Julianne Tveten and Paul Blest in Current Affairs:
To see why Silicon Valley policy-making would be so insidious, we should look at a plan that seems, on the surface, like one of its most progressive ideas: the tech community’s recent embrace of the “Universal Basic Income” (UBI). The idea of a UBI is that all people should be guaranteed a baseline income from the government, which would ensure that they can subsist and that nobody would be in dire poverty. It would be a truly universal guarantee, in that there would be no requirements for receiving it. The idea has long been a favorite of the left, since it would ensure the downward redistribution of wealth, based on criteria of need rather than “merit.”
But even though the UBI has often seemed like a utopian leftist pipe dream, in recent years it has picked up support in an unexpected place: Silicon Valley. A number of tech entrepreneurs have begun to publicly endorse it. Mark Zuckerberg has publicly signed on. And Y Combinator, the most prestigious and obnoxious of the Silicon Valley startup incubators, announced it would launch a local universal basic-income pilot program, giving monthly disbursements of $1,000 to $2,000 to 100 families throughout Oakland and seeing what happens after six months or a year.
That Silicon Valley—home of the callous libertarian billionaire—has come to embrace what’s traditionally viewed as a principle of leftist origin may seem contradictory. Why would a hotbed of private enterprise suddenly latch onto something that sounds an awful lot like socialism?
The answer lies in the concept’s malleability; there are many kinds of “UBI,” and the socialist UBI and the Silicon Valley UBI are not one and the same. One of them is an attempt to create a world of equality and prosperity for all. The other is an attempt to offer bare subsistence as a replacement for government programs, while leaving a fundamentally unequal economic and power structure fully in place.