California City's Plan To Offer Basic Income to Residents Hits Snag in First Weeks


If the idea of universal basic income was going to catch on anywhere in the United States, it would have to be the state of California. After all, there’s no place in these 50 states where the idea of giving people money for existing would be more likely to catch on, particularly given the word “debt” doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot to state legislators.

The pilot locale for this program seems to be Stockton, a Central Valley city of roughly 300,000 that I previously knew primarily because it was where the band Pavement was from. Now, the city is making news because it’s giving 1,200 households $500 a month as part of a study into the efficacy of the universal basic income concept.

The problem is that nobody seems to really want it.

KOVR-TV in Sacramento reports that “a team of independent researchers randomly selected 1,200 households where the median income is at or below $46,000.  From the group, 100 will be selected to receive $500 a month for 18 months. But the response has been slow.”

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Apparently, even they think that this is a joke.

“We’re looking for at least half of the folks who have received the letter to respond back because it gives the evaluators a chance to select the 100 people from that group,” Mayor Michael Tubbs said.

The project — Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, or SEED — is the first study of universal basic income run by a city.

“SEED is looking to study how an extra $500 will impact people’s health and stress level. They are looking to see if people feel financially secure,” KOVR reported.

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If they don’t get the appropriate number of respondents — namely, 50 percent — by Sunday, Dec. 23, they’re going to have to come up with another way to get the SEED project to work..

“If half the people don’t respond, our research team, our evaluators will find a way to make sure we get a sample size that is representative of the city,” Tubbs said.

So, what’s the solution? Probably to send out more mailers.

“It’s not a scam, it’s not a hoax. It’s a chance to be part of this groundbreaking program,” Mayor Tubbs said.

Indeed, it seems more than likely that residents thought this was a scam than they were averse to availing themselves of free money. Then again, it might be for the best. As recently as 2008, Stockton filed for bankruptcy in the midst of the housing crisis and was once known as the foreclosure capital of America. We’re not exactly talking about Dubai here.

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Of course, this also raises the question of how badly a city has to be managed when it’s just years from earning that foreclosure capital of America moniker and it can’t even get its citizens to accept $500 “free” of charge.

If the suzerains of Silicon Valley, a few dozen miles west of Stockton, have their way, this is a program that’s going to be expanded greatly. We’re going to have a giant government bureaucracy running a UBI scheme that tiny Stockton, California can’t even get 0.5 percent of its residents to sign up for. I can’t possibly see how things could go wrong when this is all scaled up.

If SEED doesn’t get the 50 percent participation rate, I have a piece of advice to the fine people of Stockton: Give it a rest. You’ve already got that whole foreclosure capital thing going. You don’t need another failure. I mean, universal basic income was never going to work, but I never pictured it would fail this bad. Stick to Pavement, Stockton. Pavement was pretty good.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture