The Economy Security Project (ESP), a two-year fund launched in December 2016 to support investigation of basic income in the United States, has published the results of a new survey of Alaskans’ attitudes towards the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD).
The Permanent Fund Dividend
In 1976, the Alaska State Constitution created a permanent fund in which the state must invest at least 25% of its oil revenues, enabling wealth generated from the sale of a nonrenewable resource to continue to benefit future generations of Alaskans. The PFD, created in 1982, distributes a portion of the fund’s earnings as a dividend paid annually to all Alaskans.
Disbursed in equal amount to all adults and children who have lived in the state for more than a year (and intend to remain indefinitely), the PFD is widely regarded as one of the nearest “real world” examples of a basic income. Although its amount is variable, and too small to guarantee even a poverty-level existence, the PFD is universal, unconditional, and paid in cash at regular intervals, entailing that it does indeed satisfy BIEN’s definition of a basic income.
The PFD reached a peak amount of $2,072 per resident in 2015, but fell to $1,022 in 2016 after Governor Bill Walker used a line-item veto to cut the funds allocated to the PFD by the Alaska Legislature by more than half–a controversial decision that provoked a lawsuit from State Senator Bill Wielechowski, seeking to restore the full amount of the 2016 PFD approved by the legislature. Without Walker’s veto, the amount of 2016 PFD would have been $2,052.
At the time of this writing, Wielechowski’s lawsuit is being considered by the Supreme Court of Alaska, having been dismissed by a Superior Court judge in November of last year. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on June 20, but its final decision is likely to take months.
Meanwhile, Governor Walker recently signed the state budget for 2017, without exercising any line item vetoes this year. According to KTOO News, the budget includes $760 million for the PFD, which will amount to about $1,100 per Alaskan.
Popular Opinion Survey
Earlier in the year, ESP commissioned a telephone survey 1,004 Alaskan voters, carried out by the market research firm Harstad Strategic Research. According to ESP, the new survey is the “most comprehensive review of public attitudes about the PFD since 1984.”
Respondents answered a variety of questions concerning their attitudes toward the Permanent Fund and Dividend. Asked how much of a difference the PFD has made in their lives “over the past five years or so,” 40% replied that the dividends have made a “great deal” or “quite a bit” of difference, with 28% replying that the dividends have made “only some” or “just a little” difference, and only 8% saying that the dividends have made no difference. Women were more likely than men to say that the PFD has made “great deal” or “quite a bit” of difference (47% versus 33%), and 70% of those who described their economic circumstances as “barely surviving” stated that the PFD had this degree of impact.
While 87% of respondents agreed with the statement, “How people spent their Permanent Fund checks should not determine whether or not the dividend program continues,” respondents meanwhile do not believe that Alaskans use their annual PFD checks frivolously: 85% of agreed that “Many people spend a large part of their Permanent Fund dividends on basic needs,” and 79% agreed that “The Permanent Fund dividend checks are an important source of income for people in my community.” A comparatively small number, though a sizeable minority (43%), agreed with the statement “Many people have wasted a large part of their Permanent Fund checks on such things as liquor or drugs.” Asked about their own spending behavior, 27% replied that they save all or most of the payments, while 30% say that they use the PFD to pay off credit cards or other debt.
Respondents also view the universality of the PFD favorably: 72% support the fact that “everyone who is basically a full-time resident of Alaska” receives the PFD, and 84% agree that “As owners of the Alaska Permanent Fund, Alaska residents are entitled to an equal share of the earnings of the Fund.” Interestingly, though, only 50% favor the distribution of the PFD to “millionaires and multi-millionaires living in Alaska,” suggesting that framing effects may influence respondents’ expressed attitudes towards universality.
The survey also suggests that–in an apparently pronounced change of opinion since the 1984 survey–a majority of Alaskans would prefer the institution of a state income tax over the termination of the PFD if it became necessary for the state to adopt one of these measures to raise money for government services. The preference for keeping the PFD was strongest among those with annual household incomes under $50,000 (72%) and those who described their situation as “barely surviving” (82%). Even those respondents with household incomes over $100,000 tended to prefer preserving the PFD to avoiding income taxes (58%).
Many other related questions were also included in the survey. For more details and graphical displays, see the links in “more information” below.
Economic Security Project, “Alaska PFD Phone Survey: Executive Summary,” June 22, 2017. Official Executive Summary of the survey’s findings, prepared by Harstad Strategic Research.
Supplemental materials from Harstad Strategic Research:
Taylor Jo Isenberg, “What a New Survey from Alaska Can Teach Us about Public Support for Basic Income,” Medium, June 28, 2017. Blog post summarizing of survey results, with background about the PFD.
Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 U.S. Pacific Command
Organized by the Universal Income Project, the goal of the Create-a-thon is to spread awareness and raise support for the idea of basic income. Forty people attended the weekend-long event in March, including filmmakers, artists, entrepreneurs, technologists, songwriters, and activists.
The weekend kicked off with speakers from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, the Insight Center, HandUp, and the City of San Francisco, the focus of their talks being inequality in society and how basic income could address these issues. After this first session, attendees were invited to pitch their project ideas to the group, work groups were formed and the scope for the work to be produced over the weekend was discussed. The teams worked in conference rooms with whiteboards and flip charts, face-to-face and through Slack channels. The weekend was filled with work sessions from morning to evening, with discussions, exchanges of ideas, and debates ongoing throughout the project processes, as well as on lunch and dinner breaks. The participants got to know each other better and shared diverse viewpoints on the most important issues in societies both in the US and around the world.
According to Shandhya, one of the organizer of the Create-a-thon, “These participants came up with over 20 project pitches, which coalesced into eight inspiring projects that ran the gamut from podcasts to public displays, and included a legislative scorecard as well as plans for a basic income board game.”
The Economic Security Project provided extra motivation by offering a cash stipend of up to $3000 to projects that would spread awareness and raise support for the idea of basic income. The Economic Security Project is “a two year fund to support exploration and experimentation with unconditional cash stipends”. Several of the weekend’s projects received funding for further development.
As Philippe Van Parijs, co-author of Basic income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy, highlights, “In the effort to achieve Basic Income in our society we will need Visionaries, Machiavellian Thinkers and Indignant Activists.”
The Basic Income Create-a-thon is a forum that can provide a framework for activists to gather and cooperate.
See interviews with participants in this video.
Launched on Thursday, December 8, the US-based Economic Security Project (ESP) — co-chaired by future of work expert Natalie Foster, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, and Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren — has committed to donate $10 million over the next two years to projects related to exploring “how a ‘basic income’ could rebalance the economy and ensure economic opportunity for all”.
The goal of ESP, in the words of its press release, is to help Americans interested in basic income achieve the transition from “conceptual discussion to meaningful action”.
Stressing both the potential of basic income and the need for further investigation, Warren states, “We believe we can end the downward spiral for working families in America by providing a guaranteed basic income for every man, woman, and child – but the precise approach for implementing a cash benefit system needs additional research.”
Mission and Belief Statement
ESP released its Belief Statement at its launch, accompanied by more than 100 signatures from entrepreneurs, academics, activists, artists, politicians, and others who share the vision of the initiative (including Basic Income News editor Kate McFarland, as well as many people more famous than she).
We believe people need financial security, and cash might be the most effective and efficient way to provide it.
The time has come to consider new, bold ways to make our economy work again for all Americans. In a time of immense wealth, no one should live in poverty, nor should the middle class be consigned to a future of permanent stagnation or anxiety. Automation, globalization, and financialization are changing the nature of work, and these shifts require us to rethink how to guarantee economic opportunity for all.
A basic income is a bold idea with a long history and the potential to free people to pursue the work and life they choose. Now is the time to think seriously about how recurring, unconditional cash stipends could work, how to pay for them, and what the political path might be to make them a reality, even while many of us are engaged in protecting the existing safety net.
The undersigned commit to work over the coming months and years to research, experiment, and inspire others to think through how best to design cash programs that empower Americans to live and work in the new economy.
The ESP Belief Statement continues to gather numerous signatures online.
ESP has selected six initial grant recipients, to which it has already dedicated over $500,000 in total:
- The Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive advocacy group that is beginning to explore how to strengthen America’s safety net in ways that could lead to a universal basic income.
- The Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank that has recently released a report on basic income, and which is now undertaking more extensive research on UBI and cash transfers, including macroeconomic modeling, behavioral research, and public opinion surveys and focus groups.
- The Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank that has published frequently on basic income and other cash transfer policies, such as a universal child benefit. The center plans to carry out policy research on various means of implementing cash transfer programs in the US.
- The Alaska Group American Center, which is fighting recent cuts to Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend, the unconditional cash payment to state residents that has been influential in much discussion of basic income.
ESP indicates on its website that it is open to funding a variety of projects — from scientific research to advocacy campaigns to artistic and cultural projects — and accepts proposals online.
ESP is preparing to launch a series of articles, written by project advisors and diverse other contributors, on themes related to the path to a basic income in the US.
Photo CC BY-SA 2.0 401(K) 2012