Mark Zuckerberg has been traveling around the country meeting people while denying he has any intentions of running for office. And yet, here he is making what amounts to policy recommendation for the United States. You could call this the first major plank in his non-platform. From his Facebook post:
Priscilla and I spent the weekend around Homer, Alaska as part of the Year of Travel challenge. It’s beautiful here.
One thing that stood out to us is how different Alaska’s social safety net programs are in a way that provides some good lessons for the rest of our country.
Alaska has a form of basic income called the Permanent Fund Dividend. Every year, a portion of the oil revenue the state makes is put into a fund. Rather than having the government spend that money, it is returned to Alaskan residents through a yearly dividend that is normally $1000 or more per person. That can be especially meaningful if your family has five or six people.
This is a novel approach to basic income in a few ways. First, it’s funded by natural resources rather than raising taxes. Second, it comes from conservative principles of smaller government, rather than progressive principles of a larger safety net. This shows basic income is a bipartisan idea.
Zuckerberg doesn’t spell out how a program like this would be transferrable to the rest of the country. Is each state going to start putting the sale of its natural resources into a fund? Not every state has massive oil reserves (and a population of less than a million people). What are big states like California going to sell to raise equivalent amounts of money? California has a population of 39 million people. If you’re going to pay each of them $1,000 a year, that’s $39 billion dollars. That’s a lot of scratch to come up with every year. And if you can’t come up with enough give everyone several hundred dollars a year, is it even worth doing?
Zuckerberg mentioned the idea of a universal basic income during his commencement speech at Harvard in May. From the Hill:
Zuckerberg used his commencement speech to lay out a vision for America, covering political topics such as climate change, the prison system, automation and healthcare.
“Now it’s time for our generation to define a new social contract,” Zuckerberg said. “We should have a society that measures economic progress not just by GDP but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful.”…
“We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas,” he continued. “Giving everyone the freedom to pursue purpose isn’t going to be free. People like me should pay for it. A lot of you are going to do well, and you should, too.”
That makes it sounds as if Zuckerberg is connecting the universal basic income to taxes on the rich, not profits of state-owned businesses. Has his thinking evolved or is he just trying to frame this in a way that is more acceptable to people on the right?
Giving everyone a basic income means more dollars chasing the same goods. In the short to medium run, that means inflation. Universal basic income is an idea, not unlike the fight for 15, which sounds good but which has unavoidable consequences for everyone involved. The main takeaway here is that Zuckerberg sounds a lot like someone who plans to run for office. And it seems he’s going to be running on some sort of 21st-century version of the New Deal.