Y Combinator President Sam Altman: Every adult American should own a share of the United States

Y Combinator President Sam Altman likes to think about how American workers can be helped as automation and other technologies are poised to revolutionize the economy.

He has led other test projects, like his basic income experiment in Oakland, where up to 3,000 participants receive a baseline monthly income with no strings attached.

And his newest idea is best summed up by Altman himself, in his blog post from Monday.

“I think that every adult US citizen should get an annual share of the US GDP,” wrote Altman.

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Dubbed “American Equity,” Altman hopes to institute a system in which every American holds equity in the country to help prevent the concentration of wealth as automation takes away low-income and middle-class jobs.

Altman was inspired by the joint-stock company model — “one of the most important inventions in human history,” he says — and the 1862 Homestead Act, which distributed Western land to farmers. He saw the latter as the prime example of government distributing resources so individual citizens can generate more wealth for themselves and for the country.

“I believe that a new social contract like what I’m suggesting here—where we agree to a floor and no ceiling—would lead to a huge increase in US prosperity and keep us in the global lead,” wrote Altman. “Countries that concentrate wealth in a small number of families do worse over the long term—if we don’t take a radical step toward a fair, inclusive system, we will not be the leading country in the world for much longer. This would harm all Americans more than most realize.”

If he could have it his way, Altman wants a soft start with American Equity, distributing a few hundred dollars per citizen per year. The long target — contingent upon if the GDP per capita doubles — is doling out 10 percent to 20 percent of the national GDP per year.

This, by the way, will need to be aided by a tax code overhaul to prevent taxing capital and labor at the same rate, according to Altman.

“I have no delusions about the challenges of such a program,” wrote Altman. “However, as the economy grows, we could imagine a world in which every American would have their basic needs guaranteed. Absolute poverty would be eliminated, and we would no longer motivate people through the fear of not being able to eat.”

Never shy in pursuing big ideas from Silicon Valley, the 32-year-old Altman has been eyeing Californian politics, too. Altman — who has been an ardent Democratic backer and an equally fervent opponent of President Donald Trump — said in July he was looking for candidates to back for next year’s state and Congressional elections. 

Just two months before, Altman mulled over running for governor but backed out, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“I think we have a fundamental breakdown of the American social contract and it’s desperately important that we fix it,” said Altman. “Even if we had a very well-functioning government, it would be a challenge, and our current government functions so badly it is an extra challenge.”

Photo: Sam Altman, then the newly appointed president of Y Combinator, at Y Combinator in Mountain View, April 24, 2014.  (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)


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