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Give People Money
Cover of Give People Money
Give People Money
How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World
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A brilliantly reported, global look at universal basic income—a stipend given to every citizen—and why it might be the answer for our age of rising inequality, persistent poverty, and dazzling technology.

Imagine if every month the government deposited $1,000 into your checking account, with no strings attached and nothing expected in return. It sounds crazy. But it has become one of the most influential and discussed policy ideas of our time. The founder of Facebook, President Obama's chief economist, Canada and Finland's governments, the conservative and labor movements' leading intellectual lights—all are seriously debating versions of a UBI.

In this sparkling and provocative book, economics writer Annie Lowrey looks at the global UBI movement. She travels to Kenya to see how a UBI is lifting the poorest people on earth out of destitution, India to see how inefficient government programs are failing the poor, South Korea to interrogate UBI's intellectual pedigree, and Silicon Valley to meet the tech titans financing UBI pilots in expectation of a world with advanced artificial intelligence and little need for human labor. Lowrey also examines the challenges the movement faces: contradictory aims, uncomfortable costs, and most powerfully, the entrenched belief that no one should get something for nothing.

The UBI movement calls into question our deepest intuitions about what we owe each other. Yet as Lowrey persuasively shows, a UBI—giving people money—is not just a solution to our problems, but a better foundation for our society in this age of marvels.
A brilliantly reported, global look at universal basic income—a stipend given to every citizen—and why it might be the answer for our age of rising inequality, persistent poverty, and dazzling technology.

Imagine if every month the government deposited $1,000 into your checking account, with no strings attached and nothing expected in return. It sounds crazy. But it has become one of the most influential and discussed policy ideas of our time. The founder of Facebook, President Obama's chief economist, Canada and Finland's governments, the conservative and labor movements' leading intellectual lights—all are seriously debating versions of a UBI.

In this sparkling and provocative book, economics writer Annie Lowrey looks at the global UBI movement. She travels to Kenya to see how a UBI is lifting the poorest people on earth out of destitution, India to see how inefficient government programs are failing the poor, South Korea to interrogate UBI's intellectual pedigree, and Silicon Valley to meet the tech titans financing UBI pilots in expectation of a world with advanced artificial intelligence and little need for human labor. Lowrey also examines the challenges the movement faces: contradictory aims, uncomfortable costs, and most powerfully, the entrenched belief that no one should get something for nothing.

The UBI movement calls into question our deepest intuitions about what we owe each other. Yet as Lowrey persuasively shows, a UBI—giving people money—is not just a solution to our problems, but a better foundation for our society in this age of marvels.
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  • From the book

    Chapter One

    The Ghost Trucks

    The North American International Auto Show is a gleaming, roaring affair. Once a year, in bleakest January, carmakers head to the Motor City to show off their newest models, technologies, and concept vehicles to industry figures, the press, and the public. Each automaker takes its corner of the dark, carpeted cavern of the Cobo Center and turns it into something resembling a game-show set: spotlights, catwalks, light displays, scantily clad women, and vehicle after vehicle, many rotating on giant lazy Susans. I spent hours at a recent show, ducking in and out of new models and talking with auto executives and sales representatives. I sat in an SUV as sleek as a shark, the buttons and gears and dials on its dashboard replaced with a virtual cockpit straight out of science fiction. A race car so aerodynamic and low that I had to crouch to get in it. And driverless car after driverless car after driverless car.

    The displays ranged in degrees of technological spectacle from the cool to the oh-my-word. One massive Ford truck, for instance, offered a souped‑up cruise control that would brake for pedestrians and take over stop-and‑go driving in heavy traffic. "No need to keep ramming the pedals yourself," a representative said as I gripped the oversize steering wheel.

    Across the floor sat a Volkswagen concept car that looked like a hippie caravan for aliens. The minibus had no door latches, just sensors. There was a plug instead of a gas tank. On fully autonomous driving mode, the dash swallowed the steering wheel. A variety of lasers, sensors, radar, and cameras would then pilot the vehicle, and the driver and front-seat passenger could swing their seats around to the back, turning the bus into a snug, space-age living room. "The car of the future!" proclaimed Klaus Bischoff, the company's head of design.

    It was a phrase that I heard again and again in Detroit. We are developing the cars of the future. The cars of the future are coming. The cars of the future are here. The auto market, I came to understand, is rapidly moving from automated to autonomous to driverless. Many cars already offer numerous features to assist with driving, including fancy cruise controls, backup warnings, lane-keeping technology, emergency braking, automatic parking, and so on. Add in enough of those options, along with some advanced sensors and thousands of lines of code, and you end up with an autonomous car that can pilot itself from origin to destination. Soon enough, cars, trucks, and taxis might be able to do so without a driver in the vehicle at all.

    This technology has gone from zero to sixty—forgive me—in only a decade and a half. Back in 2002, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Department of Defense and better known as DARPA, announced a "grand challenge," an invitation for teams to build autonomous vehicles and race one another on a 142-mile desert course from Barstow, California, to Primm, Nevada. The winner would take home a cool million. At the marquee event, none of the competitors made it through the course, or anywhere close. But the promise of prize money and the publicity around the event spurred a wave of investment and innovation. "That first competition created a community of innovators, engineers, students, programmers, off-road racers, backyard mechanics, inventors, and dreamers who came together to make history by trying to solve a tough technical problem," said Lt. Col. Scott Wadle of DARPA. "The fresh thinking they brought was the spark that has triggered major advances in the development of autonomous robotic ground vehicle technology in the years since."

    As...

About the Author-
  • Annie Lowrey is a contributing editor for The Atlantic, where she covers economic policy. She is a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. She is a former writer for the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, and Slate, among other publications. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Washington D.C. with her husband, Ezra Klein.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 16, 2018
    What would happen if everyone received $1,000 from the government each month, no strings attached? Lowrey, a contributing editor for Atlantic magazine, examines the promises and pitfalls of a universal basic income, or UBI, in this complex analysis. Considering examples such as Iran, which replaced subsidies for certain goods with a UBI in 2010, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, whose tribal members receive profit payouts on tribally owned casinos, Lowrey debunks the main critique leveled against UBI: that it would disincentivize work. Drawing on interviews with tech tycoons, development economists, and a diverse sample of the world’s poor, she persuasively argues that UBI would actually stimulate higher levels of investment in small businesses, increase workers’ bargaining power, and serve as a buffer against the technological advances that are likely to replace workers with robots. Lowrey is at her best discussing the potential role UBI could play in achieving development outcomes in places like Jharkhand, one of India’s poorest states and a prime example of the inefficiency of traditional state-funded poverty alleviation programs. This book is a lively introduction to a seemingly quixotic concept that has attracted thinkers from John Stuart Mill to Martin Luther King Jr., and that continues to provoke. Agent: Chris Parris-Lamb, the Gernert Co.

  • Library Journal

    May 1, 2018

    Atlantic contributing editor Lowrey explores and ultimately advocates for universal basic income (UBI). This is a set amount of money (e.g., $1,000 per month) granted by the government to all residents regardless of any other factor. There is no means testing. The funds are meant to lift everyone out of poverty without providing beyond that, hence the word basic. It is, perhaps, the purest form of a welfare state nostrum. Variants of this have been advocated over the years by some on both the left and the right. President Richard Nixon proposed a version known as a negative income tax. Lowrey does a decent job of describing UBI and giving the reasons adduced in support of it. She also acknowledges objections and concerns, both economic and cultural. She recognizes the evidence that welfare state policies are most likely to be adopted in ethnically homogeneous societies but almost totally ignores this obstacle for the United States for the rest of the book. VERDICT The narrative tends to be stronger on anecdote than analysis and further discusses welfare policies other than UBI, thus losing focus. This will appeal to those seeking a popular journalistic defense of welfare state policies.--Shmuel Ben-Gad, Gelman Lib., George Washington Univ., Washington, DC

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    May 1, 2018
    A journalist who focuses on economic policy explores the idea of reducing poverty through recurring government payments to every adult citizen.The concept of a "universal basic income" seems straightforward. As Atlantic contributing editor Lowrey writes, "it is universal, in the sense that every resident of a given community or country receives it. It is basic, in that it is just enough to live on and not more. And it is income." The author explores UBI proposals from three angles: how the money could affect the desire for employment, the effectiveness of the payments in helping to ameliorate poverty, and how well the payments would bring about social inclusion within given community. Much of Lowrey's exploration is theoretical since UBI experiments are few and far between. Her research took her to often isolated, impoverished areas of Kenya, India, and the United States. In the U.S., the author writes about how many of the impoverished citizens she met had previously functioned well economically, partly because workers could join labor unions that advocated successfully for decent wages, on-the-job safety regulations, affordable health care, payment of school tuitions, sick leaves, maternity and paternity leaves, and the like. As employers dismantled unions--often abetted by Republican presidents and members of Congress--without punishment, an increasing number of laborers became unemployed or underemployed. Some ended up bankrupt and/or homeless. Outside of the U.S., Lowrey's findings are murkier. The laws and customs of different nations vary widely, and the concept of "poverty" means something different--and is far more consequential--to families that cannot afford to put food on the table or find suitable housing. Pilot programs in portions of Mexico and Brazil had led to further experiments in other nations, but interpreting the minimal data from the experiments feels premature. For now, though, Lowrey offers a good starting point.A useful primer on a highly contentious topic.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • New York Times Book Review "Lowrey, a journalist who covers economic policy for The Atlantic, musters considerable research to make the case for a universal basic income-- a government-funded cash handout for all."
  • The New Yorker "Lowrey is a policy person. She is interested in working from the concept down.... Her conscientiously reported book assesses the widespread effects that money and a bit of hope could buy."
  • Financial Times "Like UBI, the book is ambitious, and it presents a strong case for cash aid."
  • Forbes "Annie Lowery has given basic income a wonderful upgrade...[bringing] first-hand accounts of struggling workers all over the world.... A must-read as basic income becomes a more mainstream idea."
  • Publishers Weekly "A lively introduction to a seemingly quixotic concept that has attracted thinkers from John Stuart Mill to Martin Luther King Jr., and that continues to provoke."
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Give People Money
Give People Money
How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World
Annie Lowrey
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