Silicon Valley investor to offer free money to 3,000 random people

Think there’s no such thing as free money?

Think again.

Big-shot Silicon Valley investor Sam Altman — known for his doomsday prepping and other off-the-wall ideas — is planning to give 3,000 randomly selected people free money for five years, as an expansion of a social experiment he started last year.

The idea is called universal basic income, and it basically means a government, rich individual or other source gives everyone in a community enough money to live comfortably — regardless of whether the recipients work or not. Altman has championed the idea as a possible solution for when robots take our jobs, and the notion is picking up steam among other Silicon Valley techies, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla founder Elon Musk.

Altman and his startup accelerator Y Combinator started a small study to test the idea a year ago, initially giving 100 Oakland families about $1,500 a month. Altman paid most of the bill himself.

This week, YC revealed plans to expand the study, targeting participants across two states. The accelerator plans to give 1,000 people $1,000 a month. Another 2,000 people will get $50 a month, as part of a control group. YC researchers will work with government agencies to collect administrative data on the participants (with their permission), and will conduct extensive surveys at the start and end of the program.

“Analyzing data on individuals’ time use and finances, indicators of mental and physical health, and effects on children and social networks will help us learn how this basic level of income security helps people cope—and possibly thrive—amid economic volatility and uncertainty,” Elizabeth Rhodes, YC’s basic income research director, wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

“At the study’s conclusion, we hope to answer our fundamental questions about basic income,” she wrote, “advancing the debate about social spending and the future of work.”

And to answer your first question — no, there’s nowhere on the YC website where you can volunteer to participate in the study.

Photo: Y Combinator President Sam Altman speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt SF at Pier 48 in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. TechCrunch Disrupt SF is the huge tech startup conference that featured speakers and people and companies with tech business ideas from all over the world. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)


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  • Makikiguy


  • annjohns

    Why did he lower the monthly allotment?

    • Lila Anderson

      Probably because he upped the number of people he was giving it to. More people = less money per person.

      My question is: why only $50 to the control group? $200 wpuld have worked
      better. Two fillups at the gas station, a single trip to the grocery store, less than half a monthly electric bill…$50 doesn’t go far. Would that make enough of a difference for a control group rather than getting nothing at all?

  • Kmove

    I’ll post something just in case he’s selecting participants from the article’s comment thread.

  • Mike Heller

    And so how did the year giving out money in Oakland work out?