What Would You Do With a Guaranteed 5 Years of Basic Income (No Strings Attached)?

What if someone came up to you and said, “I’ll pay you a basic living wage for the next 5 years. You can do whatever you want during that time – no strings attached.”

guaranteed salary





What would you do?

This is a powerful and interesting question. And, it’s currently being offered by a well-known funder of start-up companies, Y Combinator.

On their blog, Sam Altman, the President of Y Combinator, stated they have been thinking about doing such an experiment for awhile.

We’d like to fund a study on basic income—i.e., giving people enough money to live on with no strings attached.  I’ve been intrigued by the idea for a while, and although there’s been a lot of discussion, there’s fairly little data about how it would work.

He continues:

So it would be good to answer some of the theoretical questions now.  Do people sit around and play video games, or do they create new things?  Are people happy and fulfilled?  Do people, without the fear of not being able to eat, accomplish far more and benefit society far more?  And do recipients, on the whole, create more economic value than they receive?  (Questions about how a program like this would affect overall cost of living are beyond our scope, but obviously important.)

50 years from now, I think it will seem ridiculous that we used fear of not being able to eat as a way to motivate people.  I also think that it’s impossible to truly have equality of opportunity without some version of guaranteed income.  And I think that, combined with innovation driving down the cost of having a great life, by doing something like this we could eventually make real progress towards eliminating poverty.

And the details:

We’re looking for one researcher who wants to work full-time on this project for 5 years as part of YC Research.  We’d like someone with some experience doing this kind of research, but as always we’re more interested in someone’s potential than his or her past.  Our idea is to give a basic income to a group of people in the US for a 5 year period, though we’re flexible on that and all aspects of the project—we are far from experts on this kind of research.  We’d be especially interested in a combination of selecting people at random, and selecting people who are driven and talented but come from poor backgrounds.  We’re open to doing this in either one geographic area, or nationally distributed.

While Y Combinator is based out of San Francisco (an internet start-up haven), they don’t seem particularly concerned their “researcher” for the project be local.

I find this to be a fascinating question. As a person who generally has a lot of ideas I’d love to explore – but feels “stuck” by the 9 to 5 / corporate life – it’d be fun to see what the freedom of not having to worry about how you are going to pay your bills for the next 5 years might change the way I lived.

How do you think it would affect you?

By the way, if you want to apply for this sole research position or find more details – you can do so here. You have until February 15, 2016.

Looking to save on your cell phone bills? Read how Aaron is saving a lot of money on his.

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9 comments

  1. Kimberly says:

    I am living this now. I lost my job over 5 years ago and haven’t found another. I have learned to garden in the city and learning more yearly. Teaching myself how to make our family work on one income. I wish I could get paid to do this. I try to live like they did in the great depression. Reuse renew, wear out, grow your own.

  2. Rachel B says:

    I’d become a foster parent straightaway!

    Having said that, I disagree with the quotation that said, “50 years from now, I think it will seem ridiculous that we used fear of not being able to eat as a way to motivate people.”

    There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” I agree – if a man’s own survival isn’t enough to motivate him to work, is he really going to be quite as motivated if everything is handed to him on a silver platter?

    I think this “experiment” will probably showcase just one thing: Those who didn’t really work before won’t work any more after, and those who were already hardworking before will simply continue to be hardworking. A person’s character doesn’t change just by handing them money.

    • Aaron says:

      Very noble work Rachel!

      I agree with your point and how the Bible talks about work.

      There is a movement out there about “basic income” and they believe that all people should be paid a livable wage, not tied to work or status. It could have its roots in this idea – but I’m somewhat leary of such a proposal.

      I think after awhile most of us want to contribute to society in a meaningful manner. But it would be interesting to see how that might change if you are given money / rather than earn it.

  3. Eric says:

    I would dive head first into turning my woodworking hobby into a business. I currently do woodworking when I have spare time in the evenings and on weekends, but it’s hard to find the time for it with my full time job getting in the way.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    A lot depends on what they mean by “a livable wage” and to whom they are guaranteeing this income stream. Surely a homeless, unemployed person might make dramatically different choices if suddenly guaranteed an income stream for 5 years. But most Americans are already earning a “livable wage” so I can’t imagine how this experiment would change their lives much.

    You ask what *I* would do in this scenario, and the answer is “exactly what I’m doing now,” as uninspiring an answer as that may be. I earn a comfortable salary and so does my husband, and we save roughly 40% of our income, so either of us could quit and do *anything* with our lives and live off the other salary for a period of years without impacting much besides our savings rate. One of us could start a business or invent something or watch thousands of hours of Netflix. Really we BOTH could if you consider that we probably already have saved over 5 years worth of a livable wage.

    But we continue to live the same way we do now, just saving a lot more than we otherwise could if we earned a lower wage. I think in this experiment, the majority of people would either save or spend the “livable wage” (depending on their personality type) and continue to do pretty much exactly what they are doing now.

  5. Ashley says:

    This question is an interesting thought experiment to perform when contemplating one’s own career, education and life choices. If remove the concern about job security for five years or even a lifetime, when making life choices would you make the same career selection? If your answer is yes then you are a lucky person!

  6. There are probably thousands of people on the MMM forum who have retired early and are living on a “basic income” in their late 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.

    It seems it would be much more useful to poll them and aggregate the data, rather than take one person and see what he or she does with it.

  7. Jaymee says:

    The fact that I don’t even know what my answer to this question would be is scary. I’ve grown up thinking I need to make at least the basic amount to keep up my lifestyle that I don’t know what to worry about when that fear is gone. Scary huh?

    But a great question to think and ponder on. I won’t have this opportunity anytime soon but I’m sure as the “ability/freedom to live without depending on a job” (my website’s vision) nears me, I’ll have a better idea.

    For now, I must keep up the hustle ;)

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