During his commencement speech at Harvard, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called for exploring a system of wealth distribution known as “universal basic income.”
Under basic income, all citizens would receive a standard amount of money each month to cover basic expenses like food, rent, and clothes. Advocates say the system is one of the surest ways to lift people from poverty, since it would provide immediate assistance with no strings attached.
On July 4, Zuckerberg doubled down on his initial support of the concept in a post on Facebook.
He recounted a recent trip that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, took to Alaska, and said the state’s unique social safety net stood out to them. Every year since 1982, law-abiding Alaskans have received a yearly check from the state’s Permanent Dividend Fund, a $52-billion rainy day fund that’s largely made up of oil revenues the government saves in case oil someday becomes less lucrative.
The checks, typically $1,000 to $2,000, are a kickback the government pays to full-time, law-abiding residents.
It's not technically basic income, since the amount varies each year and is too small by most advocates' standards, but it's the closest thing the US has to an ongoing basic income experiment. Zuckerberg praised the system for a couple reasons.
"First, it's funded by natural resources rather than raising taxes," he wrote. "Second, it comes from conservative principles of smaller government, rather than progressive principles of a larger safety net. This shows basic income is a bipartisan idea."
Ultimately, Zuckerberg said the state's approach "may be a lesson for the rest of the country."
Recent research suggests that Alaskans see a lot of benefit from their dividends. A survey from the Economic Security Project found that 81% of people said the cash-transfer program increases their quality of life, and 90% agreed the money should go to everyone who is a full-time resident of Alaska.
In his post, Zuckerberg also pointed to a smaller dividend program involving what the state calls Native Corporations. These corporations are owned and run by native Alaskans and sit on native land. Each year, the corporations pay a small dividend to their shareholders.
"So if you're a Native Alaskan, you would get two dividends: one from your Native Corporation and one from the state Permanent Fund," Zuckerberg wrote.
The Facebook CEO became the latest tech executive to endorse basic income with his May 25 commencement speech - but Zuckerberg is in good company. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Y Combinator President Sam Altman, eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar, and a handful of others have expressed interest in basic income as a way to stave off the negative effects of widespread automation.
"I think we'll end up doing universal basic income," Elon Musk told the crowd at the World Government Summit in Dubai earlier this February. "It's going to be necessary."