Next year, a random sample of the 300,000 residents of Stockton, a port city in California’s Central Valley, will get $500 per month ($6,000 a year) with no strings attached.
It’s the latest test of a policy known as basic income, funded not out of city revenues but by individual and foundation philanthropy. The first $1 million in funding comes from the Economic Security Project, a pro-basic income advocacy and research group co-chaired by Facebook co-founder and former New Republic publisher Chris Hughes and activists Natalie Foster and Dorian Warren; Hughes provided the group’s initial funding. Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs hopes to launch the basic income project as early as August 2018.
The project — known as the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) — will be, in a way, the purest expression to date of Silicon Valley’s passion for basic income proposals, which many tech entrepreneurs and investors see as a necessary way to support Americans if artificial intelligence and other automation advances lead to unemployment for vast swaths of the population.
To the tech world, basic income is a way to redistribute the vast wealth that Silicon Valley creates to poorer people and localities left behind. And what better place to start than by redirecting part of a Facebook fortune to Stockton, an overwhelmingly nonwhite exurb of the Bay Area that became the largest city in the US to declare bankruptcy during the financial crisis?
An hour and half from San Francisco (if traffic is forgiving) and thus boasting the longest commute times in America, Stockton is tantalizingly close to big tech and its wealth, but just far enough away to experience significantly lower incomes and a higher poverty ratethan San Francisco, San Jose, or Oakland.
Tubbs is particularly well-suited to be the policy’s champion. Upon winning the mayoral election last year, he became both Stockton’s first black mayor and, at 26, the youngest mayor of a city of more than 100,000 people in American history. Tubbs cites as his inspiration Martin Luther King Jr., who called for a guaranteed minimum income in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, as well as his own experience “growing up in poverty and seeing how much of some of the stress came from trying to stretch dollars to pay for necessities, like bills or school uniforms. When things came up unexpectedly it would cause a lot of hardships.”