To citizens in the state, the Permanent Fund Dividend is a deeply beloved if sometimes controversial policy. To those outside it, it’s often regarded as a curiosity. The annual payout makes headlines when it happens—Alaska’s giving people free money!—and has, typically, been forgotten just as quickly.
Recent years, however, have seen a groundswell of attention to the underlying concept. Interest in basic income ideas continue to percolate worldwide. As grim studies portend incoming job shortages, as inequality festers, and as automation threatens to throw economies into turmoil, the notion that a state could give a regular, guaranteed income—a minimum salary distributed to every citizen, regardless of age, employment, or social standing—has been sounding better and better. And Alaska’s been doing it for years. A miniature version of it, anyway.
“The Alaska dividend is pretty much the closest thing the world has to a universal basic income anywhere,” Scott Santens, who is perhaps the web’s most active basic income advocate, told me. Not only that, he says, but a basic income could help citizens fight the impacts of climate change. President Obama’s recent trip to Alaska was focused on highlighting the calamity that human-induced warming is bringing to the region; perhaps we should be paying attention as well to a policy, found only here, that may help keep society stable and more equal in the face of a warmer, job-scarce future.