US: Chris Hughes, co-chair of the Economic Security Project (ESP), favours means tested guaranteed income for working poor over UBI in new book

US: Chris Hughes, co-chair of the Economic Security Project (ESP), favours means tested guaranteed income for working poor over UBI in new book

In a July 2017 televised Town Hall with KCET, Economic Security Project co-chairs Chris Hughes and Natalie Foster were asked about the principles of a Universal Basic Income. Public questions from Facebook were delivered by the moderator, the first common concern of which was: should we “give everybody a Basic Income,” even the lazy and wealthy?

Foster took the question and responded with a “yes,” commenting that a universal policy “had more political resiliency” (programs with universal access would attract more support), and that shifting economic situations for the American middle class suggested that support for everyone was logical. She clarified that a Basic Income, whatever the size, is intended to be delivered to everyone with “no strings attached.”

Hughes followed up during a second question on the affordability of Basic Income. He commented that a program could be made more affordable by starting small and scaling up, by, for example, beginning with small monthly payments of $200 to American adults (not quite universal, but not means tested), between the ages of 18 and 64, placing the brunt of the tax burden for this measure on wealthy Americans or in a carbon tax. Hughes also compared Basic Income’s feasibility to existing social security programs.

More recently, Hughes’ new book, Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn (February 2018), will propose a guaranteed income of $500 per month for working adults whose households earn less than $50,000 annually, with the same provided for students and unpaid caregivers.

Hughes’ book is promoted by but independent of the Economic Security Project, “a network committed to advancing the debate on unconditional cash and basic income in the United States.” Their purview includes, but is not limited to, a Universal Basic Income (UBI), as defined by BIEN: “a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.”

Chris Hughes. Credit to: SpeakerHub

Chris Hughes. Credit to: SpeakerHub

The version of guaranteed income that Hughes promotes is very different from that espoused by others at ESP, such as senior fellow Andy Stern, whose 2016 book Raising The Floor makes a case for UBI, because a test based on household income and employment is not the same as giving every individual an unconditional Basic Income. Ongoing coverage of guaranteed income experiments has shown that many governments and organizations follow the same trend as Hughes, pursuing studies that offer cash payments that are means-tested, based on employment status, or revoked when income or employment status exceed minimum limits. Several Dutch experiments encountered obstacles to implementing a UBI pilot not just in public opinion but also in federal compliance issues. UBI proponents may face pressure to give money only to the worthy, and to define that worthiness socioeconomically.

The idea that a guaranteed income is best directed at the poor (and more specifically the working poor) is reiterated in Hughes’ press release email for Fair Shot:

As I write in the book, I’m the first to recognize how lucky I got early in life, but I’ve come to believe this luck doesn’t come from nowhere. We’ve created an economy that creates a small set of fortunate one percenters while making it harder and harder for poor and middle-class people to make ends meet. But we also have a proven tool to beat back against economic injustice—recurring cash payments, directly to the people who need them most. A guaranteed income for working people would provide financial security to all Americans and lift 20 million people out of poverty overnight. It would cost less than half of what we spend on defense a year.

The question raised by the KCET Facebook commentators about ESP’s proposal to give money to “everyone” reflects the same ongoing public concerns that some have about welfare and social programs. It asks for beneficiaries to prove that they are worthy in order to receive public money, and it raises the suspicion that recipients will be lazy or will not attempt to re-enter the workforce. Hughes’ new message in Fair Shot attempts to counteract this by arguing that the beneficiaries are worthy: they are employed, hard working, and “need it most.” He thus reassures the reader that the recipients are deserving.

In contrast, the answer given by Foster in the July 2017 town hall promoted a “no strings attached” UBI. The Economic Security project and associated individuals encourage research and debate around Basic Income and guaranteed incomes; the parameters of upcoming affiliated projects like the Stockton Demonstration (yet to be fully released at this time) suggest an interest both in UBI and in guaranteed income systems.


More information at:

KCET Facebook feed, ‘Town Hall Los Angeles: Q&A with Chris Hughes and Natalie Foster’, KCET Broadcast and Media Production Company, 26th July 2017

Chris Hughes , ‘Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn’, (‘Amazon Review: Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn’,

Kirkus Review’,, 24th December 2017

Kate McFarland, ‘NEW BOOK: Raising the Floor by Andy Stern’, Basic Income News, 11th June 2016

Andy Stern, ‘Moving towards a universal basic income’, The World Jobs and Development Blog, 4th December 2016

Kate McFarland, ‘Overview of Current Basic Income Related Experiments (October 2017)’, Basic Income News, 19th October 2017









Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes and Labor Expert Natalie Foster on Basic Income

Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes and Labor Expert Natalie Foster on Basic Income

In a recent live interview, televised online and hosted by KCET’s Town Hall, Chris Hughes and Natalie Foster answered questions from viewers about Universal Basic Income. Chris Hughes is the co-founder of Facebook, and Natalie Foster is an expert on technology and work at the Aspen Institute.


When asked who would be eligible for UBI, Natalie Foster explained that everyone qualifies, and that a UBI should be truly universal. She described a program designed to help everyone, with no one left out.


Chris Hughes fielded questions concerning the funding of UBI, and stressed that starting with low monthly incomes would make the program more affordable and easier to implement.


Chris Hughes and Natalie Foster are both co-directors of The Economic Security Project, a two-year program that raised $10 million dollars in funding, which supports exploration and experimentation related to basic income.

US: New Project Pledges $10 Million to Support Basic Income Research

US: New Project Pledges $10 Million to Support Basic Income Research

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.


Grant Recipients

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.


Coming Next

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