Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

YCs Basic Income Experiment

Ycombinator has decided to move forward on their ‘Basic Income’ experiment. That’s a pretty bold step and I absoltely commend them on doing this, experiments like this are a lot more valuable than hot air.

The one thing I really don’t get is why they start off with time-limiting it. If the outcome of a basic income experiment is going to be used then it had better be as realistic as possible. And right from the get-go this is something that is not even close to the way it will be in reality.

The previous YC article on the subject contains this passage:

Our idea is to give a basic income to a group of people in the US 
for a 5 year period, though we’re flexible on that and all aspects 
of the project—we are far from experts on this kind of research

And the new one says:

We want to run a large, long-term study to answer a few key 
questions: how people’s happiness, well-being, and financial 
health are affected by basic income, as well as how people 
might spend their time.

But before we do that, we’re going to start with a short-term 
pilot in Oakland. Our goal will be to prepare for the 
longer-term study by working on our methods--how to pay people,
how to collect data, how to randomly choose a sample, etc.

So, if I read it correctly then the pilot will be really short and the ‘long term’ study will be 5 years.

But if Basic Income is to succeed in any way and if this experiment is to validate the concept then it should support a number of people for the rest of their lives. Because otherwise they will behave totally different compared to giving them some money for the next 5 years. It’s one thing to make someone dependent on you and to observe their reactions, it’s quite another to cut them off after 5 years as if they are lab animals at the end of a medical experiment.

Ethical design of experiments involving real people with all the potential impact this will have on their lives is going to be tricky. Move fast and break stuff is fine for web-apps but when you start messing with people’s lives directly you need to be very very careful.