California city set to test basic income of $500 a month to fight income inequality
In a 1967 speech at Stanford University, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out his case for a basic guaranteed income as a moral imperative for a country of capitalists. King would later more fully develop this idea in his last book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community in which he remarks:
Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils: lack of education restricting job opportunities; poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiative; fragile family relationships which distorted personality development. The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes be attacked one by one […] In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing – they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.
I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective – the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.
It would seem that the mayor of Stockton, 27-year-old Michael Tubbs, has been reading Dr. King on this issue. As the city’s first African-American mayor, he is prepared to roll out a test of the ideas espoused by King and other leading economists.
In Stockton’s plan, $500 a month will be donated to 100 Stockton families with no strings attached. This program could start in the fall and run for about two years, with plenty of eyes on it to see if it can be implemented in other cities.
Stockton has long been a city plagued by rampant inequality, poverty and gang violence, and the general idea is that if such a program can succeed in Stockton, California, it can indeed be replicated in areas that may be less mired in generational inequality.
When Tubbs was elected, on the same day as President Trump, nearly one in four of Stockton’s citizens was impoverished. The median household income was $46,000 and a mere 17 percent of adults were college graduates. For Stockton, whose mayor is a product of his environment and knows firsthand exactly what it is to come from a city whose very legacy is tied up in migrant work, this program is a chance to show that it is more than its income numbers.
As Tubbs tells The New York Times, “Poverty is the biggest issue… Everything we deal with stems from that. There’s so many people working incredibly hard, and if life happens, there’s no bottom.” Tubbs does have a bit of trepidation around the specifics of implementing this new program, however. “The trolls I’ve been dealing with on social media and in real life have very racialized views of how this is going to work,” Mr. Tubbs said. “As the first black mayor of this city, it would be very dangerous if the only people to get this were black.”
Stockton is a rather racially diverse city with a population consisting of more than 40% Latinx, around 20% Asian and 14% Black people. If models emphasize age, race, and income, it may come with charges of exclusion, with the white population of Stockton feeling abandoned. Tubbs wants to blend those models and a model that selects those who would be responsible with the money, a method which predictably would yield more positive stories of poor working class people who have been lifted out of poverty with extra money from a progressive government, but one that might obscure the intended purpose of basic income.
For now, all eyes are on Stockton, California and how this program is rolled out to its citizens.
Dr. King’s full speech at Stanford University: