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Let's figure out an effective and equitable universal basic income option

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

Looking for options that work, we need to be realistic and forward-thinking: The idea that the economy is just going to snap back to where it was before the pandemic is not likely going to happen.

The need for us to study, experiment and innovate to find effective options for universal basic income (UBI) is prompted by two news items today:

· Author of the “The Freedom Dividend,” former Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks at the Democratic National Convention, tonight, 9:00 pm Thursday, August 20th. I am glad Yang pushed this issue into the national dialogue.

· Germany is beginning a universal-basic-income trial with people getting $1,400 a month for 3 years.

The pandemic has made it worse but it was bad before but we must not ignore the underlying and relentless problem of systemic job losses.

“The American economy's unprecedented jobs rebound masks a difficult truth: For millions of people, the jobs they lost are never coming back. "It's clear that the pandemic is doing some fundamental damage to the job market," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics. A lot of the jobs lost aren't coming back any time soon. The idea that the economy is going to snap back to where it was before the pandemic is clearly not going to happen."

Like I did, if you grew up in an Oregon small town or rural area, you know that global and national economics often do not favor Oregon workers. We can't passively sit by and wait to be walloped again. AND, given pernicious economic equality in Portland and Oregon, we need to look at UBI policy options that address local income inequality too.

In her 2018 book “Give People Money,” economic policy journalist Annie Lowrey argues that policymakers should start thinking hard about how to create a UBI policy that could help ameliorate the job-killing effects of automation, end poverty as we know it and improve societal cohesion... “Even some progressive proposals for a UBI might end up doing little for poverty and nothing for inequality,” Lowrey writes.

How Portland and Oregon talent can help: Bring together Portland and Oregon’s top ranked School of Public Health, run jointly by Oregon Health & Science University and Portland State University. Add in, Oregon is home to eight college-level economics schools. And, community colleges, nonprofit workforce training programs, state, and federal leaders.

"Oregon is not a wait-and-see kind of state. So it’s time to stop waiting for more research about providing a Universal Basic Income (UBI). Instead, it’s time we adopt a UBI and fine tune it as we go."

I share Kevin's enthusiasm for getting moving on this issue, but don't see a political path forward unless we complete some local groundtruthing first. I also believe it is important to learn about the UBI experiment in Finland and elsewhere.

"Finland’s ground-breaking experiment in basic income has failed to help the unemployed rejoin the workforce...Although it was guaranteed to them whether they managed to find jobs or not, it did not appear to spur the recipients on to seek work more, researchers said."

Yang argues that news media coverage of Finland's study only focused on the impacts to employment.

"But the limited nature of these studies obscures what will happen when everyone in a town has extra income, not just those who are currently struggling economically. As the Roosevelt Institute’s study showed, that’s when the true power of the Freedom Dividend will be unlocked.

That much additional money circulating through the economy, to people who are both currently subsisting and thriving, will create more opportunities for people to create businesses, find employment, and grow opportunities in their communities. Under the constraints of the Finnish experiment, it’s no surprise that these growth effects weren’t seen."

We can be smart about our study of this issue. An Oregon research partnership should seek out and offer to partner or request to shadow the German trial run of a universal-basic-income program, with people getting $1,400 a month for 3 years, announced today by the German Institute for Economic Research.

The issue of job loss is not going away. We need to be thinking ahead.

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