team will hold a random drawing to decide who will receive $1,250/month for an entire year. The overall goal of the project, which is the first of its kind in the United States, is to involve people in the UBI movement.
“We had a real snowball effect, doubling on the last day,” said team member Gregory Tippett. “We had a huge push in the last week, writing and calling everyone we knew. The UBI community really came together to make this happen with both large and small donations, and shares on Facebook, Twitter, etc. It was exhilarating to feel so much support – for a while, the number on my phone read ‘$14,997’ while I ran around hugging everyone.”
It’s your life: The My Basic Income initiative asks participants what they would do with $1,250 a month.
The raffle at www.mybasicincome.org remains open, and is free for anyone who wants to sign up. Entrants are asked to answer the question: What would you do with your life if your income was guaranteed?
The initiative was launched at the first Basic Income Create-A-Thon, an event held in San Francisco in November 2015, which attracted 80 participants. At the event, the team received coaching from Michael Bohmeyer, the entrepreneur who created a similar project in Germany called Mein Grundeinkommen. Like Mein Grundeinkommen, My Basic Income is designed to generate personal stories to help people related the UBI concept to their own lives. Funds for My Basic Income are being raised on the Indiegogo platform.
The all-volunteer team, who describe the project as a “labor of love”, has released a video thanking their supporters. “It’s sort of like having a band,” says Tippett, “we rehearse weekly, work on our new material in our free time, and are setting up shows to share it.”
At present, the four-strong My Basic Income team is also building a network to raise additional funds in order to turn initiatives like the upcoming raffle into an ongoing experiment. The team is at the same time enhancing its technical and legal infrastructure, and working on developing outreach events and a format for supporters to easily share their stories on social media. They are also looking for pro bono contributions, especially from lawyers with expertise in US/California non-profits and charities.
To donate, get involved or discuss pro bono work visit this page.
The My Basic Income project, Campaign video. youtube.com, accessed 27 January 2016
The My Basic Income project, Thank you video. youtube.com, accessed 27 January 2016
Will Wachtmeister, “UNITED STATES: Big push as America’s first crowdfunded basic income project approaches first milestone.” Basic Income News, 12 January 2016
Will Wachtmeister, “UNITED STATES: Successful launch for America’s first crowdfunded basic income project.” Basic Income News, 23 November 2015
Mein Grundeinkommen, Homepage. Accessed 27 January 2015
Basic Income Create-A-Thon, San Francisco event (November 13-15, 2015) homepage. Accessed 27 January 2016
Malcolm Torry, 101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income, Policy Press, 2015, xvi + 120pp.
Finding 101 reasons in favour of a Citizen’s Income and then condensing them into a lucid, concise book is probably a lot harder than Malcolm Torry has made it look in this readable and compact collection. 101 Reasons for a Citizen’s Income is a book packed with easy-to-grasp arguments written with clarity from an elegantly simple, practical point of view.
In a way, this is the type of book you would hope for from the director of the UK’s Citizen’s Income Trust, a London-based organisation that promotes debate on the desirability and feasibility of a basic Income, and a BIEN affiliate. Torry keeps it mercifully short – just 120 small pages in total – which is clearly a good way of attracting new, curious readers. Showcasing a complete command of the finer points of the UK’s benefits system, the book’s approach also takes care to appeal to people of diverse political convictions. As a result, this is an excellent introduction for the great number of people who have never even heard of Citizen’s Income, and especially for those newcomers who are already interested in UK social policy.
Torry clearly has the sort of wide repertoire of arguments and skilful presentation that you would expect from someone who is both the current director of the UK Citizen’s Income Trust and an academic at the London School of Economics. Perhaps more tantalizingly for more seasoned Citizen’s Income fans, the author has also experienced the byzantine and counterproductive deadweight of UK social policy from what might have been the best (or worst) seat in the house, the Benefits Office in Brixton in the late seventies.
About this (and other matters) Torry shows a mature restraint, and the book is a far cry from the ranting and raving that this type of professional experience would have induced in other human beings (myself included). It is actually when Torry looks back on his personal experience that he serves up some of the book’s choicest nuggets. At one point he states, as a matter of blunt fact, that whilst working at the Brixton Supplementary Benefit Office “the claimants didn’t understand the regulations, and neither did we.” Deadpan aperçus and reminiscences add a little human interest and colour, and try not being moved – or get mad – by an officer who mutters over his casework “a man leaving, another coming, and then another – and with which of the two is she cohabiting, and who is the lodger?”
Citizen’s Income Trust director Malcolm Torry showcases a complete command of UK social policy (picture: Citizen’s Income Trust)
Otherwise, this is mainly a patient demolition of every defence that could conceivably be mounted of the current UK benefit system. Torry confidently shows that even if the UK system is given the benefit of the doubt at every step, there ultimately can be no justification for a bureaucratic machine that unnecessarily traps – and then horribly stigmatizes – people in poverty and unemployment. He also demonstrates clearly why a Citizen’s Income could solve the overwhelming majority of problems with the current system – especially the perverse work disincentives of means-tested benefits which, contrary to their trumpeted aim, penalise people in many different ways for finding and taking paid work. Presenting Citizen’s Income as the obvious alternative to the UK’s hopelessly unfair and ineffective benefits system is the book’s main point, and Torry makes it with brilliant lucidity and concision.
Elsewhere, Torry also pulls off the feat of invoking Kant’s categorical imperative and Rawls’ veil of ignorance without it seeming forced, weird or pretentious. Personally, I am grateful that the book manages to explain, where others including UK ministers have failed, the UK government’s Universal Credit reform in just a few sentences (spoiler alert: the Universal Credit is “neither universal, nor a credit”). Throughout, British party-political traditions and the sausage factory of Westminster policymaking are very well summarized – despite the book by its nature having little space available for context – as are the ways Citizen’s Income would fit into the wider political picture.
An added bonus is that Torry – bravely but necessarily – at certain points ventures into the uncomfortable tribulations around the resurgence of aggressive European nationalisms and immigration problems. He does so by arguing for the necessity of the social cohesion and the new sense of citizenship that a Citizen’s Income would generate. This is an argument urgently worth debating more extensively, given how much is now at stake in contemporary Europe.
The basic income movement is already a broad church, and a very diverse set of people need to continue to come on board if the policy is to become reality. One of the book’s great strengths is that it is designed to appeal to a wide range of people. From this point of view, it is interesting – and, in my view, somewhat problematic – that the book takes a scattered approach to the topic of innovation; surely, innovation is almost per definition something that everyone finds at least in principle desirable.
Rather than selecting as one of the 101 Reasons something along the lines of “A Citizen’s Income would set free innovation for the common good”, the book mentions innovation in several important but different ways. It offers crucial but somewhat isolated statements like “New software companies have the flexibility to innovate in ways in which the well-established companies cannot”, which is included in the section called “A Citizen’s Income would encourage new enterprise”. It also puts forward an in my view absolutely crucial – but again too isolated – observation that corporations disproportionately reap the rewards of innovation without reinvesting the proceeds: “The gap between wages and the proceeds of productivity is increasing. Less of the proceeds from production is now recycled back into industry via wages and consumption”. Elsewhere, Torry describes the world as having “economies in which innovation and automation are the norms” and being in need of Citizen’s Income to manage the upheaval.
Yet it is in the realm of lack of innovation, in the section called “Basic Income would break a logjam”, that we find what I think is the book’s most memorable passage. Torry describes how the world has today reached one of its periodic crises and is crying out for breakthrough innovation: “technology lying idle, human creativity frustrated, wealth flowing from poor to rich, and finite resources uncontrollably exploited … we are still waiting for the next new key concept. A Citizen’s Income might be just what is required.” In the same section, he describes the “key concept”: the breakthrough that in one fell swoop greatly boosts the well-being of every current and future human being. This is so because a key concept “enable(s) new ideas and new technology to create new kinds of wealth” and history shows how they have “freed the economy from stagnation and have stimulated new creative development, which has then itself stagnated until the next new key concept arrives.”
These are powerful sentences describing something that brings to mind a creative-destruction cycle of innovation in which the cycle is about to be put back into the ascendancy with the key concept of Citizen’s Income. But what is most interesting is that Torry neatly captures the constellations of historical periods in which these new key concepts are launched: “New developments that have set life’s evolution, scientific progress, or the economy free, have usually been prefigured by developments bearing some but not all of their characteristics; they have been symptoms of change as well as its cause; they have created revolutions with immense social implications; and in science and the economy they have had passionate advocates and equally passionate detractors – and, once in place, people have wondered why it all took so long.” In fact, this book already leaves the reader wondering why it’s all taking so long.
The first initiative to crowdfund basic income in the United States is quickly approaching its first milestone. By Friday, January 15, the My Basic Income project aims to raise $15,000 so that its first lucky winner can receive a basic income of $1,250 a month for a full year.
“Once we make our goal, things really get fun,” Gregory Tippett – one of the four-strong team behind My Basic Income – told BI News. “If our first winner wants to go public, we’ll do that, but it’s their choice.”
The team formed at the first Basic Income Create-a-Thon in San Francisco in November 2015, where they were coached by Michael Bohmeyer’s Mein Grundeinkommen team. Bohmeyer has spearheaded a similar campaign in Germany, which has received over 200,000 signups and awarded 20 winners since 2014, and has brought considerable attention to the UBI movement.
Spreading the message: Gregory Tippet of the My Basic Income team
Getting the message out there
Tippett said the long-term plan for the American initiative is to organize regular social events to spread the message and encourage sign-ups for the raffle that determines the basic income winner.
“By asking ‘What would you do if your income was guaranteed?’ we inspire people about the idea of Basic Income. Those responses get shared, and this regular content-building furthers the movement in a way that anyone can easily participate in,” Tippett stated.
The team – like most of its support base – is made up of people who work full-time. Tippett said that some important lessons so far were the need to take a long-term view, to keep things fun, and to stay in contact with the rest of the team through regular check-ins and working sessions. “Getting together is not just for making decisions, but sharing ideas and keeping alive the sense of excitement and possibility.”
Over 100 donors and 200 signups
The approach of My Basic Income is to ask those who sign up for the raffle how a guaranteed income would affect their life. At the launch of the project, the team was excited to find out what individuals would actually do with their earnings.
So far, on top of 100 donors, over 200 people have registered for the raffle, and their plans to use a guaranteed income are diverse. Nevertheless, some themes are starting to emerge:
“Many people said that it would help them make investments in their business, to further their education or to pay off debts. Some said that it would give them the ability to travel or spend time working on artistic projects,” said Tippett.
“Others said that they would finally have more time to spend with their family or just be less stressed. And a good number indicated that they could spend time as activists and volunteers… helping the homeless, protecting the environment. In fact, many said that they could spend time advocating for Universal Basic Income!”
To donate or get involved, visit this page.
The My Basic Income project, Campaign video. youtube.com, accessed 11 January 2016
Will Wachtmeister, “UNITED STATES: Successful launch for America’s first crowdfunded basic income project.” Basic Income News, 23 November 2015
Finland is putting basic income on the map and has attracted worldwide media attention by spearheading plans for the world’s largest basic income pilot.
Over the past month, the planned Finnish experiment has fascinated such a large number of readers and news outlets that – perhaps inevitably – many aspects of what is happening in the Nordic country have been misconstrued or exaggerated.
At the same time, most reports have overlooked the underlying reason why Finland is able to even contemplate a basic income experiment at such a comprehensive scale.
During the past year, Finland has been exploring possibilities to reform policymaking, with the aim of moving from a speculative approach to one that is experimental and evidence-based. This allows the government to systematically test new policies, such as a basic income, before introducing them on a larger scale.
Finland’s approach exemplifies a completely new way of doing politics, based on scientific research on how people react to new policies and policy changes. This policymaking approach is expected to spread to other countries, potentially bringing basic income experiments with it.
Anyone trying to figure out why Finland has taken the lead needs to take into account that the new policymaking approach gives governments the knowledge and confidence to engage in large-scale experimentation. This is exactly what Finland is now doing with basic income, along with other policies.
Future designs: Students participate in a hands-on course in Design for Government at the Finnish Prime Minister’s Office. (Picture: Demos Helsinki)
Demos Helsinki, a Nordic think tank, is behind the experimental policymaking approach that is paving the way for the Finnish basic income experiment, among other research initiatives. Working with Aalto University and fellow think tank Avanto Helsinki, Demos Helsinki developed the Design for Government model, having been commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Office who wanted an “agile, human-centric and evidence-based” factor underpinning experiments and behavioral approaches.
The European Commission and the OECD have recently issued recommendations to their respective member states to use behavioral insights in their policymaking processes. This reflects a widely recognized need for innovative policymaking processes that are more efficient and allow policies to be tested before implementation.
This is why, according to Demos Helsinki, Finland’s basic income experiment is “only the tip of the iceberg” of a major paradigm shift that could well spread across borders.
A step further
While other countries like the UK and Denmark have taken tentative steps towards experimental governance, Finland has gone all the way. “It’s bizarre that the rest of our society works with testing, prototyping and then scaling, but not governance. It makes politics very theoretical, slow and reliant on guesses as opposed to evidence,” says Demos Helsinki researcher Mikko Annala, who was part of the team that produced the Design for Government model.
Taking it a step further: Demos Helsinki researcher Mikko Annala. (Picture: Demos Helsinki)
Annala mentions the UK’s Nudge unit and Denmark’s Mindlab as significant examples of this new type of experimental government innovation. “But,” he says, “we wanted to take this a step further, with large experiments and scaling up to the policy level.”
As a result, the Finnish Design for Government initiative is much more ambitious and comprehensive than any other projects in experimental governance. It is founded on the careful study of the effects of policy changes and the accumulation of a mass of knowledge and models. This will allow policymakers to make bold changes, because their effects will have been properly tested and modeled beforehand. At the same time, the experimental approach will make it easier to fine-tune new policies in response to feedback.
“What the typical government innovation units lack is a feedback loop to policy,” Annala explains. “That is different with the Design for Government initiative. Now the experiments are designed to scale from the start.”
Design for Government
This political direction was set by the Finnish Prime Minister’s Office. Wanting to explore the opportunities offered by behavioral science, the government commissioned a consortium to carry out the Design for Government project, under the leadership of Demos Helsinki.
The Prime Minister’s Office is now setting up an experimentation office to oversee the experiments and scaling. In addition to the basic income experiment, Finland’s ministries are testing other innovative initiatives — such as over a hundred planned or on-going mobility experiments across the country. Eventually, the Ministry of Traffic and Communications aims to “turn Finland into one giant Mobility Laboratory”. Additionally, of more direct relevance to the basic income project, Demos Helsinki is also investigating ways to transform to the funding mechanisms for the experiments themselves. Finally, Finland is sponsoring a project to create advanced communication platforms for experiments so that information, know-how and practices are more easily and more quickly shared.
Radical and fast
“There are clear reasons for Finland to change its governance this radically and this fast,” says Annala. He says the motivations for the change are both “qualitative and quantitative”.
“The need for experimental governance has been recognized in many nations,” he says. “One reason for this is the simple fact that the world is changing faster than ever: for example digitalization, immigration, aging populations and such phenomena bring up situations which we have never encountered before. In these situations it’s almost impossible to plan, and it’s better to experiment.”
The UK’s Nudge initiative has shown that experimental governance can unlock real potential and that there is every reason to take them to a larger scale, he says. “Many [Finnish] ministries are exploring the possibilities of doing large scale experiments and the Prime Minister’s Office is building structures for supporting the experimental culture. On this scale, the basic income experiment is one single experiment among many. Yet it is an intriguing one, of course.”
Annala points out that the Finnish basic income experiment has been misunderstood in some quarters.
Referring to articles in The BBC, Forbes, The Independent, Mashable, The Telegraph, Time and Quartz, among others, Annala also says that “none of the articles uncover the reason why Finland can pull off such ambitious policies in an age where so many government are left powerless with even smallest of changes in the way society works.”
He adds that Finland has taken a promising course, which could spread to other countries in the future. “If steered well, it can turn Finland into the world’s first country with truly experimental governance.”
Demos Helsinki “Design for Government” Demos Helsinki website, accessed 14 December 2015
Vito Laterza, “FINLAND: Basic income experiment – what we know” Basic Income News, 9 December 2015
Mark Easton, “How politicians learned the power of the gentle nudge” BBC News, 22 July 2015
Progressive non-profit news organization Truthout publishes a feature on the local Dutch experiments in basic income.
The piece, by Occupy.com contributor Steve Rushton, finds that “a revolution around money” is already getting underway in the Netherlands.
The article features extensive comments by Sjir Hoeijmakers, an ambassador for the new Dutch “basisinkomen 2018” initiative which campaigns for the introduction of a national UBI by 2018.
Steve Rushton, “Another Money Is Possible: Holland Leads Experiments in Basic Income” Truthout, 19 November 2015