Stockton Is Running Yet Another Pointless UBI Test

Hector Amezcua/TNS/ZUMAPRESS

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The LA Times reports on yet another test of a universal basic income:

Young, sincere and raised on the edge of poverty, Sukhi Samra has a mother who worked two minimum-wage jobs when she was a kid — days at a gas station and nights at a Subway. Her father is disabled. She knows what an extra $500 a month would have bought her family.

….At 23, Samra is now head of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, a pilot program to test a universal basic income. For the next year and a half, 130 residents of this struggling Central Valley city will get $500 every month, with no strings — such as employment or sobriety requirements — attached, in a social experiment that is as much public relations as rigorous research.

I don’t get it. The outcome of this study will probably be the same as most of the others: the recipients will spend the money on food and shelter and it will make them better off. There will be no particular ill effects to report.

But that’s because it’s a test on a small number of people over a very limited time. The big question about UBI is what effect it has if it’s big and permanent. Will it cause people to quit their jobs? Will it motivate people to restart their education? Will it just go to booze and drugs? Etc.

In other words, how will people’s behavior change if UBI becomes something that they expect and that they know will last forever? Nobody is going to substantially change their lifestyle based on an 18-month experiment, but they sure might if they know the money is permanent. This is the experiment we need to run. The problem, obviously, is that it would be expensive. At a guess, I figure it would cost at least $1 billion, maybe twice that. That kind of funding is unlikely, but I’m not sure it’s even worth bothering with anything smaller. Until we know how UBI as an entitlement works, we don’t know anything.

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