The mayor of Stockton, California, is leading an experiment with “universal basic income,” which is set to start by giving low-income residents $500 a month, no questions asked.
Mayor Michael Tubbs calls his city “ground zero” for issues like wage stagnation, rising housing prices and loss of middle-class jobs that affect the nation.
The Central Valley city went bankrupt in 2012, and for decades it has been trying to diversify its agriculture-based economy.
“I feel that as mayor it’s my responsibility to do all I could to begin figuring out what’s the best way to make sure that folks in our community have a real economic floor,” Tubbs said.
Dorian Warren serves as co-chairman the Economic Security Project, which is contributing $1 million to the initiative. He said the goal is to gather data on the economic and social impacts of giving people a basic income.
In addition to tracking what residents do with the money, Warren said they will be monitoring how a basic income affects things like self-esteem and identity.
“What does it mean to say, ‘Here is unconditional guaranteed income just based on you being a human being?’” Warren asked.
The hope is to demonstrate the potential of “universal basic income,” or UBI, as it is being called, and to encourage other places to give it a try. UBI has recently gotten a boost from Silicon Valley moguls concerned about income inequality and the future of society, but the idea isn’t actually all that new, said Michelle Anderson, a Stanford law professor.
“UBI was first pitched by Nixon as an answer to post-industrial job losses,” she said.
With this experiment, Anderson said Stockton may discover it gets more economic stimulus by giving money to its citizens rather than corporations it hopes will bring in jobs and tax revenue.
“The UBI that is being proposed in Stockton now is very small compared to the big corporate subsidies that cities like that engage in,” Anderson said.
Stockton racked up millions in debt on development projects in the past, which got the city into trouble, said Tubbs.
“We’ve overspent on things like arenas and marinas and things of that sort to try to lure in tourism and dollars that way,” he said.
Tubbs thinks the UBI experiment will show that Stockton’s best bet is to invest in its own people.