Universal basic income: Elon Musk responds to pilot programs in U.S. cities

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO has weighed in on the news that a series of American cities, including Los Angeles, may trial a basic income.


Universal basic income trials may be coming to nine cities in the United States, and it's caught the attention of Elon Musk.

On Monday, Forbes reported that mayors in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and other cities have all joined a coalition calling for basic cash payouts to everyone with no conditions attached. The coalition is called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, and it was founded by Michael Tubbs, the 29-year-old mayor of Stockton, California. Tubbs told the publication that while the coalition will jointly advocate for basic income, each city will also work to host their own basic income trials.

The move comes as the United States grapples with both the coronavirus fallout and new conversations about racism sparked by the killing of George Floyd. Tubbs told Forbes he was motivated to announce the coalition due to these events: "if it’s not Covid-19 this year, it’ll be an earthquake next year, a hurricane the year after or fire. Folks need to build economic resilience in our cities now."

The announcement was praised by Bernice King, the youngest child of Martin Luther King, Jr., via her Twitter page Tuesday:

"Wow. A universal basic income (guaranteed annual income) was what my father recommended as a primary way to eradicate poverty. This is a powerful step forward."

Responding to King's post, Musk wrote:

"Very much agree"

Which cities are involved in this? – The following American cities have joined the coalition:

  1. Los Angeles, California.
  2. Oakland, California.
  3. Tacoma, Washington.
  4. Newark, New Jersey.
  5. Atlanta, Georgia.
  6. Jackson, Mississippi.
  7. Compton, California.
  8. Shreveport, Louisiana.
  9. Saint Paul, Minnesota.
  10. Stockton, California – the city of the founder of the coalition, Michael Tubbs.

How will they pay for a basic income? – While the coalition will jointly argue for a basic income on a wider scale, the cities themselves will pursue their own methods for hosting basic income trials. This could be through a private and public partnership, or through creating a working group that can find space in the city's budget.

Stockton could provide a model for how to host a trial. The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, an 18-month trial that started in February 2019 and is set to end in August 2020, provides 125 low-income residents with $500 per month. The project has received funding from the Economic Security Project, an advocacy group that supports trials like these.

What else has Elon Musk said about a basic income? – The Tesla and SpaceX CEO has spoken out before about the need for a universal basic income. In November 2016, Musk told CNBC that "here’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation."

A lot of Musk's comments around the policy have been linked to growing automation. Musk has spoken before about how super-smart artificial intelligence could rise faster than policymakers expect, requiring them to act now in order to manage its rapid growth. Neuralink, a firm that's developing a connection between the human brain and computers, was founded by Musk with the aim to create a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines.

“There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better,” Musk said at Dubai's World Government Summit in February 2017. “What to do about mass unemployment? This is going to be a massive social challenge. And I think ultimately we are going to have some sort of universal basic income. I don’t think we have any choice.”

Musk has spoken before about this issue with Andrew Yang, the Democratic presidential hopeful that dropped out of the ongoing race in February 2020. While Yang's campaign may be over, this week's announcement shows the policy is far from forgotten.

Update 07/01 9 a.m. Eastern time: An earlier version of this article described the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration as "an 18-month trial that started in August 2019 and is set to end in February 2020." It has now been corrected.

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