A lot of people like the idea of a universal basic income (that is, making direct cash payments to everyone to cover their basic needs). UBI has fans on the left and the right, in Silicon Valley and Middle America. But is it workable? Does guaranteeing people’s income make them happy and productive, or just lazy and aimless? We don’t really know. UBI has never been thoroughly tested in a modern, large-scale, academically rigorous trial.
Until now. GiveDirectly, a New York nonprofit, has raised tens of millions of dollars for a pilot across rural Kenya. By giving dozens of villages different amounts in different ways (some get lump sums, others monthly payments, for instance) it’s developing evidence about how UBI affects work habits, well-being, and much more. Due to the last 12 years, the program could have wide, international influence. It could even determine whether the U.S. adopts UBI one day.