Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.
The Case for Basic Income
These days, advances in technology are allowing us to do new and amazing things. But these advances can come with a cost: as technology is used for more and more purposes, it can disrupt the traditional labor model and put people out of work by automating their jobs. If this trend continues, we could be looking at wide-scale unemployment and drastic increases in inequality in the near future.
Universal basic income (or just “basic income”) is a simple idea that could have a radical impact on our society: give every American enough money to meet their basic needs.
While that may not appear too radical at first glance, there are a few key differences between basic income and traditional social programs that set it apart:
- Basic income is universal: Everyone would receive basic income, regardless of age, employment, or financial situation. It would be a fundamental right, rather than a form of welfare, removing any stigma that might exist for programs that are designed specifically for those in need.
- Basic income is simple: Everyone would receive the same amount of money through basic income, making it much simpler to administrate and leading to less bureaucracy than traditional means-tested programs.
- Basic income ends poverty: People are poor because they don’t have enough money to get by. If we provide everyone with enough funds to meet their basic needs, we can effectively eliminate poverty.
With a universal basic income, tech-driven unemployment wouldn’t be such a disaster — even if you lose your job, you can be sure you’ll be able to make ends meet, and will have time to figure out what’s the right next step for you, whether that’s doing part-time work in the gig economy, training to learn new skills, starting your own business, spending more time with your family, or whatever other pursuit you decide is best.
Advocating for a radical idea
While basic income has been receiving more attention in the last year, most people in the United States still have never heard of the concept. And because getting money without having to work for it is a very foreign concept in this country, it often takes more than traditional advocacy tactics to get people to seriously consider the idea and bring them on board.
A similar challenge was faced by campaigners for basic income in Switzerland — when they launched their efforts in 2013, support was very low, and many were dismissive of the idea. In order to raise awareness, the Swiss employed creative approaches, kicking off the campaign with a truck dumping 8 million coins in front of Parliament and rallying supporters to crowd-fund the creation of the biggest poster in the world. These tactics helped generate media attention and encouraged people to think about basic income in new and different ways.
While the Swiss vote for basic income ultimately failed to pass, the campaign managed to increase support by an impressive margin — polling in December 2015 showed only 11% planned to vote for basic income, but the vote in June saw 23% voting “yes.”
Harnessing the creativity of supporters
What would it look like to tap into the creativity not just of grasstops campaigners, but grassroots advocates as well? That’s what the Universal Income Project aimed to find out in late 2015. Our goal was to engage a larger group of supporters through a weekend of action in San Francisco that focused on collaborative, creative projects with the aim of raising awareness and support for basic income. We opted to call the event a Basic Income “Create-a-thon.”
Our intention was to democratize advocacy for the idea by allowing grassroots activists to use their skill sets and passion to inform what projects they worked on. Participants pitched their own ideas for these projects and then self-organized into groups that spent the weekend turning the ideas into reality.
The event was chaotic — there were tons of ideas pitched, some of which sounded pretty crazy to us, and the process of forming groups took several hours, with people adjusting their plans, hopping between groups, and merging similar projects together.
But giving people the opportunity to channel their creativity towards advancing basic income was a real motivator for supporters. By the end of the weekend, we’d ended up with a number of impressive, creative projects being produced (including some of the ideas that initially sounded crazy to us). These ranged from videos to web applications to policy analyses to crowdfunding campaigns.
Many participants from the San Francisco Create-a-thon have continued work on their projects even after the event, and we’ve since followed up with a Create-a-thon in Los Angeles, connecting and engaging supporters there. We’re now looking at organizing other Create-a-thons in cities around the country.
The conversation around basic income is just beginning, and people across the United States are starting to get involved. We’re eager to see what creative ideas people come up with in the months and years ahead.
About the Authors
Jim Pugh is a co-founder of the Universal Income Project, and has a Ph.D. in Distributed Robotics from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. He is also founder and CEO of ShareProgress, a social-good technology startup, and lives in San Francisco.
Sandhya Anantharaman is a Co-Director of the Universal Income Project. She is an Obama alum, has a background in grassroots organizing in the South, and holds a degree in biomedical engineering from Georgia Tech. She currently works as a Data Scientist at ShareProgress.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Read more from the CityMinded.org Blog
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Brownfields are sites that are vacant or underutilized due to environmental contamination, real or imagined. There are brownfields of some kind in virtually every city and town in the U.S., usually related to a gas station, dry cleaner, auto repair shop, car dealership or some other ubiquitous local business that once benefited the community it now burdens with environmental hazards or old buildings.
In addressing this issue, technology has not been effectively deployed to promote redevelopment of these sites and catalyze community revitalization. We find that the question around the use of technology and data in advancing the redevelopment of brownfields is twofold:
How can current and future technology advancements be applied to upgrade existing brownfield modeling tools? And then, how can those modeling tools be used to accelerate transformative, sustainable, and smart redevelopment and community revitalization?
Across the country, urban parks are enjoying a renaissance. Dozens of new parks are being built or restored and cities are being creative about how and where they are located. Space under highways, on old rail infrastructure, reclaimed industrial waterfronts or even landfills are all in play as development pressure on urban land grows along with outdoor recreation needs.
These innovative parks are helping cities face common challenges, from demographic shifts, to global competitiveness to changing climate conditions. Mayors and other city officials are taking a fresh look at parks to improve overall community health and sense of place, strengthen local economies by attracting new investments and creating jobs, help manage storm water run-off, improve air quality, and much more. When we think of city parks holistically, accounting for their full role in communities, they become some of the smartest investments we can make.