Y Combinator’s Bold Basic Income Plan Is off to a Rocky Start

September 3, 2018 - 3 minutes read

Ideas strictly in the realm of FinTech development aren’t the only ones making waves amongst finance industry insiders and economists. Universal basic income, a program in which citizens of a society receive a predetermined amount of money with no strings attached, has gained its fair share of media attention in recent years.

And Y Combinator wants to put it to the test. But the famous startup incubator is having trouble getting traction behind its trial run — and it may be due to the general public’s lack of enthusiasm for the idea.

Is Basic Income Feasible?

Headquartered an hour and a half outside of San Francisco, Y Combinator is a wildly successful seed accelerator that has spawned a number of now-household names and is consistently ranked as one of the best incubators in the world. So it makes sense that if any ambitious organization could find out if basic income is viable, it would be them.

Through a blog post in January 2016, Sam Altman, the company’s president, announced Y Combinator’s plan to fund a basic income trial. Later in the same year, the incubator launched a feasibility study in Oakland, CA. For one year, a few selected people were given a monthly stipend of between $1,500 to $2,000.

Expanding the Endeavor

Fast forward to September 2017. Y Combinator announces plans for the main trial: 1,000 people living across two states will each receive a monthly stipend of $1,000 for up to five years. And another 2,000 people will receive $50 per month to serve as the trial’s control sample.

The entire program will cost about $60 million, with 75 percent going to the participants. Elizabeth Rhodes is Y Combinator’s Basic Income Research Director. She recently told WIRED that the organization is trying to secure funding through “individuals, national foundations, and local philanthropic groups.”

The trial won’t start until the funding is secured. Rhodes believes this will happen in 2019.

Faltering on Following Through

But for all the media hype it has generated, basic income seems to have had a lukewarm reception from the public. Y Combinator’s program isn’t the first basic income attempt. Many basic income pilot projects have ended early or ceased to expand after the initial trials.

Basically, society seems interested. But it’s not exactly committed to the concept. This lack of widespread adoption could be chalked up to the fact that the general public is finding it hard to get behind the idea of giving people “free money.”

Whether Y Combinator can succeed where others have stumbled remains to be seen. The first barrier of receiving the funding appears to be more troubling than anticipated. The organizations that the company is seeking funding from seem to be more interested in other causes.

What do you think of basic income? Is it feasible? Is it sustainable? Let us know your thoughts!

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