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Something Is Happening: Basic Income Create-A-Thons Are Here

Scott Santens
Scott Santens
7 min read
Something Is Happening: Basic Income Create-A-Thons Are Here
Image by Lorraine Santana / CC BY 2.0

Something is happening in San Francisco. Perhaps someday we will look back and call it an epicenter of the 21st century. Walking the streets as a stranger in a strange land, I couldn’t help but feel signs on every corner of the imminent breaking of a great technological wave, and like a tsunami that warns with an otherwise puzzling withdrawal of the tide, there hides a warning in plain sight. This warning lies within every human being sleeping on the streets, its silent alarm sounding underneath the pleading voices of passers-by for spare change, an anachronism in a city of digital wallets and contactless payments. The impoverished just aren’t taking advantage of Square Cash or the wonders of the blockchain. They aren’t getting jobs as engineers or coders. They are society’s lost and unfound. Amidst great technology, human beings are being stranded on the silicon shores of our collective tomorrow.

And so it only makes sense, that it was in San Francisco that the first ever Basic Income Create-A-Thon was held. Gathering together from as far as Germany and Finland, sixty developers and artists, filmmakers and musicians, writers and photographers, all came together in one office space for a weekend. They were not employees. They were not paid to work through their weekend. They met, many if not most for the first time, to brainstorm and pursue ideas for the acceleration of the idea of Universal Basic Income in the national consciousness of the United States.

Why Universal Basic Income? Well, funny you should ask, as one of the eight projects created out of this weekend marathon of creativity was designed to answer just that question by YouTuber “Orf”. And it was through the recorded voices and faces of everyone there.

Created by Matt Orfalea

The medium of storytelling is a powerful thing isn’t it? We all have our personal stories to share, in the form of so many small windows into our lives, and so another group decided to focus on building those stories one person, one basic income, one year at a time. That is the goal of the My Basic Income project which is now live. Through crowdfunding, one person will randomly receive a life of basic income for one year. How will it affect them? What will they feel? In what ways will their life be changed? We will find out thanks largely in part to the organizers of this same model in Germany (which has already funded over 23 years of basic incomes) crossing the Atlantic to attend the Create-A-Thon. In addition, they’d also like you to think about what you would do with a basic income of your own, and share your 20-second response with the world on a new website that makes it easy to do so.

The personal stories don’t stop there. Another group even went so far as to make a documentary using in-depth interviews, titled “Tell It To the Sun.” Watching it premiere on the final day was an emotional experience and truly inspiring. The interviews got to the heart of how having a basic income will change lives, through the touching stories of those who have lived lives in a world without it, and yet also a world where so much is given freely without recognition.

Created by Ken Fisher, Byron Go, Alan Webb, Juliana Bidadanure, Tania Ku, Jared Scheib

To further drive home that point of what a world with basic income would look like, another group spent their time envisioning it together. What institutions would change if we were actually for the first time “All in it together?” How would our values change? How would our health change? How would our democracy change? What would happen to education and science? Evaluating these questions, this team developed a “Basic Income Manifesto” of nine areas of likely change from greater empowerment to eventually even a more resource-based economy.

On the other hand, what are the downsides of basic income? What are the objections? It was this question that another group set their sights on as an “Opposition Research” team, and in doing so created a “strategy memo” of 100 objections to be used as a form of debate preparation for basic income advocates. These objections fell into three general categories of objectors: the Shouldn’ts, the Can’ts, and the Won’ts. Those who believe we shouldn’t adopt UBI take issue with the concept itself. Those who believe we can’t may like the idea but think it won’t work for some reason. Those who believe we won’t may like the idea and think it will work, but cynically believe it just won’t happen anyway. Only the Shouldn’ts contain those who may never agree with the idea, but despite all the many potential objections to UBI, the team concluded the main obstacle is public unfamiliarity with the existence of the idea itself, and that if the idea can be introduced with sensitivity to the diversity of American interest groups, it will fare well, and we can win.

Another step toward that win is some serious number crunching to see just what the costs of taxation might be based on policy design, and so another group formed around the idea of creating a basic income calculator to model this via different routes. Describing the result, one project leader stated “our greatest success has been in actually finding all of the relevant information and assimilating it into a piece of software that can continue to develop and refine over time.” Now on its own website, this software will allow all interested users to vary the size of distribution and compare the results against existing cash transfer programs. The results may surprise.

GroupIncome concept prototype

But wait, does a basic income even require government involvement? Is it perhaps possible to implement basic income outside of the government and within fully voluntary group associations? One team thought so, and went about designing “Group Income” because the market doesn’t always recognize that people are valuable, but some groups recognize all people are. Group Income is for them and represents a form of “voluntary automated decentralized income sharing.” Each group can use the software to setup a minimum amount of income that everyone in the group will earn, and each member of that group can setup a maximum amount of income they are willing to contribute to the group. Keep an eye on for the rollout of the first available working version.

Finally, to conclude the list of projects born of the first Create-A-Thon, we return to the city in which it was held, that epicenter of the 21st century, San Francisco. Is it perhaps possible, that aside from exemplifying the need for basic income, it could also lead the way as its own example? Could San Francisco adopt basic income at a city level? One team thought so and went about designing a pathway of what might be required as the groundwork to make it happen. That team was Owen Poindexter and his conclusions included among others: expanding IDs to all using post offices, expanding the Bank on San Francisco program or using post offices as banks so as to expand banking to everyone, and putting a land value tax on the ballot with the purpose of distributing 100% of that revenue equally to all residents. You can read the full plan here.

So there you have it. That’s eight projects completed over a total of around 24 hours across three days, without anyone paid to do any of it. As one of the organizers myself, I can personally attest to the fully intrinsically-motivated nature of the entire event. No one did anything because of a paycheck. No one got any rewards or awards. The only thing anyone received was the satisfaction of meaningful work, the forging of new friendships, and the hope for a better tomorrow. (And perhaps also a sleep deficit)

If sixty people can accomplish all of this great work in a matter of hours, just imagine what the entire country can accomplish with their entire lives freed to pursue the projects they are most passionate about. That’s the potential possible through achieving a fully universal and unconditional basic income. That’s our future, if we choose to create it. And that’s the heart of the first and all future Basic Income Create-A-Thons.

That’s right. There will be more. Anyone can use what was learned from the first Create-A-Thon to create more all over the U.S. and even all over the world. Will that person be you?

It’s time we start creating our better future — together.

Pictured: First Basic Income Create-A-Thon participants

Special thanks to Steven Grimm, Arjun Banker, Topher Hunt, Stern Andrew, Keith Davis, Mark Witham, Albert Wenger, Larry Cohen, Chris Smothers, Richard Just, Danielle Texeira, Paul Wicks, Liane Gale, Jan Smole, Joe Esposito, Jack Wagner, Stuart Matthews, Natalie Foster, Chris McCoy, Peter Titus, Michael Honey, Gary Aranovich, Kai Wong, Robby Olivam, John David Hodge, Louise Whitmore, Dan O’Sullivan, Harish Venkatesan, Michiel Dral, Gerald Huff, Susanne Berg, Katie Doemland, Robert F. Greene, Martin Jordo, Victor Lau, Shane Gordon, Paolo Narciso(?), Johan Grahn, Tony DeStefano, Andrew Henderson, Erhan Altay, Bryan Herdliska, Stephane Boisvert, Rise & Shine PAC, Kirk Israel, Luke Sampson, Lee Irving, Kris Roadruck, Amy Shaffer, Tod Backe, Thomas Welsh, Olli Niinimäki, Casey Young, Jeff, Elizabeth Balcar, Masud Shah, all my other funders for their support, and my amazing partner, Katie Smith.

Would you like to see your name here too?

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Scott Santens Twitter

Unconditional/Universal Basic Income (UBI) advocate with a crowdfunded basic income; Founder and President of ITSA Foundation, Author of Let There Be Money; Editor of

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