Why Universal Income Caught One Facebook Cofounder’s Eye

What if everyone got a check from the government?

What if everyone got a check from the government? Yep, everyone — rich, poor, young, old, bigots, mimes, the works. That’s the possibly mindblowing idea taking shape in some policy circles as a plan for so-called “universal basic income.”

There are a couple variants out there: some think it’d be an improvement on the relative sprawl and inefficiency of the current crazy quilt of entitlement and benefits programs, some focus more on what could be the intended consequences.

What would the consequences really be? Good question — although UBI has been given a few limited stabs in decades past, it’s never been given a full-blown, up-to-date research analysis, much less taken out for a proper test drive.

That’s why some of America’s younger and richer members of the cultural leadership class are getting more serious about doing the homework on UBI. “The Economic Security Project (ESP) — a loose coalition of technologists, investors, and activists — announced on Dec. 8 it’s committing $10 million over the next two years ‘to explore how a “basic income” could…ensure economic opportunity for all’ in the US,” as Michael Coren noted at Quartz.

Among the ESP posse is Chris Hughes, late of The New Republic and one of Facebook’s still influential co-founders. “We have more questions than answers,” he told Quartz. “But we do know we can unite around the fact that financial security should be a human right and cash is an underutilized tool.”

Whether or not you think he’s right, it looks like we’ll probably know more in the relatively near future about whether cash for everyone would lift all boats or function more like monetary inflation, leaving everyone with more, but leaving more worth less than it used to be.