Why one city is giving its residents $500 a month — no strings attached.

Just six years ago, the city of Stockton, California, filed for bankruptcy. Now, it's giving money away to its residents.

In October 2017, Stockton's elected officials announced plans to give "a few dozen families" $500 a month, no strings attached, for 12-18 months.

But why give away sweet, free money?


It's called universal basic income (UBI) and as history shows, it's not a new idea.

The philosophy behind UBI programs like Stockton's actually dates back to the 16th century.

The idea originated with Thomas More's 1516 novel "Utopia," which took place in a world where the government passed its profits back to its citizens. Thomas Paine, the British-American activist best known for his 1776 pamphlet, "Common Sense," advocated for a similar idea, calling it "citizen's dividend." British thinker and activist Bertrand Russell made an argument for "a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries, should be secured to all, whether they work or not." In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. called for a guaranteed income "pegged to the median of society."

Hello, ladies. It's me, Thomas Paine. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

The only time the U.S. truly considered implementing a UBI was under President Richard Nixon. He took a liking to the idea of giving individuals a guaranteed income, with early outlines of a proposal offering to give families the equivalent of about $10,000 in today's money per year. Unfortunately for UBI enthusiasts, Nixon was talked out of the idea just before its launch.

In 1976, Alaska created the Alaska Permanent Fund, which paid the state's residents a dividend for profits brought in through oil drilling. It's shifted a bit since then, surviving a number of court challenges throughout the years, but it still exists to this day.

Economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, favorites among conservatives, had also endorsed the idea as a way of addressing poverty outside the framework of the more complex social safety net system.

In the 1970s, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (father of current PM Justin Trudeau) launched a "mincome" (minimum income) program aimed at alleviating poverty in Dauphin, Manitoba. The program was extremely popular, but after Trudeau's political opponents took power, it was gutted. Canada continues to dabble in UBI, though it's yet to be implemented on any sort of national scale.

Stockton's UBI program won't cost taxpayers anything — at least for now.

Thanks to interest from business leaders in nearby Silicon Valley (Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has made multiple arguments in favor of UBI programs, citing the Alaska Permanent Fund as an example of how they can work), Stockton's $1.2 million 12-18 month program is being paid for entirely through outside donations.

The reason tech CEOs tend to be so interested in the idea is based on the fact that the world is gradually moving more and more towards automation.

Priscilla and I spent the weekend around Homer, Alaska as part of the Year of Travel challenge. It's beautiful...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

In an interview with NPR, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs explained why the city's doing this: "People deserve a basic economic floor so the bottom doesn't fall out under them."

"People working 14-hour days, working incredibly hard, and being rewarded with wages that haven't kept up with the cost of inflation over the past two generations," he said, articulating some reasons why a UBI might help address some of the issues brought on by wealth inequality.

Michael Tubbs attends the 'True Son' documentary premiere in 2014. He's now the mayor of Stockton. Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

Beyond that, Tubbs believes people are more than their jobs.

"We're not just designed just to work all day and run a rat race," he said. "We're designed to be in community, to volunteer, to vote, to raise our kids. And I think the more inputs and investments we can give in people to do those things, the better off we are as a community."

It'll be interesting to watch what happens in Stockton over the next few years. If history's any indication, it could be good.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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