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.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less