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.”
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.
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.