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Could Basic Income Really Work? A Video Chat

What would happen if we just gave people money? That’s the question I posed last week in an article about basic income, which led to a cascade of questions and comments from readers. To respond to those thoughts, I joined my colleague Ben Casselman, FiveThirtyEight’s chief economics writer, in a video chat this week.

Basic income is a simple but radical idea: The government would regularly write a check to each citizen with no conditions. Rich or poor, employed or not — everyone would get the same amount of money. Basic income has broad ideological support, intriguing progressives, libertarians and Silicon Valley techies. Switzerland will have a national referendum on basic income next month. Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and even the U.S. will be running basic income experiments in the next few years.

In the video, we discuss reader questions such as these:

  • How would a basic income program work with those who have special needs, such as the elderly and people with disabilities?
  • Would basic income really replace all social welfare programs?
  • Isn’t it politically naive to think Social Security, Medicare or other popular government programs would be converted into a basic income?
  • What is the right level for a basic income?
  • Wouldn’t the program require a huge increase in government spending, and thus tax increases?
  • Wouldn’t basic income redistribute money from people who are near-poor to those who are truly poor?

Your comments and questions about the video or the original article are welcome on this page.

Andrew Flowers writes about economics and sports for FiveThirtyEight.