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Request For Research: Basic Income (ycombinator.com)
1876 points by mattkrisiloff on Jan 27, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 1121 comments

Ask HN: What can startups do to increase prosperity for everyone?

I think basic income is important to do but decreasing the cost of living is a critical component as well. I'd be very interested to hear thoughts from the HN community about what we could be doing here.

Edit: please respond in the main thread so we don't get an unbalanced comment tree. I'll be in the discussion here for a couple hours, but if it feels like there's momentum in the ideas we might do a proper Ask HN about it next week.

Things that would help everyone, regardless of income, without depending on a radical restructuring of entitlement spending, that seem like things startups could actually do:

* Equally credible alternatives to university education for professions that don't involve students shouldering $100k-$200k in debt based on decisions they have to make when they're 18 years old.

* Empirical, blinded, skills-assessment based turnkey hiring solutions that outperform interviews for non-technology roles like marketing, purchasing, &c, so that people who avail themselves of alternatives to universities can get good jobs regardless of social signals.

* Tools that make it possible for companies that today exploit the 1099 labor classification to cost-effectively offer benefits and handle taxes, to make on-demand employment legal and fair while remaining competitive.

* Alternatives to patient-present doctor-mediated health care to cover the 80% case in which doctors are expensive overkill; some combination of telemedicine and nurse-practitioners.

* Technology-mediated services that drastically improve outcomes in K12 education.

* Modern logistics-driven solutions for inexpensive high-quality child care.

* Products that offer serious competition for incumbents in the financial sector to bid down the 7-10% of the economy taken by financial services.

* Tools to improve engagement with local elections and make it easier for people to take flyers on standing for election.

* Modernized fee and fine collection for things like traffic and parking tickets, which currently default out to "charging minimum wage workers $2,000 to get the boot off the car on which they happen to owe 3 parking tickets".

* Similarly: a way to do things like enroll a credit card with your local government to automatically pay fines and fees at their reduced early-payment rate --- which is something you might be able to do without getting permission from local governments.

Later: I added some things

Financial desperation squeezes the cognitive juice right out of you.

In 2013, Harvard researchers did a study of how financial stress affects decision making. Denise Cummins, Ph.D. explains their findings in Psychology Today:

"When the cost of [a car] repair was increased to $3,000, a very different picture emerged: The cognitive performance of those at the upper end of the income distribution was unaffected by the increase. But those at the lower end suffered a 40% decline! The authors interpreted this to mean that scarcity impaired people’s ability to think clearly. The threat—even an imagined threat—of a large bill made it difficult for poor people to focus on the cognitive tasks at hand."

Financial stress impedes human thinking / problem solving. People get consumed by the short term challenges in front of them, and can’t see the big picture.

Sources: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6149/976 http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/good-thinking/201309/why...

I was thinking about that, and about the story of Ferguson Missouri, where some huge portion of the (largely African American) population had arrest warrants over petty fines that had blossomed through late fees and default judgements into financial catastrophes levied by the (largely middle class white) municipal government, with the last few suggestions.

Instead of Universal Basic Income, how about Universal Basic Food Stamps?

It feels like, rather than a basic income, we need two orthogonal currencies: one for necessities (food, rent, utilities) and one for niceities. Everyone would just have two numbers in their bank account, for each of the country's two official currencies. Basic income would be paid in one, while all income from trade in the economy would be in the other.

Economists liken money to votes for demand in a decentralized allocation scheme. They liken taxes and fines to punishing people by taking away their voting-weight in said scheme, relegating them to suboptimal options that they wouldn't have voted for. (Basically, the equivalent of pairing them up with a non-first-choice partner in the Stable Marriage Problem.)

This works fine at a theoretical level where every agent is participating in economy X without depending on economy X (e.g. an economy consisting wholly of foreign investors), but falls apart when people are expected to also eat and live in some of the things they vote for, because those things have inelastic demand—taxing/fining people doesn't make them consume any less of those things, because they need to consume those things; and frequently inelastic supply—there just aren't options for places to live below a certain cost, because all the suppliers' prices are being "floated up" by said inelastic demand.

If, instead, we said something like:

• A new currency—"necessity dollars"—is allocated to people by the government each month to pay for a basket of goods with inelastic demand. The original currency persists, renamed "nicety-dollars."

• Necessity-dollars can only be used for goods and services with inelastic demand (as found by the BLS during CPI calculation), though they are not restricted to goods with any particular "moral cleanliness" value (so cigarettes are just as applicable as bread†.) This is enforced by only permitting certain sellers to accept necessity-dollars, and only on certain transactions.

• At point-of-first-sale, necessity-dollars are actually sent off to the government and the seller receives nicety-dollars instead. There's probably some exchange-rate involved, that the government can manipulate to some interesting end. Thus, companies never hold necessity-dollars, or pay out in necessity-dollars; they're just a thing individuals have and transparently give back to the government at payment-processing time.

• You can't tax or fine anyone in necessity-dollars. People just receive them, hold them in an account, and spend them voluntarily, and that's it: no other operations are valid. Importantly, banks aren't allowed to impose necessity-dollar fees on necessity-dollar accounts for holding them, and so forth. (They could impose nicety-dollar fees on fancy necessity-dollar accounts, but see the next point:)

• If you get taxed or fined or liened or collected on for anything in nicety-dollars, and you don't have enough nicety-dollars, this doesn't "spill over": you can't pay a nicety-dollar cost in necessity-dollars. You're not allowed. This means that if you run out of nicety-dollars, you're effectively bankrupt (in all the current meanings of that word—all the same machinery kicks in), while still being able to afford necessities. Your niceity-creditors get chased off/annulled by your bankruptcy, without disrupting your ability to afford necessities.


† Addiction causes need just like hunger does. You can't really economically disincentivize addicts from seeking a fix; that's basically definitional. Addicts under pressure commit crimes to get the money to pay for their fix, rather than going without. Just freakin' build the infrastructure to treat addiction, if you don't want people spending taxpayer money that way.

This sounds like unnecessary complexity as well as something that could cause problems. I don't think there is a need to restrict people to necessities when paying them a minimal income, they'll do that themselves.

It is overly judgemental of what people living on a basic income are allowed to do, thus making living on only the basic income less viable. Your mother is dying and you need to fly to a different city to visit her? Nope sorry, long distance transit is a nicety. You want to take some time to switch careers? Sorry, books are a nicety. Have back trouble? Sorry a fancy chair is a nicety. You may say that those things could be necessities but a huge fraction of goods typically a 'nicety' can be a 'necessity' in the right circumstances. Better not to tie people's hands.

I think this adds a lot of complexity, cost and bureaucracy for a net loss in how effective the basic income is.

> I don't think there is a need to restrict people to necessities when paying them a minimal income, they'll do that themselves.

I don't actually want to restrict people from deciding what to buy; I want to restrict the government and corporations from wielding the tool of economic incentivization—a tool that works in most of the market—near the margins, where it just becomes a punishment to no end.

Left to their own devices, UBI will be treated as "free votes" in the economy: it will be entirely soaked up by corporations raising prices, because people will still have all the same "non-free votes" they had before, along with the free ones, and everything will adjust to the expectation that people spend both.

Along with this, the government will continue to levy harsh fines, liens will continue to be applied, etc. In UBI, these will take away the money that was supposed to be people's social support. (In fact, in the "pure" UBI most advocate for, these will take away more their social support than is possible today, since we'll have also disassembled welfare, disability assistance, medicare, pensions, etc.)


Now, you're right in that people's needs vary. I don't agree that (pure) UBI is the best possible solution to this problem; it's just an easy one to conceptualize.

Do note that, of your hypothetical scenarios, I'd posit that the "fancy chair" is probably a medical device (and the entire healthcare system would be paid only in necessity-dollars; all demand there is inelastic.) And the book is probably a nicety. (Why not use a library? Unless it's a textbook—those are really, really inelastic, which is why they've gotten to be as expensive as they are.)

The flight situation is the truly confounding one. I would agree that this is something that people should be able to do. Yet most flights are for leisure or business, and it's nearly impossible to distinguish from any sort of government-verifiable context why someone is flying somewhere. There's no component of the economy-wide pricing of flights to pick out as being inelastic demand. It's a good example.

I'm not sure what to do about it, though. Even if you allocated people regular (nicety-dollar) UBI along with the necessity-dollars I've been talking about, that UBI would still suffer all the same problems plain UBI does. Flights (and anything else you could spend the UBI on) would just get more expensive by exactly how much everyone was getting.


Now, maybe I'm coming at the problem all wrong. The problem is that suppliers of goods with inelastic demand right now get to charge $(elastic demand + inelastic demand), whereas everyone would be better off if they could only charge $(elastic demand), and then get the $(inelastic demand) paid from some other source.

You probably don't need a separate currency to do that. You don't need UBI, either. You just need, basically, the cheapest house in a market to cost $0, and for all other houses in that market to be shifted down in price by that same adjustment. That could be accomplished with simple government rebates, probably. Find products+services with inelastic demand, write people rebates for the amount of that inelastic demand, done.

Yes, having more to lose can make people more cautious. But if you're worried about money's effects on the poor then you should be even more worried about its effects on the middle classes and the rich, since they have even more to lose, right?

The idea that the poor can't handle money or would somehow be better off without it is silly paternalistic thinking of the sort that basic income is supposed to do away with. The income streams we're talking about are pretty modest and all the evidence so far is that most people can handle it.

Its effects on inflation are overblown too. Other than real estate, we're not seeing much in the way of inflation. And on the margin, an income that's not tied to a job makes it easier to move to cheaper places. (Why do you think so many retirees live in Florida?)

> it will be entirely soaked up by corporations raising prices, because people will still have all the same "non-free votes" they had before, along with the free ones, and everything will adjust to the expectation that people spend both.

Is there any evidence for this, or is this purely conjecture?

There is some evidence, e.g. Government childcare subsidies in Australia. On the other hand, targeted subsidies may be worse than basic income in this respect.

Why not just cover all flights and tack it up to a citizen's right to travel?

To my mind, Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the most radical attempt to address the complexity that is introduced by trying to only give benefits to the "deserving": there's often a view that social benefits (food stamps, income support, child benefits, health care, etc, etc) should only be given to those who "need" it. So then you need to:

- decide who actually "needs" the benefit

- figure out how to recognise these people ("means-tested" benefits!)

- catch the people defrauding the system

Instead, you could just say, e.g. for the case of child benefit, that every child receives $400/month and get rid of:

- the complexity in deciding who gets $400/month

- the enforcement of fraud

The "underserving" middle- and upper-income will receive this money too, but it doesn't matter - it's effectively coming out of the higher taxes they are paying already.

UBI is just a generalization of this idea to all benefits.

Introducing two kinds of dollars smacks, to me, of the same mindset that introduced means-testing/etc in the first place: "we don't want fraud", "we want this to only go to deserving purposes". Lots of complexity, hard to manage, and for no convincing benefit.

Yes. Even structuring a two-tier payment type implies central planning and the thought that some group of people in front of a whiteboard can choose best for others who they have never met.

Even if some people waste the money on drugs the net benefit is still higher. The person determined to waste whatever income, in whatever form, will do so. The person who just needs cash to make ends meet doesn't need ever changing rules and calcified structures to try and work around.

Just give everyone the money, including the entire buildings of people who follow around making up rules and then making sure the rules are followed.

Welfare by basic income can be run by a set of scheduled tasks in a server. It's sheer simplicity outweighs all other drawbacks. Add a flat tax rate to the income side of the ledger and shackles are really starting to fall off.

I don't see how this will get rid of the need to enforce fraud.

Such a system will still require systems to prevent multiple claims, ensure people aren't claiming for others and making sure people aren't claiming on behalf of dead people.

Sure you remove means testing, but that is only one part of it. The measures which will need to be in place will still require a lot of bureaucracy.

#1 One system, one set of rules, easier to administrate. Much like single payer healthcare systems have less fraud.

#2 Uniquely, correctly identifying every single person participating in the economy is currently being done by data aggregators like LexisNexis (nee Seisent), ChoicePoint, others. Basically a private (non govt) RealID. This could and should be a government function.

#1 Less fraud, but not no fraud.

#2 The system you describe is also bureaucracy.

Do you agree with the fact that UBI means less fraud and less bureaucracy? I can safely assume that you do. Attempting to reject solution by calling it imperfect is a strawman.

Nowhere in my posts did I seek to reject UBI. In fact, I am excited at the possibilities it may bring.

The claims made by davidgay are flawed and if UBI is a good policy, it should work despite those claims.

Making weak, unsubstantiated claims about anything is a good way of undermining it. My criticism here is to stop muddying of the waters and focus the discussion on the core arguments around how social protection should be done.

For a pretty balanced fictional treatment of a future with UBI I recommend James S. A. Corey's novel series "The Expanse" (now a SyFy TV show). Specifically, the novella "The Churn" deals with characters living in a society with universal basic income, and to a lesser degree "The Vital Abyss".

Thanks for clarifying, because I also interpreted your comments as opposition. (And out of step with your comment history.)

Thanks also for "The Churn" tip. I'm enjoying syfy's version.

One comment on higer taxes + UBI. This curve is interesting to think about, slowly ramping or fixed percentage? I prefer simpler when it comes to large scale concepts, but maybe it needs to ramp up and affect all income equally (long term capital gains as well).

I get paid 20% of my salary in "food stamps"/"food vouchers" (they're more lightly taxed both for employees and employers so companies try to foist as much as possible upon employees). And they suck, a lot.

They're called "Ticket Alimentación", and they're provided by Edenred. They're electronic these days to prevent the easiest ways to convert them into real money.


Among the problems:

- most places don't accept it, so you HAVE to go to the places where they accept them. That sucks a lot (nowadays I can't go to the small local places as they don't have the infrastructure to process them, since government heavily monitors their use)

- you can only buy essentials with them, but that does not include stuff like paying rent.

- all taxes and stuff are taken from the "real" money, and you can have a negative "real" income while having too much in food vouchers (which can't be used to pay rent or utilities or transportation).

- you're basically forced to spend them (I make more than what I'd like to spend on food & essentials), you can't save unless you do some kind of hoarding or buy-to-sell scheme. I'm pretty sure some kind of black market would emerge where your proposed "necessity dollars" would be exchanged for "nicety dollars"

I don't have enough leverage to individually negotiate not getting paid in food vouchers, but it's definitely a factor I'm going to consider.

I had never heard of Edenred before. That is very interesting and it might actually solve a problem that I ran into about eight years ago.

Thank you very much for posting this. I owe you.

Glad to know it helps. Not sure what kind of problems they might solve for you, but they're definitely a big and established corporation.

* This is enforced by only permitting certain sellers to accept necessity-dollars, and only on certain transactions.

there are so many reasons why this wouldn't work. The whole point of UBI is that you are not creating a judgemental system by which certain products are or are not reified by the system. Would tampons be covered by UBFS? Let's say then we allow for UBFS to cover female menstrual products. Would cups then be covered? Why or why not? How would you validate a product as being "for a given use"? How much political maneuvering would be required to get a permit for a product?

* inelastic demand (as found by the BLS during CPI calculation)

Pray tell how does one measure demand elasticity[0]? And if you're entrusting the BLS to do this, will they apply fudge factors? Why or why not? Who gets to influence the BLS to get the 'stats right' on their

* You can't tax or fine anyone in necessity-dollars

one word: Arbitrage.

[0] usually a merchant does this by dicking around with the price.

> Pray tell how does one measure demand elasticity[0]?

The phrase "during CPI calculation" should be the key to understanding here. CPI tells you how much prices have gone up or down generally, by just sending a bunch of secret-shoppers around to measure a bunch of prices.

Knowing the treasury's current bond interest rates, the current exchange rate, and Core CPI, you can derive economy-wide aggregate demand—which is the point of the whole exercise. You can then look at any given good's economy-wide demand (i.e. the same formula, where Core CPI is calculated in terms of just that one good) relative to total demand as a time series, take their co-variance, and that's the good's demand-elasticity. (All the numbers are public at every step; there's no real way to fudge them.)

> Would tampons be covered by UBFS? Let's say then we allow for UBFS to cover female menstrual products. Would cups then be covered? Why or why not?

Again: you plug in the demand-elasticity formula and get an answer. No politics, just cold automated logic. Female menstrual products as a category are very likely to be calculated to be inelastic.

Now, how that breaks down to individual items within the category is something I didn't define. As a raw guess, the government could define base inelastic-value for the category, which would apply as a sort of rebate to all the items in that category. Any individual item's price should, after this "rebate", reflect exactly and only its additional elastic demand—making the "premium" products cost some number of nicety-dollars, while the "economy" products in that class cost "nothing" in nicety-dollar terms. (The real key there is the creation of a law preventing companies from increasing their prices in response to this—because, without market manipulation, of course prices would rise to reflect all the same competitive demand as before, plus the extra "free" votes each person got. The law would just need to force companies receiving necessity-dollars to price according to demand in an alternate world where demand was exactly [the amount of inelastic-demand] lower.)

> one word: Arbitrage.

No reason to allow individuals to trade in necessities at all, which would nearly completely prevent arbitraging opportunities. (e.g. it's obvious enough that you shouldn't be able to rent your necessity-dollar-paid apartment out on AirBnB.) Consider anything paid for in necessity-dollars to be tainted and have no legal nicety-dollar value after that.

> The phrase "during CPI calculation" should be the key to understanding here. CPI tells you how much prices have gone up or down generally, by just sending a bunch of secret-shoppers around to measure a bunch of prices.

CPI tells you how much prices have changed, it doesn't explain the source of the changes (and, particularly relevantly, it doesn't measure isolate effects of changes in the supply of dollars chasing the good -- that would be attributed to the degree of elasticity -- vs. other influences on the price of an item.)

It also doesn't tell you the elasticity. How much the demand would change if the price were increased by a unit increment. The only way to truly know that is... to change the price. The CPI can only measure how the price changed, which is a dependent variable, not an independent variable. You may be able to infer the elasticity, but it is at best a weak inference.

The gap that I see in this approach is everyone has a different definition of what is a nicety and what is a necessity.

To go with your tobacco example, I personally don't believe that tobacco should be considered a necessity. (Though I have no problem with Nicorette / nicotine gum being in that category, which could be used by someone unable to buy cigarettes to satisfy their craving.) Someone else may have a different definition of a necessity vs nicety altogether.

It's much simpler IMO to just give people ordinary currency, and let them decide how to spend it best.

Note that by my specific definition above, it doesn't really matter what's a "necessity"—that's just a cute flavor-word. They're really "inelastic-demand dollars."

And my point was that even UBI falls over when someone gets their UBI taken away by a fine. Starving is starving.

Not sure on the viability of it, but couldn't there be something in place that states that fines can only be levied at a maximum 10%/month of the UBI?

So if you get a parking ticket (presumably <1% UBI), you can just pay it, but if you get a large fine (20% UBI), you'd pay it off in two monthly payments of 10% each.

You'd probably need something in place to intervene if someone's constantly paying 10% every month due to multiple fines to prevent people racking up daft amounts of fines and just 'living on 90%'

Agree with you about the fines.

Everyone has a slightly different demand elasticity for certain goods. To use myself as an example, I would buy the same amount of coffee if the price doubled tomorrow, but someone else may choose to cut back on their coffee consumption.

There is a long track record and large body of research on this topic in economics, and there's no need to reinvent the wheel as the results are well known and largely uncontroversial. TL;DR: Money outperforms vouchers and stamps.

For anyone interested in why this would not work (coming from someone in the left) please see the "MUC dollar" used by a Peruvian president in the 70s[1](https://books.google.ca/books?id=8M6ueEbn3GUC&pg=PA343&lpg=P...)

We could call it the Universal Black Market Dollar! Are you unfamiliar with the process of trading food stamps for money that already exists?

I am. How does it work? I assume someone with cash who really wants groceries buys stamps at a discounted rate so they end up having more grocery buying power?

It can work in many ways. In my country(India), it was common for people to collect subsidized rations and sell them to hotels. Hotels get the rations at subsidized prices, and people make money on the free rations they recieve.

You could also see food stamps as a parallel currency. You get work done, you fix the payment as N food stamps. The guy who takes this, uses the same method to pay others... and so on, until the final guy in the chain exchanges those N food stamps for actual rations. This has other side effects, since there is a parallel currency, it can't be regulated, its supply cannot be controlled. You can't levy taxes on it and so on...

These sort of parallel currencies already exist in India.

The way I've heard of it working (third-hand, so grain of salt and all that) is basically that an unscrupulous grocer fails to report some cash transactions. He then "sells" those groceries to someone with food stamps, in reality trading some fraction of the cash for the food stamps.

According to "Debt, the first 5,000 years", that's pretty close to how things worked in prehistoric societies.

Necessities were more or less shared communistically, while "money" was mainly used to elevate status within a social group.

There was little to no trade surrounding necessities.

Your suggestion might or might not be impractical, but I think the general thrust is correct.

If you provide UBI and people can have fines, interest, judgements, etc. levied against it, many predatory practices will render people destitute even with it.

The dual currency is how it works in Cuba- one currency for locals that buys mostly food, and another for imports, which is mostly "luxuries".

Needless to say, it distorts all kinds of incentives and the black market thrives anyway.

>It feels like, rather than a basic income, we need two orthogonal currencies: one for necessities (food, rent, utilities) and one for niceities.

There isn't really a difference here. Need vs. want isn't a binary classification, even though we treat it as one. It is a spectrum. Even worse, it is a spectrum where ever people with choice don't always make the choices of need. Take someone thirsty who is drinking soda. Enough so that they are lowering their life expectancy. They have a need for water, not soda. Soda is worse, comparable to slightly dirty water in how it impacts their life expectancy, but they choose it for other reasons.

It would be far easier to give people money and let them choose how to allocate it. If someone's immediate needs is a safer location to shelter in then they can decide what do they need less (maybe reduce their food budget to compensate). The only issue needing government involvement is with ensuring parents meet the needs of their children (but once again, needs isn't a distinct classification).

Doesn't this just set up a complex laundering scheme? Safeway can accept necessity dollars and cash them in for nicety dollars at 1:1. A startup wants to sell their new gadget which isn't approved for nicety dollars. They accept nicety dollars anyway and pay Safeway 1.1:1 to be a back door exchange.

"Economists liken money to votes for demand in a decentralized allocation scheme."

No we don't. "Vote with yer dollers" is a political talking point.

We have something along those lines where I live. People without jobs can apply for job at a local municipal job center. They centralize demands from people for small jobs like lawn mowing, cutting the bushes, painting, etc. People buy checks from them and pay the worker with those checks (with a fixed price per hour). Then the worker goes back to the center to deposit the checks. Then the center forwards the checks to the social welfare administration that converts them into real money for the worker.

I knew someone in a rough spot that went there and spent a day building a rabbit cage or something. When he got back to the center he was told that his SO earned too much for him to work there, they had failed to mention that when he got there first. So now he has checks worth nothing hanging on his walls.

  You can't really economically 
  disincentivize addicts from 
  seeking a fix; that's basically 
Not sure I agree. Seems like we cut down smoking drastically in the USA through heavy taxation? Not an expert in that area, however.

Not really. Smoking went down as it became less socially acceptable to do so. Case in point: cigarettes are $6/pack in California, but very few people smoke because those who do are seen as unhealthy louts. Meanwhile in New York cigarettes are $13 yet it's much more prevalent.

If the necessity payments are biweekly or whatever, and actually scaled to necessities, and spending of them is actually limited to necessities, it shouldn't be possible to save many of them up, and not very beneficial either. So there isn't a huge benefit to making them survive bankruptcy (the court could even award an extra necessity payment right after adjudicating the bankruptcy).

So I think that is a good argument against them being, uh, necessary, and then there is the whole thing where if it is a real currency, it will be fungible, so people will still be able to use them stupidly on things that aren't necessities.

  1. Buy allowed item with necessity dollars.
  2. Merchant credited with nicety dollars.
  3. Return item to merchant.
  4. Receive refund as X% of the nicety dollars.

  1. Buy $X banana with necessity dollars.
  2. Merchant credited with nicety dollars.
  3. Give $Y rebate card to merchant.
  4. Receive rebate in nicety dollars.
Your well-intentioned scheme fails utterly at the third bullet point, because as soon as you allow the exchange to general-purpose currency, you no longer control how it is spent.

That is a crazy complex system. Compare this to the current Food Stamp system where the government loads money on a pre-paid card (for free - no transaction fees), and that card can only be spent on certain types of goods.

That's a really interesting idea, but another issue to consider is that a lot of food/housing could be considered "nicety" rather than necessity: sushi, craft beer, luxury penthouse apartments, etc. How would you decide how much of your mansion is covered by necessity money, and how much is nicety?

See my sibling comment: figure out how much inelastic demand there is for a good-category, rebate that amount off of all prices using necessity-dollar allocation, and then whatever's left over is the true nicety-dollar (i.e. elastic demand) cost.

One interesting effect of this is that if you calculated it per-market, then different goods would have different inelastic-demand floors in different markets. In e.g. Vancouver, where tiny one-bedroom detached homes can cost >$1mm, there'd be a pretty large necessity-dollar allocation for rent/mortgage. In Cleveland, where houses go for $65k, it'd be much lower.

You might not want this effect—you might want to incentivize people to move to cheaper markets instead. But the network-effect of cities is another of those things economic incentives just don't seem to work very well to treat.

  It feels like, rather than a basic income, we need two orthogonal currencies: 
  one for necessities (food, rent, utilities) and one for niceities. Everyone 
  would just have two numbers in their bank account, for each of the country's two 
  official currencies. Basic income would be paid in one, while all income from 
  trade in the economy would be in the other.
I think this would be bad, as you limit a persons ability to choose and as such you're limiting freedom by government planning. Basically as was described by F. A. Hayek in his book "The Road To Serfdom":

… that in a planned society "political democracy can remain if it confines itself to all but economic matter". Such assurances are usually accompanied by the suggestion that by giving up freedom in what are, or ought to be, the less important aspects of our lives, we shall obtain greater freedom in the pursuit of higher values. On this ground people who abhor the idea of a political dictatorship often clamour for a dictator in the economic field.

The arguments used appeal to our best instincts and often attract the finest minds. If planning really did free us from the less important cares and so made it easier to render our existence one of plain living and high thinking, who would wish to belittle such an ideal? If our economic activities really concerned only the inferior or even more sordid sides of life, of course we ought to endeavour by all means to find a way to relieve our- selves from the excessive care for material ends, and, leaving them to be cared for by some piece of utilitarian machinery, set our minds free for the higher things of life.

Unfortunately the assurance people derive from this belief that the power which is exercised over economic life is a power over matters of secondary importance only, and which makes them take lightly the threat to the freedom of our economic pursuits, is altogether unwarranted. It is largely a consequence of the erroneous belief that there are purely economic ends separate from the other ends of life. Yet, apart from the pathological case of the miser, there is no such thing. The ultimate ends of the activities ofreasonable beings are never economic. Strictly speaking there is no "economic motive" but only economic factors conditioning our striving for other ends.

What in ordinary language is misleadingly called the "economic motive" means merely the desire for general opportunity, the desire for power to achieve unspecified ends. If we strive for money it is because it offers us the widest choice in enjoying the fruits of our efforts. Because in modern society it is through the limitation of our money incomes that we are made to feel the restrictions which our relative poverty still imposes upon us, many have come to hate money as the symbol of these restrictions. But this is to mistake for the cause the medium through which a force makes itself felt. It would be much truer to say that money is one of the greatest instruments of freedom ever invented by man. It is money which in existing society opens an astounding range of choice to the poor man, a range greater than that which not many generations ago was open to the wealthy.

Those last two sentences are textbook non-sequitur, and use a depressing collection of rhetorical tricks to make a point that's entirely fact-free.

Money is a good way to avoid abject poverty, but it doesn't give poor people freedom, because poverty for most is a matter of education and socialisation. Basic income can pay your bills and put a roof over your head, but it won't create opportunity.

Nor will free markets. Left to its own unregulated devices, no form of social organisation is quite so good at destroying economic freedom for most of the population as a laissez-faire zero-regulation regime.

Most of the civilised world has affordable health care precisely because it offers financial freedoms that market-based "solutions" reliably try to destroy. The cost of health insurance in the US is literally crippling. It's a prime driver of personal bankruptcy, it makes would-be entrepreneurs think more than twice about setting up - and none of this is an issue in countries where public health care is available.

Likewise with student loans. Who has more freedom - a student with $100k of debt, or a student with no debt?

Who benefits from a generation of students with huge debt burdens? It's certainly not the students.

The real road to prosperity and economic freedom is a regulated market in a broadly prosperous economy with minimal cost of entry for entrepreneurs. That means easy and cheap access to investment funding, plenty of high quality blue sky government-funded seed R&D, a strong culture of academic research and independence, serious investment in public infrastructure, a broad variety of independent media, free unrationed access to world class educational resources, and seed level support for entrepreneurs and business creators from all social backgrounds.

It doesn't mean the "freedom" that makes the proverbial 1% extremely rich while everyone else's economic and personal freedoms are diminished.

UBI means dignity. Anything else put a huge dent in how one and others see him.

"When the cost of [a car] repair was increased to $3,000, the cognitive performance of those at the upper end of the income distribution was unaffected by the increase. But those at the lower end suffered a 40% decline! The authors interpreted this to mean that scarcity impaired people’s ability to think clearly. The threat—even an imagined threat—of a large bill made it difficult for poor people to focus on the cognitive tasks at hand."

That's me. I was recently fired for having severe narcolepsy. (Irony: The medication that might help with this condition for the first time in my life arrives tomorrow, a few days before our health insurance runs out.) It's been surreal to be excluded from most life aspirations due to being unable to participate in the 9 to 5 that society expects. Part of why it's hard is that no one can relate to this at all. When you throw your back out and are unable to work, people understand. When you arrive at 1pm because you have no memory of waking up and turning off all three of the alarms you'd set, no one cares why. You're damaged goods.

A basic income would at least assist with searching for my next job. My wife and I are now in a situation where we either start receiving income within three months max, or completely run out of money.

I know intellectually what needs to be done: Port a webapp from an older framework to a next-gen framework, then write a detailed post about how it was done and what the benefits were. That would be enough social standing to at least get some freelancing gigs.

Trouble is, I'm completely frozen. It's not quite fear -- closer to profound loss of hope. When a medical condition excludes you from society, it's easy to let it get the better of you, or feel bitter. Those are precisely the opposite feelings that will result in income.

In that light, it's not strange that a $3,000 bill would reduce someone's performance by 40%. Even if it's not a disaster, you end up wishing that you could take your wife on that honeymoon you've talked about for four years. When it took 6 months to save up $3,000 dispite a decently high salary, you know that your future will never be free from the "money problem," and that it will permeate every aspect of your life.

So what do you do? Try to be intelligent, of course. Try to see your situation as amusing. Amusement, yes; anger, no. It's easier to deconstruct a problem when it feels like a puzzle rather than a prison.

Easy to say that. What do I do? Pull up React docs while trying not to cry.

None of my ambitions matter anymore. Life is a years-long process of trying to recover from a tailspin. I'm 28; blink a few times and I'll be 50.

A basic income might help. When the company fired me without notice, they mentioned that our health and dental insurance will expire at the end of the month. This translates into a few things: (a) an extra $350/mo of bills, which accelerates our impending bankruptcy; (b) choose to remove my wisdom teeth and get a root canal right now, this week, which will knock me out for at least two weeks when I have to perform, and will cost at least 15% of our reserves anyway, so I'm not going to do that. Maybe it will result in messed up teeth for life, but that's an abstract problem that Future Me will deal with later.

On the other hand, maybe a basic income would hurt. I don't want handouts. I want to participate in life and to add value to my pursuits, just like you. It's easy to imagine feeling like maybe this basic income should be my lot in life. At least if I know we'll hit a brick wall in 3 months and that my wife won't be able to graduate, I can sort of force myself to try to use React / etc, and to otherwise hustle.

But I miss being 13, when life was an endless intellectual playground, and that "forcing yourself to have fun learning a programming framework" was an absurd contradiction.

Why post this? I don't know. It's not a sob story, and it's not really a warning. It seems like no one else will learn a thing from any of this. But at least it won't seem so mysterious that a $3,000 bill can subvert you.

I have chronic fatigue that, until treated, was quite disabling. I have some other more private health concerns that add up to about twice my rent. If you have a chronic health condition, access to health care is a major and fundamental concern: I just left a job that was killing me, and am temporarily unemployed, and COBRA with a $500 premium is my cheapest option by far. If I hadn't spent the last year saving as much as I could, I'd be in a lot of trouble.

I didn't choose to be sick. I don't want handouts either. I am very fortunate. But I do think it's a damn shame that health insurance is so tightly coupled with employment when employers come and go but your health follows you everywhere. I can't imagine that a public option would be worse than this.

<COBRA with a $500 premium is my cheapest option by far>

Why isn't buying a subsidized ACA policy an option?

I'm not actually sure what the criteria for subsidies are; I made too much to qualify last year, I hope to get back to work soon and make too much to qualify this year. I don't know how "annual income" shakes out in this situation.

Either way I had a $2500 out of pocket max on my old plan that I usually met in January. $6k a year in premiums + $2500 out of pocket + some out of network costs is a relatively palatable deal.

Was your employer covered by the ADA? If they have more than 15 employees, you have a great EEOC case to get un-fired.

Allowing someone to come into work more than half way through the day (presumably with no way to get a concrete time from them in advance) may not be considered a "reasonable accommodation" depending on what the job is.

Even for software development it's not always reasonable.

What do you do? I am hiring and we have remote roles and a global team so everyone keeps their own hours.

I'll second that. I'm not 'hiring', but as a freelance web developer I'm always open to people working with me for an hourly rate.

EDIT: and while I don't currently have a steady stream of work available, when I do, I favor working with people who for whatever reason have trouble finding or keeping 'normal' work (having dealt with my own share of issues in this area).

I'm truly sorry to hear that.

I don't see why narcolepsy should be a problem, especially in our area. I mean sure, meetings and stuff like that might be harder to do, but our industry is/should be lenient to things like office hours. There have been tons of times where I go to the office at "late hours" (e.g. 1+ PM), and as long as I turn in my deliverables on time (or let my lead know I won't be able to), there is no issue.

So again, very sorry to hear that.

Also, if I may, I would like to give you the following suggestion.

What about, instead of porting something and then writing about it for the PR, why not take the lowest hanging fruit you can find and do some local web dev/mobile dev, even if you only get a small fraction of the money you need each month.

I am saying this not without reason. I have a friend that is doing bad financially, and doing only one gig that got him around 1k USD (different country and situation of course, but at the current exchange rate, it's about that amount) gave him some hope.

And the thing is that he got a big relief when he saw with his own eyes that he could basically turn code into money. Not enough money necessarily, but at least some amount. That in turn lowered his stress and things started to look less bleak.

Just to tell a bit of his situation: he has kids and a wife that for medical reasons as well, can't work, so he is the sole wage earner at home. His job is very likely going to end soon, and has about 1 month runway.

So just in case you check back the comments, and if you are willing to take some random advice from a random guy on the Internets, why not try this? Just take a gig, very very simple one you can find through friends, your local laundromat/liquor store/etc, family, that consists of doing a simple but sleek-looking webpage or something very low hanging-fruity, and after you get your first few bucks, rinse and repeat.

Hopefully the boost in morale will be enough to get you to try maybe a bigger gig, etc, or at least buy you some time while you get to find another job.

Sorry if this is of no use to you, since I know that this route might not afford you the medical care you need and that definitely sucks. But I truly feel you and I was hoping I could chip in at least a very very minor idea in case it's helpful in any way.

Not sure what else to say except to try to keep going as hard as you can, and that I can definitely lend an ear if you are so inclined (let me know and I can send you an email or something). If not, I sincerely hope things get better soon.

    I don't see why narcolepsy should be a problem, especially in our area. I mean sure, meetings and stuff like that might be harder to do, but our industry is/should be lenient to things like office hours.
I blame scrum. Or, more specifically, people who drink the cool-aid and don't understand the actual purpose.

I've interviewed at I-don't-even-remember-how-many companies that claim to offer extremely flexible hours, or don't care about telecommuting, just make sure you deliver... until you tell them that you can't promise to be there for the daily stand-up at 9am. This is typically justified by "it's only one meeting a day!", but if that one meeting is in the middle of the night for you because you work in a different time zone, or you can't make it in till 10 because you've got kids to take care of, etc., etc.... that doesn't really seem so reasonable anymore.

Code up an "instant stand-up" team status web page, such that everyone on the team can see at a glance what everyone else is doing, what they just finished, and whether they have any blocks. Update your status once per day.

Congratulations, you have now saved 10 minutes per day for everyone in the office. Oops, now they have to come up with some other reason for everyone to be physically present at 9 AM sharp.

"Flexible hours" have always been BS at almost every company I have worked for.

> Code up an "instant stand-up" team status web page, such that everyone on the team can see at a glance what everyone else is doing, what they just finished, and whether they have any blocks. Update your status once per day.

Basically, kanban, sure; but you've also missed what is (IMO) the main values provided by the "Daily Scrum", and the reason something like it is useful even in systems that use better methods for communicating status of progress items:

1. Coordination and conflict resolution on next tasks, and 2. Early and rapid identification (and, ideally, resolution or escalation) of barriers/issues.

(That's not to say that there aren't ways other than a daily in-person meeting that could be proposed to meet these goals, just that a status board doesn't replace the functionality of the Daily Scrum.)

I haven't had many positive experiences with daily stand-ups, so I'm heavily biased against them.

For the record, I didn't like doing oral reports in front of the entire class in school, either.

I second this (with absolute 0 expertise in the matter). If the problem is a lack of hope, then doing things that demonstrate to yourself that you are in control of the problem should be a big help.

I am not sure of your location (US, etc.) but I would imagine that you might be able to get unemployment benefits, which I hope would help tide you over financially at a minimal level while you focus on the next steps. Again, assuming US location: you might be able to use COBRA or a plan from healthcare.gov to help you continue the medications that you need.

Regardless, I hope you are able to recover from this setback and do better than ever. Please don't lose hope - there is always an option.

Depending on the actual terms of the termination he may not be eligible for unemployment. Chronic lateness might be considered being fired for cause, which typically means you cannot claim UB.

Well, IANAL but given that he has a prescription for the situation that caused him to be late, I can see a case for unemployment. It should be worth filing.

>>It seems like no one else will learn a thing from any of this.

There is a ton to learn from your story.

Most people think retirement is what you do when you get old. Retirement planning begins on the day you get the first pay check of your life. In fact the whole purpose of working should be to eliminate the need to work.

If you are not doing this already. You are sitting on top of risky avalanche which will go downhill any day.

> due to being unable to participate in the 9 to 5 that society expects

As some already mentioned, you are likely covered by ADA - if your company is larger than 15 employees.


I know a person fired from his Rails dev position who had a sleep issue on the job. They later came under new management and switched to a remote team and let him have his own hours. If you are competent you can do fine with a remote job. You can probably good money and move to a cheaper area.

>> When you arrive at 1pm because you have no memory of waking up and turning off all three of the alarms you'd set

There are some apps that might help you in this regard that require increasingly complex tasks to disable an alarm. (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kog.alarmc...)

It also has an option to resound the alarm 5min after being disabled.

I have used it and it was effective for me even on 'easy' difficulty challenges, though I don't have a condition like yours, just sort of heavy sleeper. If you haven't, you should definately give it a try.

Narcolepsy is a neurological condition that is not solved by a puzzle alarm.

I suppose another person would solve this issue? Or is it an even worse condition than I think it is?

> I suppose another person would solve this issue?

No. The right dose of the right medications for the individual affected might mitigate the issue, but another person wouldn't solve it any more than puzzle alarms would (which is not at all, essentially.)

> Or is it an even worse condition than I think it is?

It is of varying severity, with various interventions available that may mitigate the effects to a greater or lesser extent for some sufferers, but its a different kind of condition than you seem to think it is. That is, its not like being a non-narcoleptic heavy sleeper except superficially to outside observers, at least, based on what I've read and the narcoleptics I've known.

You sound like a pretty interesting guy. Do a Reddit AMA

Your employer sounds like a real piece of shit if they're firing you over a medical condition you're just starting treatment for. If nothing else, they should consent to just deducting your pay for the time you've been sick, but I guess that would mean acknowledging that you're sick and exposing themselves to liability or something. Hang in there.

>>The threat—even an imagined threat—of a large bill made it difficult for poor people to focus on the cognitive tasks at hand.

This issue happens because one has to constantly juggle many priorities in the mind all at one time. This can come down very heavily on a person. To have to make decisions to chose one over the other, a.k.a making sacrifices can be soul depleting if done for a very long time.

There are often conflicting priorities many demanding attention at the same time. In case of trade off you often stand to lose something for the other.

Sorry, but all of those sound like things that are going to help people who were already going to be successful to be even more successful.

College debt, for example, is a problem for those who were successful enough to get into college into the first place, and who, simply by getting into college, are already increasing their lifetime earnings by millions of dollars.

Technological services for K-12 ed is pushing a string. The largest predictor of a student's performance is the educational level and socioeconomic status of their parents, not any in-school factor. Classroom technology offers the most benefit to the students best equipped to make use of it, which is again the privileged and better-prepared students.

Increased political engagement helps those who already have enough leisure and status to spend time following and engaging politics.

Poverty is a more basic problem.

I'm not a big believer in minimizing college debt. I'm a believer in minimizing college.

People who grow up in wealthy families naturally find themselves on a college track that seamlessly routes them to elite schools when they're 18 years old.

People who grow up in poverty aren't on that track and might not even have much agency (due to their circumstances, requirements to work young, entanglements with the law) until they're in their 20s.

The fastest growing stable white collar jobs all require a 4-year degree. Even if college were free, people of reduced means wouldn't have equal access to it, because taking 4 years off the workforce isn't an option for most people. Meanwhile: a 4-year degree has actually not much value in predicting one's ability to perform as e.g. an HR director.

So what I'm suggesting is the startup that finds a way to turn smart, enterprising 24 year olds working in retail jobs into HR directors, credibly enough that they'll be competitive with Russian Lit majors.

(I'm not picking on Russian Lit; it's just, that's the undergrad degree my sister got at UChicago before becoming a lawyer, so it's the first one that pops into my head).

College in Poland is free and there are options for very limited stipends which can sustain you (albeit on a poverty level). That did lift me from a poor, but educated, family into the world of computer software and a relatively successful career it seems. As it did for countless of my peers.

Please don't discount free education as "not changing much", in the US I would be probably working at Mc Donalds or dealing crack and in jail.

I'm not opposed to free education. I'm certain free education is better than $150k education. But gating stable employment on 4-year degrees is problematic for reasons other than tuition costs, and, equally important to this thread, startups probably can't make college free, but they might be able to replace college for a pretty big set of white collar jobs.

I think colleges should educate people and not only train them for a job. This is only really viable with free education and much harder to do with the alternatives which are discussed right now.

Sure, but training them for an economically viable life is certainly higher priority than a so-called well-rounded education.

Probably yes but I feel that general education is, especially in this community, a little undervalued. Democracy fundamentally depends on its population being educated and in more ways than just STEM. Better socioeconomic decisions are made if more voters are educated in areas other than programming (figuratively) and this is only achievable if this type of education is a viable path for young people, for example through tuition-free universities

We should better fund community colleges, and make pursuing a technical degree free. That is the degree whose goal is a job.

For a BA, MA, etc, the goal shouldn't be a job, but the pursuit of knowledge. Part of that is the value in knowledge itself, but it also gives you a broader skill set that can be applied to many kinds of jobs, where a technical degree is much more specialized.

Employers who require trained workers should bear the responsibility for training them (and control the process of doing so).

On the other hand the public has an interest in liberally educated neighbors and voters.

I would argue against that.

I agree, otherwise the proles might become too uppity.

Thank you so much for teaching me the term "proles."

Haha, it's so useful. :)

> I'm certain free education is better than $150k education.

Is this really the case? Sure for identical education free is better than non-free, but I know even in software development if you're applying for jobs in the US and your degree is from Poland there are places that won't interview you, let alone hire you.

In Argentina, the University of Buenos Aires is free and I know plenty of people who went from there to Google. They got better scores than Harvard in ACM last year. So yeah, free education can be as good in quality as paid education, at least in some cases.

sorry, misunderstood you, apologies.

Largely - It's not an education problem. It's a jobs, discrimination, and "qualification creep" problem.

Not to nitpick, but in my experience growing up in the Midwest of the US most "poor, but educated, families" like mine pushed children into state schools where they pay in-state tuition and graduate with $10-40k in debt. Most careers are open to them and you would almost definitely not be working at McDs or in jail.

So ok, we're comparing realities that might not be comparable. I also didn't have as bad as others, but in my case something like "in-state tuition" was essentially unthinkable as well as any sort of debt. If you have nothing, first it's unlikely someone would borrow you the money and second it's a terrifying prospect and a lot of money.

The US poverty line is about 15k for a two-person family. That would mean that earning that much would make 1-3 years of family income in debt.

> If you have nothing, first it's unlikely someone would borrow you the money

In the case of education this is not the case; the federal government provides (or backstops) the loans.

Not only that, but the degree to which you have nothing directly affects the amount of aid (loans) they are willing to provide.

I have a twin sister whom was better at saving than I. When it came time to apply for FAFSA loans, she had $2k in the bank and I didn't. She qualified for exactly $2k less in loans than I did.

Absolutely. In the book "Ahead of the Curve" the author describes his MBA classmates at HBS emptying their bank accounts by buying BMWs so that they qualify for more student aid. I've also seen medical doctors in private practice leave for a public health or VA job when their children are nearing college so that they can qualify for more aid, then return to private practice after the children finish college. When the system is set up to charge a high sticker price and then discount based on an "ability to pay" formula, people will do everything in their power to adjust their finances to appear unable to pay.

The lesson there is that those whom are irresponsible get further ahead (by having the irresponsibility discharged).

This is what always irked me about how the bailouts were handled. They should have been controlled government regulated destructors that would tear off and re-attach resources that were viable to other companies and leave the investors with none of their investment.

I think the issue here is a lack of awareness about the options available. This is true across many social programs.

For many people who have nothing and earn little, being free of debt is an absolute core value, far beyond the mere numberical delta. To people who perceive zero debt as a central measure of personal achievement and self-valuation ("at least I am not in debt"), going deep into the negative for some quasi-entrepreneurial investment that may or may not pay off feels extremely wrong.

People on HN may ridicule them for being stuck in an optimization for a terribly low local maximum, but the danger of feeling "rich" on a fat loan is real: "if it's ok to burn through a decade worth of low wages to get to where I can easily pay it pack, what difference does it make if I burn through a few years more?" Valuing debtlessness is the established safeguard against that and going deep to exit high would be perceived as close to amoral by their peers.

There are problems with free Uni in Poland

- people studying for 10 years just to extend the childhood. (government pay 15k a year to the uni)

- some Unis accept people just to get money off of the government (accepted 500, graduate 100)

- lack of quality due to poor funding

Uni should not be free, but cheap. (50% of yearly median salary)

If people have the means to support themselves while studying for 10 years, why not let them study for 10 years? They are certainly not receiving a scholarship for these 10 years.

In Spain the first time you take a subject the University is almost free. The second time (if you fail) you have to pay 40% of the price and the 3rd+ times you pay 100%.

Note: in Spain it is expected to fail some subjects in Engineering

@mietek I have no problem if they pay for everything. Tax payers are paying 100%.

That last sentence is almost assuredly a massive hyperbole. The US is not that bad...

The idea that many poor adults work at McDonald's is assuredly not hyperbole.

Largest non-violent per capita prison population in the world? Not that much hyperbole.

Maybe the trick is to view college not as a service you must buy, but as a service you must perform. An educated populace is a productive one. Maybe we should pay people a living wage to go to college. I can think of far worse ways to spend taxpayer money.

I have a theory that making education free and universally accessible, meaning anyone who is willing to put in the time can get a bachelor's degree in any major they want, would remove the majority of the signaling effect that a 4 year degree has. There would still be some signaling from holders of elite college degrees, but I argue that it is a separate problem.

I do agree with you in principle about the HR director thing. College is treated too much like a white collar vocational school.

Coming from a place with free university education I don't think that is right. More accessible university education, more people get university education, this raises the bar in all fields.

HR still prefers somebody who went through the trouble of getting the paper as it signals putting the effort in.

Now many jobs that previosly didn't need university education have such applicants and it becomes more mandatory to get one in order to compete. And why would you not, it is free after all.

In the end more people get higher education. it won't necessary help you getting a better job but I think it is good for society anyway.

For many others this "useless over education" is one of the reasons to introduce fees to schools. To make vocational studies worth more again and force people to think education more like an investment.

The signaling from a college degree comes directly and only from the fact that getting that degree is difficult. If you make getting the degree easier, you reduce the efficacy of the signal (assuming all the relevant people are aware of the change in difficulty). Of course, employers could start looking at other things, like grades or other academic achievements, to use as new signals.

Yes that's true. I meant making education more accesible in terms of making it free not making it less difficult. It becomes cheaper for people to give it a shot and more people end up graduating. It's true that this devalues the achievement and nobody really can hire you just because you graduated. On the other hand in a society where most of your peers have (devalued) university education you won't even get to job interview without one.

Making it free does make it less difficult, and thus weakens the signal. Many (probably most) college students go through financial hardship or at least financial inconvenience during college.

One concern is that, especially during the transition, job descriptions requiring "4-year college degree" would become a de-facto (and legal) means of discriminating by class or social status, assuming that the rich would overwhelmingly continue to send their kids to college.

My concern is that they already are that.

They almost certainly have already become that.

<People who grow up in poverty aren't on that track and might not even have much agency (due to their circumstances, requirements to work young, entanglements with the law)>

Why do you equate poverty with inevitable entanglements with the law?

In my experience, those of us who had to work (formally employed) young are less likely to have entanglements with the law, as one natural result of spending time working is having less idle time in which to get into trouble.

It would be helpful if white-collar employers were more willing to hiring eighteen-year-olds. Many of my twenty-something (and older) peers at $Megacorp actually started this way, with some earning a bachelor's degree part-time.

I think you're right it doesn't help those who don't have a culture of education. I.e. people who "are first in the family to attend college/uni" of which many are minorities but also a great many are poor whites.

But.... It does help a lot of kids who find it hard to afford college/uni while also having other responsibilities.

Those people who sell a pint here and there to afford gas to get to class, etc. It's not an insignificant amount of people.

So chip at this first, then chip away at the abjectly poor or who simply don't think they have a chance at college/uni.

Of course there is always the danger of human nature wanting to claim, I went to uni as told but still can't get a job. That is it's not just a rite of passage, you have to show personal progress.

Another thing that would be helpful to most people is fixing the affordable housing issue. The problem is that lots of people are deeply invested in making housing increasingly less affordable (alternatively phrasing as "improving home values"). Housing is the single biggest expense for many people, especially those in economically productive high wage cities, and cutting that would dramatically reduce the remaining gap that something like basic income would have to fill.

It's a matter of supply and demand. If the zoning laws enable the building of affordable housing then the supply would rise and overall prices would decline. What you'll find in places with high housing cost is that zoning laws or geography prevent massive expansion of housing supply.

Right, and there's a reason for that: a decline in housing prices would be seen as a disaster, because so many people have so much of their wealth tied up in home equity. Of course, it doesn't have to be that way: if you happen to own a single family house in SF, and it gets upzoned to allow apartment buildings, you can expand your house and become a landlord, or just sell the house to a developer to replace with an apartment building. But both of those options are harder than just sitting on your land and watching its price grow, which is part of the "American dream" of housing as a store of wealth that people were sold.

Agreed. Nothing is more financially difficult to deal with than a sudden shift in income rendering your current housing suddenly very expensive. With a reasonable price of housing, you have more capacity to save for potential disaster.

> Products that offer serious competition for incumbents in the financial sector to bid down the 7-10% of the economy taken by financial services.

The limiting factor here is the regulatory regime, which makes it all but impossible to move money around without using a bank as an intermediary. That gives the banking cartel effective veto power on all new financial services.

The key reform here is to separate the movement of money from the provision of credit, and to have access to money transfer be classified as a basic human right along with food, water, and internet connectivity.

Good luck with that.

Otherwise it's a terrific list!

I think you're reading this suggestion more ambitiously than I intend. I'm just saying that financialization has eaten up more and more of the economy while providing a dubious return on investment and creating a large NYC-based elite, and that anything startups can do to bid the costs of financing businesses down will probably help.

That's actually pretty much what I understood you to mean (though I actually read it more narrowly than that). What I'm saying, broadly, is that the "large NYC elite" has achieved regulatory capture to the point where it is effectively impossible for any startup to enter the market. This is the reason that they can continue to eat up more and more of the economy while providing a dubious ROI.

"Access to money transfer as a basic human right" is a brilliant way to reframe the conversation around financial services. I'm gonna start talking about transaction fees from that perspective now.

And yeah, good luck extracting the banks from the profit-making niches they've carved out in that process. They will fight that to their last breath.

It seems to be a very American thing to not have banking as a basic right (or at least assumed right).

Here in New Zealand, there's pretty much no restriction on getting bank accounts. It's almost unheard of to not have a bank account.

Transaction fees aren't really a thing either. Most people only have to pay to withdraw money from other banks ATMs. There's no fees for bank transfers (regardless of whether it's to the same bank or a different one). Bank transfers are within the hour in the same bank, and either within the day or overnight for between different banks.

One thing that definitely has helped in this situation (somewhat counter intuitively) is that we have an oligopoly of banks, so standardisation and cooperation is simple. That's why we have chip and pin cards as standard here (and contactless cards). It's also meant that almost everywhere accepts EFTPOS.

Hell, I had to cash my first check ever today. I don't even carry cash, unless I have a specific reason to need to carry it.

We certainly have a long way to go here. I found it endlessly frustrating trying to get an expense card for my nanny. I wanted her to have access to a set limit of my money to pay for things for the kids but not an endless supply. I wanted it to just be there. I never found any banks that had anything even remotely like that. I ended up just getting a reloadable debit card that I have to keep topping off for her. And the biggest kicker... it takes 5 business days for the money to show up on it. How does it take 5 days to move some 1s and 0s from this account to that account? And why "business days?" Do their computers not work on the weekends? Crazy and frustrating.

Thats part of the debit card providers business model. They are making money on the float between the accounts. They are incentivized by this to make it slow.

These are pretty small amounts. I suspecdt they make more money on the overdraft fees, which puts it in the "not merely lazy or incompetent, but evil" category for me. Payday loan companies are the worst offenders in this category, I'd love to see an "uber" for that.

> Payday loan companies are the worst offenders in this category, I'd love to see an "uber" for that.

Me too, but it's very unlikely to happen. Payday loans (according to http://thehill.com/regulation/237538-borrowers-default-on-ne... and the study linked there) have a default rate of about 46% in the first two years, making them risky plays; to compensate for that, they have to increase interest rates and fees, which is a huge part of what makes them evil in the first place. Of course, the fact that 80% of payday loans are due to loan churn itself (paying off a payday loan with another) contributes to that in a big way, so maybe it could be done somehow.

I'd be interested in seeing a saner way of handling payday loans than exists right now, but I'm skeptical that it could be done in a way that isn't -- in some way -- predatory.

That's my vision and not only mine [3] - i've wrote about this [1]

Building the credit lines economy from the ground up on social networks based in trust.

Each user is assigns trust level to another users and sum of trust is calculated with decentralized algorithm [1]

[1] http://earlbarr.com/publications/trustdavis.pdf [2] https://medium.com/@kacperwikiel/social-lending-alternative-... [3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTqgiF4HmgQ [4] http://rachelbotsman.com/work/collaborative-finance-by-the-p... [5] Landing page for this project: https://getline.in/p/landing

Edit: I am giving 10% of service revenue to users as a basic income prototype.

Edit 2: maximum depth reached.

Why can't I reply to kwikiel?

In this era of near-zero interest rates, there is no motive to do this.

Did you ask any of your existing credit card issuers if they will allow additional cardholders on your account? Several of mine outright invited me to add other cards (under other names, not just dupes in my name) at no charge. It's trivial to set spending limits on such alternate cards.

That is crazy.

I have no idea if you can get expense cards here, but it's easy to just get another card and connect it to another account, and then load funds onto it as you need.

Several of my friends have their cards attached to an account that's usually empty, and transfer funds when needed to the card. It takes literally seconds to transfer the money, you can do it on your mobile phone in the store.

Get an AmEx. I can add cards under anyone's name to my account, and set a spending cap of my choosing on a per-card basis.

You might want to check out True Link Financial (https://www.truelinkfinancial.com/). Not sure what the current state of the agreements are but you can use it technically for this sort of thing.

Thanks for the link. I looked at them. They even have one targeted specifically for Caregivers. (https://www.truelinkfinancial.com/caregiver-card) While it sounds like a decent option, I'm turned off by a $10 monthly fee. I know they have to make money somehow but I have never been keen to pay fees for my money. :/

American banks seem unable or unwilling to follow the simple algorithm "process the transaction immediately, if the sender does not have enough money to complete it, decline it."

Instead we depend on forms of payment which have latency measured in days (checks, direct deposit) and we process debit card transactions on a delay of hours to days. If you are playing close to $0 it's very easy to make a mistake and then fall below $0. The bank has effectively trusted you not to do this, and you did it, so they charge you a fee as punishment. Except you have less than $0, you can't pay the fee.

If you do this, then your bank might close your account and put you on the ChexSystems blacklist, which will prevent you from getting any new accounts for a few years.

AFAIK ChexSystems blacklisting is pretty much the only reason to be unbanked (except by choice as a form of protest, I guess?) Simply doing proper OLTP would eliminate the weird artifact that is overdraft and entirely sidestep the problem of unbanked people.

I've often wondered about the reasons someone might be unbanked. I've only ever considered the lack of immigration status or proof of address, as most unbanked people I've come in contact with were Latin American immigrants to the United States. I've never considered the "playing close to $0" and the effect it could have if your account was closed and you were placed on a blacklist. That would seem to underline the parent commenter's assertion that money transfer should be treated as a right.

An anecdotal example of my own: I was 'playing close to $0' and my bank (BofA) was clearly manipulating the order of my transactions to maximize overdraft fees [1].

After fruitlessly disputing the fees, I simply opened an account elsewhere and changed my direct deposit through my employer, leaving my BofA account in the red. After about two months without issue, my new bank informed me that they would be closing my account because I'd been reported to ChexSystems by BofA and blacklisted. They wouldn't tell me the reason for the blacklisting (though I obviously knew what it was). I was not even allowed to withdraw my existing funds and had to wait for a check to be sent to my home in 7-10 business days.

I ended up getting a TD Ameritrade debit card through a pseudo-checking/brokerage account they offer and have been getting direct deposits there ever since. It was an infuriating and dehumanizing process overall.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/halahtouryalai/2013/06/11/yes-ba...

Please note I'm not trying to belittle your answer, but New Zealand is a very small place. In the US there are Credit Unions (the smaller, less popular non-profit bank alternatives in the US) that have more members than the entire population of NZ.

If you were to only bank amongst one Credit Union here in the states you'd see similar levels of service to what you mention (other than chip & pin which is only recently deployed).

For another side, UK here.

Pretty much the same but:

1. Loads of free ATMs, the ones that charge are privately owned/run typically and in shops. While banks may run them and slap their logo all over it, it's effectively just advertising, it doesn't matter which one I go to. The idea that it would matter seems really weird.

2. No fees for bank transfers, most will complete within the hour I think and are generally immediate.

3. Chip & pin has been required for quite a while now, contactless cards are extremely common.

4. Pretty much everyone has some kind of bank account, I'm not sure how it works if you're homeless or have absolutely no proof of identity/address, but there might still be things that can be done there.

Most accounts are also free, though sometimes with usage requirements (deposit at least £X + have two direct debits is common), and many will pay you ~£100 to switch to them.

> 3. Chip & pin has been required for quite a while now, contactless cards are extremely common.

Due to the way this was implemented in Europe and the fraud it enabled[1][2], I wouldn't consider it any sort of plus.

1: http://www.wired.com/2015/10/x-ray-scans-expose-an-ingenious...

2: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10414375

To be honest, that doesn't seem any less secure than requiring a signature.

It's a lot more effort to make a spoof card like that, more effort than the 5 minutes of practice required to vaguely copy someones signature and get it past a disinterested, minimum wage store clerk.

Implanting a second chip successfully into the card seems a bit above the regular "found the card and made a squiggle like the signature on the back". And that vulnerability at least was fixed.

It's not like the magnetic stripe is particularly secure either, you could pretty easily clone someone's card and then even use your own signature.

Even then, if someone is required to take the card, put it in a reader and type in the correct pin it's a bit harder to 'skim' a bit extra at the till.

The question should not be "is chip and pin entirely secure" but "is it better than a magnetic stripe and a pen marking".

> The UK, for example, has seen a nearly 70 percent decline in counterfeit card transactions since adopting chip cards, according to Barclays.


Generally, if the bank thinks your PIN was used you're liable for all the fraudulent transactions rather than them. That's bad.

Yup, it's not about security, it's about liability. With chip&pin you're virtually guaranteed that the bank will say "too bad" if your PIN gets stolen. But then again with the (possibly) lower fraud levels it may be worth it? And yet again, do you see the banks passing on those savings to consumers? ;)

Australia's a bit bigger, but with similar forward-looking banking systems.

I was floored when I had to sign my name (on a brand new touchscreen) in the US but EMV wasn't deployed.

Contactless payments were brand new too (I couldn't use Android pay at that point), but we'd had "tap and pay" in Australia for two years at least. In Canada, someone took a carbon copy imprint of my card. An imprint, in 2015!

I can't find the exact dates, but EMV has been in Australia for at least a decade, signatures were "deprecated" at the end of 2014 and cheques are pretty much gone now.

https://www.commbank.com.au/about-us/news/media-releases/200... says that NFC payments started in 2006, but they took a few years to really take off. Last year I could finally use my Android phone to pay pretty much everywhere (and it's more secure than an NFC credit card, because I need to unlock my phone and enter a PIN to make a payment)

Also, what's the deal with interbank money transfers in the US? All I need to send money to someone in Australia is the BSB (Bank-State-Branch) and an account number. It takes about 2 days for the payment to clear.

I read this a few days ago and learnt a lot. It might shed some light on why some countries' banking systems are slower than others https://getmondo.co.uk/blog/2016/01/20/how-do-bank-payments-...

Everyone should be allowed to secure a bank account, but fees is a separate story. You have a right to freedom of movement (as in speech), but you don't have a right to free (as in beer) movement.

Transfers are generally free in the USA, too.

Basic human right - taking it too far. Safety and freedom of speech are basic human rights.

Something like 'basic citizen right' makes more sense. If you want to opt out of being a citizen, you're still a human.

>separate the movement of money from the provision of credit

Debit cards?

This is a great list! I will, selfishly, riff on you 6th point to add:

* Modern logistics-driven solutions for inexpensive high-quality elder care.

If working this sort of thing sounds interesting to anyone then check out hometeamcare.com and ping me. We're hiring for basically every role in the company. It's a very interesting business!

Both child and elder care are very labor intensive (assuming you don't want to just warehouse bodies). Perhaps robotics with fantastic AI will improve things in the future, but I'm skeptical.

Ya, we're definitely not focused on robots. But there is room for tremendous, tremendous improvement in the current standard of care delivered by actual people.

Good - it's one of few jobs where humans are needed and robots aren't a good enough substitute. Maybe we can soak up some unemployment that way.

I agree with most of the points, but to be honest the list is not for "everyone".

For example: University education changes don't help most people over 30 at the moment. (some indirectly because of children / family) Similar restricted set for child care. (provided someone has a need for childcare because they're employed) Both won't help people who were already affected by current system and are post that phase.

I don't mean these are bad ideas, but it's a list of specific issues in a comment about basic income which actually supposed to help everyone. People had decades to provide solutions to those specific issues - why are they relevant now?

Equally credible alternatives to university education for professions that don't involve students shouldering $100k-$200k in debt based on decisions they have to make when they're 18 years old.

Why not just free university education for people who have the prerequisite academic qualifications?

I hail originally from Spain, a country with extremely cheap college education compared to the US. Did free college provide better outcomes? Only to a point. Spain is a country with over 20% unemployment. The country is full of people with college degrees who can't get a job anywhere near their field. Given that degrees are so common, they become artificial gates: You are asked for a degree to do jobs that do not need a degree at all!

How do you really find a good job then? Mostly through family networking. And who has a good family network? The same kids that could afford college regardless. Many college educations are just years wasted, not unlike bad degrees in the US. No matter how many people might think about the wonders of classical educations, and how college taught them to learn, and similar drivel, in practice, those things only matter if you have opportunities handed to you anyway. For people that do not get the opportunities, college is only helpful if it helps them get the opportunities! Whether that's through non-family networking, or because what they studied in college is something in demand in the job market.

When studying the effects of any policy change, we have can't just stop at the first level: We have to see how the rest of the world will react to the primary results to the policy change. It's a bit how student loans didn't really make it that much easier to go to college: What they really did was make all colleges a lot more expensive, making a mistake in major and/or institution that much more dangerous. I think of a friend of mine, Ph.D in Biology with a 6 figure college debt, and no good American jobs that would take her. She's teaching technical english in Japan, because it pays marginally better than her American options! All those years of study, all that money, to go unused, along with being saddled with terrible debt.

So all I am saying is, bad outcomes can happen in a whole lot of cases. Want better outcomes? Create more jobs.

* There are limited seats available at the highest-status universities, so admission to those schools will remain a privilege disproportionately available to wealthy parents who can pay to game the admissions process.

* Simply attending a 4-year university has costs beyond tuition and books; there are plenty of people who don't go to college because they can't afford 4 years out of the workforce.

* The 4-year university system is extremely brittle, in that it creates good outcomes primarily for people who are in the right place (somewhere they can easily attend a good university) at the right time (right after they graduate high school) --- do anything to get off the college track during your high school years and it becomes extremely hard to re-engage with it.

> There are limited seats available at the highest-status universities, so admission to those schools will remain a privilege disproportionately available to wealthy parents who can pay to game the admissions process.

Funny, where I come from, going to a school that takes tuition means you're too dumb to graduate from a "real" university. Most notably, most universities don't accept for-profit faculties. This means that you can at most pay for a "4 year degree", but not for a "university degree".

I don't know if it's like that in all of, or even most, Europe. But it's definitely like that in all the countries I've heard about from friends who live there.

Yes. I'll also add the 4-year education is incredibly inefficient, in terms of skills added over time. Even in highly technical STEM degrees, you probably don't need 4 years "full time" to gain all of the skills an employer expects a fresh-out-of-school STEM graduate to have. The same is even more true of less technical degrees.

"Yes. I'll also add the 4-year education is incredibly inefficient, in terms of skills added over time"

I'm uncomfortable with the idea that a university degree is entirely about workforce skills.

It shouldn't be, but there are a lot of people who don't give a damn about a liberal education for themselves, and just want a degree to improve employment opportunities. For them, I think it's kind of a sham to say that the only way to get the jobs they want is to sit through lots of non-employment-related material.

Would our society be better if more citizens were liberally educated and thusly enriched? Perhaps. But that doesn't invalidate the desire to offer students greater opportunities at lower opportunity cost.

I know I'm at risk of sounding tremendously disparaging but, how critical is it to actually go to college to get a liberal arts education?

Can most of these aspects of a "more well-rounded education" not come from reading, travelling and extra-curricular activities (like music lessons and trips to the theatre)?

I agree completely, and that is my approach. But not everyone agrees. I would prefer to study history, philosophy and literature because I enjoy them, not for class. On the other hand, not everyone who would be interested in those things would do that without some place to make it official, so I still see a reason for schools that make it their focus to exist. However trying to improve the populace through underfunded, half baked, required courses taught by rote memorization specialists... I don't really agree with that since most students are just there for "job skills" anyway.

Many pieces of education, both the purely educational bits and the well-rounded bits, can come from experience and other sources. A degree often operates as a third-party certification that an individual has completed these tasks, and/or can stick with something for x years.

It isn't. That's the problem.

In the context that it's required to get certain jobs? So we -- society -- have screwed up in conflating education and job training?

Yes, we have.

One conversation I had with a senior employee at a very large company said that university was very important for signalling. They knew that someone who went to (for example) MIT was admitted to MIT, which indicates a certain amount of raw intelligence. Their legal department would not allow administering any sort of IQ test, so the school one went to was a proxy for IQ.

>I'm uncomfortable with the idea that a university degree is entirely about workforce skills.

But, It's a rational view. The soaring cost of college is what makes it largely an economic proposition for many these days.

I know I'm at risk of sounding tremendously disparaging but, how critical is it to actually go to college to get a liberal arts education? Can most of these aspects of a "more well-rounded education" not come from reading, travelling and extra-curricular activities (like music lessons and trips to the theatre)?

Some people only need / can afford to acquire said skills, and so aren't a good fit for the college track.

The same entity should not be responsible for both education and certification/credentialing. It creates a serious conflict-of-interest, and a better system would be to separate the entities that grant degrees from entities that sell education. This is especially important if the purchaser of the education is a third-party like a government or a bank, and not the actual student. (i.e., when the education is "free")


Everyone bemoans the increasing in tuition and increase in admin staff.. these things are intimately tied. The cost of education on a per-student basis hasn't increased very much in the US. Most of the cost burden has just shifted from taxpayers to students (for better or worse). Much of the admin staff is necessary to handle all of the financial aid, grant applications, etc.

Simply providing tuition-free education would eliminate much of the bureaucratic overhead.

Much of the increase in admin staff and university spending has come from all of that free government aid money we keep giving them. If we make tuition "free" for everyone, then universities will get a bottomless pit of money to spend on useless things. They will be almost totally divorced from the incentive to keep costs low. Right now, universities don't compete for funds on the basis of the quality of education. They compete on a political basis to collect as much money from the government as they possibly can.

We didn't have a problem paying for college in the US until everyone decided that the government should help pay for it. Throwing more money at the problem won't fix it; in fact, it's been a huge part of the problem!

This isn't supported by much.. The cost per student hasn't increased, only the proportion charged to tuition rather than taxes. It's easy to blame easy government money for the increase in admin staff, but during my grad program I GA'ed in the office and half of the staff were dealing with financial aid / loans / scholarships. They would be there regardless the source of the cash.

I've fought this battle on HN before and nobody wants to believe that college isn't any more expensive than it previously was, so I'll leave this here -- but do a bit of research and you'll be surprised.


Since everyone seems to be downvoting this point, here's the inflation-adjusted cost per student in California from 1987 - 2013:


It actually costs about $2,500 less per student today than it did in the late 80's -- yet during the same time, tuition has increased by upwards of 5x. That delta used to be carried by taxpayers but has been shifted to tuition.

> I've fought this battle on HN before and nobody wants to believe that college isn't any more expensive than it previously was

Where in the world did you get this idea? College if three (3) times more expensive than it was 40 years ago:

> but do a bit of research and you'll be surprised.

Research: http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-table...

As Unimpressive pointed out, that's the cost of tuition. The total cost (tuition + state expenditures + fees + endowments) per student has roughly paced with inflation over the same time frame -- and in some cases, dramatically decreased. You have to dig a little deeper to see those numbers, but several states have done their own analysis. Here's one for California:


Seemingly nobody understands, or wants to understand this point.. College used to be an investment made by the working class in the youth paid for via taxes (state expenditures >> tuition), it's now flipped to an investment made by 18-year olds in their own careers (tuition >> state expenditures) -- Both approaches have their own merits, but focusing on cutting the cost of education misses the forest for the trees when those costs haven't increased over time.

This is very enlightening, although very counterintuitive.

So it looks like the cost of college is yet another burden the boomers have placed on our doorstep (and even more, the doorstep of those younger than me). I'm skeptical that saddling 18-year-olds with mounds of irrevocable debt has any merits to speak of, but am curious what argument could be made in that direction.

The premise at least is that if you hold kids responsible for their own educations, they'll choose careers and topics of study that lend to paying off that debt. If you let kids mess around in college for 4 years with no financial incentive, they might all study underwater basketweaving.

I don't buy that line of thinking at all, but some surely do.

No. His argument is that the actual total costs paid by all actors to provide the service has not changed, the share of the pie paid by students has changed. Which would look exactly like the cost rising in that table.

The rate of college attendance and graduation increased dramatically with the introduction of state universities and financial aid programs - it was no longer just the province of the wealthy. This obviously had good effects on the economy, and on society.

When my daughter was attending a private university, she had an enlightening conversation with a professor who worked on pricing for her university. He told her their prices were not going up in response to increased costs, but rather to maintain a certain price relative to in-state tuition. Of course, in-state tuition has been steadily increasing because it is becoming less subsidized.

In other words, the cost increases are a response to cutting government funding, both for private and public.

>The rate of college attendance and graduation increased dramatically with the introduction of state universities

Could you clarify this statement? It seems like you could be saying the state universities are a relatively recent phenomena. If so, could you give a few examples? I suppose Alaska and Hawaii, being the newest states, have the newest "state" university system, but even the University of Alaska predates Alaska becoming a state.

This word "Free" amuses me. I am curious why you think that something can be offered for free with no payment associated with it? Will the Professors work for free? Who will pay the electricity bill to heat or cool the buildings? What about the course material?

Free? There is no such thing. Someone will always end up paying for it.

Well, if you want to get abstract, the money itself is "free," printed by the Fed almost arbitrarily. By any number of mechanisms that money ends up primarily concentrated in one group of very wealthy people.

You can divert that "free" money and have "free" things for the middle class. That the wealthy would then be "paying" for it is a philosophical perspective that presupposes the status quo for wealth distribution is somehow "correct"

Ultimately this is just mixing up definitions of "value" in disguise. It's the reverse of assuming price is tied to some kind of intrinsic "value" of the good. Here, you're assuming nothing can be free (in economical sense) because physics. But it's not true. If you give stuff away no strings attached, it's free, period.

In the specific example being discussed of government funded "free" college education it most certainly is not being given away with "no strings attached".

There's a very real stipulation that regardless of whether an individual actually attends a university or not they will be having the monetary products of their labor forcibly taken and used to pay the professors, construct the facilities, and heat the buildings.

It just happens by means of taxes instead. Right now, banks get a pretty hefty profit off those that can't afford it upfront, it's a tax on the poor (and often middle class) more than the rich.

Can you provide an example of a "stuff" that is given away for free, and also specify who is "giving" it, and to whom?

I'm giving you this stupid comment right now. No charge.

I think for me one of the open questions is are "prerequisite academic qualifications" as they currently stand, the right precursors to the kinds of educations we might dream up in the future.

Einstein famously (and actually) had poor grades in subjects he had no interest in, and did great in subjects he enjoyed. It seems to have delayed his progress that no one recognized his skill and passion early on.

Bad filters look for weaknesses and good filters look for strengths. Anyone who excels in at least one area has potential to do great things.

University education has become such a bloated juggernaut, I don't feel its sustainable or sensible to continue to feed it growing amounts of free government money. Im hopeful that free/inexpensive/subsidized online education, packaged into degree/certification programs and sanctioned by educational institutions, will be able to take the place of much of what is really being offered at traditional 4-year schools.

Problem is that a country like Denmark have all those things more or less and we still have more or less the same issues although to lesser degree.

The solution to the problem isn't hiding in what we already know although many of these things of course would be hugely beneficial to people.

The underlying problem. Technology is still going to be there.

I don't know enough about Denmark to evaluate your comment, but stipulate that it's true, and then, if you'd like to reframe my list as "a list of things startups could do to use the market to make the US more like Denmark", I would have no objection.

Sure but Basic Income is about something else, something bigger. It's about solving the fact that everyone is going to be out of a job. If you only go to it by thinking you have to find a solution to the current workforce and income distribution problem then you are missing the real problem. Denmark pays a lot in taxes, free healthcare, free education (even university), students get paid to study, redistribute wealth quite a lot and so on.

Problem is still there. The rich get richer compared to the poor while everyone is getting richer overall.

I'm not interested in litigating basic income; I'm confining my responses to the terms 'sama set up: "things startups can conceivably do". That doesn't mean I believe startups are the most important vector in improving public policy.

I'd say the bottom 50% live much more prosperously in Denmark than in the US.

The population of Denmark is lower than the Bay Area. Some things are just easier with a small population and land area and relatively homogenous population.

I understand why a homogenous population helps - more social cohesion, etc. But why does a smaller population and land area make any difference?

The same reason smaller teams can accomplish things that large teams can't. The solutions don't scale. Corruption, fraud, abuse, bureacracy and enforcing regulation gets in the way of actually addressing or better yet SOLVING the problem. This is why large companies cannot innovate but instead buy small companies that do and that government does not actually solve problems.

Maybe. I'm not sure the analogy to companies holds, however. Small companies are innovative since they are growing, usually out of startups -- there really isn't an analogy of a "startup" for governments. At the very least, Denmark doesn't match that description.

BTW I was curious and looked at list of US states by human development index. There's no obvious correlation between size of a state and its ranking. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_America...

The distance issues becomes a problem. What works for the Bay Area doesn't work for North East. It's both because all politics and business is regional, and because information flows are affected by distance.

Is there a good way to quantify that?

A cursory search doesn't reveal a where-to-be-born [1] or human development [2] index for the lower half or quartile of a given nation's population. It would indeed be an interesting thing to view. I suspect that there's something to be said about the mean score vs the spread of values across the various quartiles of the populations of the countries.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where-to-be-born_Index [2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index

* Alternatives to patient-present doctor-mediated health care to cover the 80% case in which doctors are expensive overkill; some combination of telemedicine and nurse-practitioners.

Doctor salary only makes up ~8.6% of overall Healthcare spending. Since, right or wrong, people want to see doctors rather than nurses when they bother to go into the hospital in person, I predict this tech will actually increase healthcare spending. The main change will just be that people seek nurse advice from home for minor issues they would have ignored previously. That may more may not be a net benefit.

Doctor salary only makes up ~8.6% of overall Healthcare spending.

You're missing the secondary costs. What are the costs of people having to sit at the hospital all day waiting for the doctor to see them. And what are the costs of people putting off seeing a doctor since they can't get an appointment?

Since, right or wrong, people want to see doctors rather than nurses when they bother to go into the hospital in person

Only if the 'costs' are them same. If you just ask people when they come in if they want to see a nurse (short wait and pay $X) or a doctor (long wait and pay $3X), I think you'll find many people opting for the nurse.

One thing to consider is prescriptions. In some cases doctors provide no value and are only present because of laws governing who can and can't prescribe medicine.

Another thing is liability. There are cases where a triage nurse could easily tell a patient "you're fine, go home and rest". But that can't happen right now because everyone's scared petrified about liability issues.

It's an interesting list... To me, improving provision of medical service and education definitely seems possible, as a lot of current problems are due to the fairly artificial constraints in the system. Removing them, or going around them, can really do a lot.

Things like child care and finance are not as obvious to me though: these are already competitive industries, with very price-sensitive clients too, and (IMO) mostly sensible regulations, so if something both cheap and competitive was possible, why hasn't it happened yet?

Also, as for "Equally credible alternatives to university education": I'm not sure if I get this one right, wording is a little confusing -- you mean the problem being that people feel forced to spend lots of $$ to study things they won't actually need for their jobs? IMO, to answer that, we also first need to answer why exactly is it the case currently: e.g. no government sponsorship of community colleges is going to help if the reason is that education is primarily used as a signaling device... (Edit: I see your response to another question -- namely a startup offering an independent alternative to screening on education -- and I agree that this can be promising. Not easy, but promising.)

Childcare is dying for some automation. 1 person can care for ~3 very young children(<15mo) which is freaking expensive. That grows to ~8-10 starting at ~4 years old.

Worse, these are all minimum numbers. You need extra staff to cover someone being sick, or turn people away.

Why is child care something that should be automated? Doesn't it make sense to spend a lot of high-value human attention on small children?

Humans are not a product. They are an end in themselves. It's like trying to automate your friends or your spouse.

No, it doesn't make sense to spend lots of high-value human attention on small children. For a pretty huge part of the day, small children are better off exploring the world on their own, and making social connections on their own. What's needed is safety, comfort, and some degree of monitored structure.

Again: once your kid turns 5 (4, if you're rich and you send your kid to private all-day preschool), you're generally sending them somewhere where one adult will watch as many as 30 kids concurrently, all the while educating them to the point where they can creditably pass standardized tests. That's a harder job than just making sure kids are happy and engaged, and yet we pay far less for it than we do for child care.

Child care is a huge part of why people get crappier jobs than they might. You can't go back to school if you have no savings and need to pay at least $15/hr for child care; in fact, you can't even speculatively take a lower-paying job for career advancement if that job doesn't pay enough to offset child care.

This is one of the scariest posts I have read. Infants and small children definitely need high-value human attention. I don't even know where to begin, just wanted to let the world know that I'm horrified by your comment.

High-value human attention, but not High-value human attention 24/7.

Sure, if we want to subsidize stay at home parents for young children that's a reasonable choice. But, pushing daycare out of reach of most low income family's pushes people into poverty which also has significant long term negative impacts on those same children.

"Any sufficiently advanced AGI is indistinguishable from parent" just crossed my mind and I wanted to share.

Are you horrified by all the parents who put their kids in day care while they work?

Not who you're asking, but this is clearly a problem for infants and young toddlers (the data is fairly strong for under 18 months, and gets less clear the older you get from there), though it still gives the children the human interaction they need.

Results are best when there is a single primary care-giver and a small number of other regular care-givers, and day-care tends to not allow for this.

Things get much worse, however, when the staff of the day-care is either too few or too neglectful, as human contact and interaction is so important for early development.

It is possible that we could create a sufficient facsimile of a human to allow for automated care of a child that would fulfill these needs, but there is a creep factor in that, and there remains the question of how one would ethically test the efficacy of such a system.

And who takes care of the kids in the day care, robots?

I'm horrified by a economic systems that works out to requiring that, yeah. Aren't you?

You state things with conviction but no evidence. There is a big difference between the brain and therefore needs of a 4-5 year old and a 0-3 year old. I'm not sure why you assume you can infer anything about the needs of a toddler based on the way school works for older kids.

Here in Australia child care is also very expensive, and I agree this is a problem for disadvantaged families (there is some means-tested subsidisation but it only helps to a degree). However: the government has recently lowered the required educator:child ratios, despite the extra cost, because research shows it is important for education (and health, not just when young but into later life). More than this: the research suggests these improvements are most significant for disadvantaged kids.

For more info start here: http://archive.acecqa.gov.au/research-and-publications/.

It might not make sense to you, but do a little research and you'll find your conclusion is unfounded.

By law (usually state), the ratio of caregiver to child is much lower when the child is under 5. There's documented rationale for it too.[0] Also, there is a ton of research now suggesting the importance of education at that age as a function of interaction of words with parents.[1] So to suggest that "small children are better off exploring the world on their own, and making social connections on their own" is IMHO a very dangerous conclusion without understanding all of the implications associated with it.

[0] - http://cfoc.nrckids.org/StandardView/1.1.1

[1] - https://www.versame.com/research/

Direct personal interaction is how small children acquire language. This is the only way that children can acquire language, and a language-rich environment is crucially important for children. This is something that simply cannot be automated.

People often automate human interaction. Getting an email reminder a few days before a wedding anniversary or a friend's birthday is hardly dehumanizing. If a scheduling assistant means a daycare worker can care for 4 infants instead of just 3, that's a huge savings for many working families.

How about dippers that can wireless notify you when there wet? Or for something that exists, a baby monitor so a caretaker can keep up with a crying child while another sleeps.

PS: Don't forget it's not just daycare workers who can use assistance, actual parents are also run raggid while caring for infants.

Yea, automating social coordination is fine, and technology and automation clearly enables use to increase our level of communication. Which is great.

That's different from automating the content of our relationships. It is dehumanizing to have to navigate an automated phone tree rather than speak to an actual person. Now, sometimes it is more efficient to not deal with people, but when you are talking about real human relationships, then dealing with real human people is the point.

Child care isn't just changing the diapers, it's about talking, interacting, and playing with children. Personal interaction is the only way that infants acquire language and language skills, for example.

The regulatory bar for childcare is absurdly high, and I can't imagine how much of it serves a constructive purpose (source: my sister, who is a teacher, once looked into opening a daycare center). But like the "war on terror", it's regulation we can't get rid of because nobody wants to be the guy who made kids less safe.

This is obvious, right? A K-12 teacher handles ~30 kids at a time, starting at age 5-6. Their job is more rigorous than the one a child-care professional does. Meanwhile, most parents are happier about the time their kids spend in school than they are about the time they spend in childcare.

* Empirical, blinded, skills-assessment based turnkey hiring solutions that outperform interviews for non-technology roles like marketing, purchasing, &c, so that people who avail themselves of alternatives to universities can get good jobs regardless of social signals.

Marketing desperately needs some sort of empirical way of hiring. Unfortunately, I think you'll find that half the people currently in marketing roles though would lose their jobs.


A couple points:

Alternatives to patient-present doctor-mediated health care to cover the 80% case in which doctors are expensive overkill; some combination of telemedicine and nurse-practitioners.

We have police departments and we have fire departments. We should have "nurse departments" that are clinics but much more structured as are fire and PD services for each given area.

(I know there is a grey version of this with EMT/clinics/hospitals etc... but this is something that could be made better.)


Modern logistics-driven solutions for inexpensive high-quality child care.

We talk a lot about "getting more women in tech" for example...

Getting more women JUST TO BE ABLE TO WORK involves insuring child care!

Sending a kid to child care full time costs MORE than many women can make per hour! Its ridiculous.

If you have ever tried to look for child care services on Care.com or otherwise, sitters all want ~$25/hour in the bay area.

It was hard for me and Erin to do 7 years ago (our kids are teenagers now), and we're economically very fortunate. I can't imagine how hard it must be for people trying to provide for families on $15/hr to manage child care.

I've had friends who are reasonably well off compared to the rest of the country and in doing the math realized it was just easier for one parent to stay home for X years raising the children.

Of course then they are out of the workforce and 'unhirable' when they try to re-enter it.

I did the homemaker thing for two decades.

Pro tip: Have the full time parent take classes part time and do volunteer work. These days, blogging and online freelance work can also play a part.

Those things help preserve your employability. They give you something to put on a resume. The one and only thing that has the ability to increase your earning power while you take time off work is education. I read that somewhere and I have experienced it firsthand.

I got my first full time paid job at age 41. It paid better than minimum wage and I worked for the largest company in town. Any time I made small talk while buying myself lunch or getting a haircut, telling people where I worked got oohs and aahs. They didn't even know my job title or that I was stuck in an entry level job and never managed to get promoted. Just having a job there at all was statusy and a ticket to a real career.

I wasn't making the kind of money my ex made, but I wasn't doomed either. I ultimately left (for health reasons). I now do freelance work and, with my health issues resolving, my income is going up. At some point, I expect to live comfortably.

This is precisely the case with me and my spouse.

And that's where two parents are involved! Since I became a parent (luckily with a very capable spouse) I've been amazed at the tenacity it takes for the single parents I've met to juggle child care and jobs. Good, inexpensive care would make a huge difference for parents with precarious finances and living situations. The USA's patchwork of county welfare programs is hard to navigate and offers limited alternatives in many regions.


Solution: Childcare Visa. Many women in other parts of the world would LOVE to come to America. We need a special visa for them, and perhaps they can take care of your children from 8 to 6PM M-F in exchange for room and board and weekends, or some type of arrangement.

This already exists. J-1 visa (I think?) satisfies this, there are a lot of companies set up to do this, e.g. Au Pair in America.

It's not free, but it's significantly less than the aforementioned $25 / hr.

> insuring child care

What do you mean by this?

My guess would be they meant "ensure" rather than "insure." It is difficult to have both parents working if they aren't certain they have adequate child care.

None of the ideas address basic income. They are incremental not quantum. I think that reflects the difficulty in changing our frame of reference from what is to what might be.

If we look at how much technologies have advanced over last decades, the economy produces more than enough output for basic needs, which can be distributed to everyone without much burden.

We can simply offer basic income for everyone, then we can get rid of most special rules, such as food stamps, minimum wage, all kinds of deductibles, flexible spending, childcare. We can tax all incomes at fixed rate and be done with it. All these can be trivially tracked by simple computer system, the only thing needed is identify verification once a year or two.

We would have a much greater society and economy, and avoid the need of "job creation like Walmart".

Would we still need child-care if we were playing video games all day while the some elite did all the productivity?

Joke answer: totally, if you're going to play seriously!

Serious answer: besides the ongoing need of the 'elite' for childcare, most proponents of basic income argue that people would not just play video games all day. If you think about everything you or other people might want to do in your free time today, even - how many of those would you prefer to do without simultaneously minding children?

I understand the stigma against people "wasting their time" by playing video games all day. I don't play many games myself, and spend most of time on creative hobbies like music and photography. Actually that's a lie, I spend a lot of time reading Reddit. But apart from Reddit, I do creative things.

When I was a kid, I used to ask why poor people don't just start a business, or go out and get a better job? That was before I understood the way that poverty traps people in a cycle. And the fact that we don't all possess the capacity to become entrepreneurs and creative thinkers.

I think a basic income is most important for the uncreative people. The people who don't really have any talents, and never had any big aspirations. The 50% of all people who have a below-average IQ. Maybe they can't think of something productive to do, but in a post-scarcity economy, why should they need to? When the whole farm-to-table pipeline is completely run by autonomous machinery, then I think there's nothing wrong with just relaxing and enjoying life.

I'm worried that this YC research program might end up making the wrong conclusions, if the results are only analyzed by startup people who are hell-bent on "changing the world" and being ultra-productive all the time. So what if a recipient just chills out all day, goes for walks, swims at the beach, takes some photos, and plays some video games. I hope they wouldn't call that a failed experiment.

>Serious answer: besides the ongoing need of the 'elite' for childcare, most proponents of basic income argue that people would not just play video games all day.

Unfortunately this is not the case. What do students who live on student loans and/or parental stipend as a "basic income" do? You can expect more of that when the government becomes the parent doling out the stipend.

Students are busy - they are attending classes, doing homework and studying for tests. When they have free time, it's unsurprising that they don't have much excess mental energy or money for pursuing hobbies. And even then it seems to me that a lot of activist groups are mainly student-run. So I don't think you're right.

This really depends on the school, program, and students. I teach video game programming courses, and these seem to attract many video game addicts who can't even stop playing games during class.

Has anyone measured what percentage of students actually just waste all their time on video games?

Additionally, I think we need some evidence that playing video games is a waste of time, since there are indications that it is not[1].

1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FktsFcooIG8

And why is this bad? At least they get the fair chance to make something of themselves, regardless of their social / economic backgrounds. Too many don't get that chance.

They...attend school? Which is a good thing?

There's a more trivial alternative to "equally credible alternatives to university" - just ban education based discrimination. Same way US so nicely enforces regarding race or martial status. Make it illegal to ask.

Simple change with 100% guaranteed positive outcome.

Whether I agree or not with this (mostly, I don't), it fails my test of "being something a startup can do".

Whereas a startup that had a really good solution for inculcating the kinds of skills and values white-collar employers are looking for could outcompete universities instead of legislating them out of the picture.

When people discuss the value signaling provided by elite universities, their first example is usually "the diligence and hard work it takes to get into the university". That strikes me as the kind of value you can find ways to signal just effectively without asking for $150k.

> When people discuss the value signaling provided by elite universities, their first example is usually "the diligence and hard work it takes to get into the university"...

Graduation rates at universities for the elite are nearly 100%. Getting into the club is the only hard part and everyone involved knows that.

Empirically, what's required to get into the club is being wealthy enough to afford the private schooling, tutoring, and extra circular activities necessary to help your child game the admissions process.

As long as people value these prestigious brands, the elite will continue to buy them for their children. It's got nothing to do with education itself, which could be obtained any number of ways already.

I agree, and because that's a rather obvious market inefficiency, I see it as an opportunity for a startup to make money while improving the world.

YC may be closest to being this startup.

If their process was an "Empirical, blinded, skills-assessment", and they funded anyone who met their predefined requirements, we'd have a real alternative to class-based universities. At least for anyone willing to create their own business.

YC is already more fair (less gameable) than the elite universities, but it's still far from being fair enough or big enough to really change things.

If getting into an elite university is the signal. Why not apply to elite universities (or the best that the student can get into) and then shrug admissions when accepted?

The student can then turn around to some great companies and say "I got into X university, but am thinking of waiting a semester and want to learn a bit about your business. Would you be open to some sort of internship?"

I don't know if that is the correct solution though. Much of what I learned came from being at school, but not necessarily the classroom. I learned a ton about alcohol and drugs and sex and other things that simply being in an environment with so many of my peers produced. Additionally, I'm a designer. If I weren't an editor for the school paper, I'd never have picked up a copy of creative suite and probably would be working a miserable corporate job somewhere otherwise.

It'd be easier than you think. Much like IQ testing, requiring a college education is already illegal under "disparate impact" arguments (unless it's a bona-fide occupational requirement - eg, an electrical engineering degree for an EE position). The difference is that employers expect to be sued if they give job applicants an IQ test, but they don't expect to be sued if they want a competitive alma mater.

The way to fix this is to sue lots of employers for requiring or discriminating based on college education. Or at least win a few high-profile cases.

> Much like IQ testing, requiring a college education is already illegal under "disparate impact" arguments

This is the first I'm hearing that IQ testing is illegal as a basis for employment. AFAIK the military and many police forces employ IQ/aptitude tests as part of their hiring process.


Though sometimes we're trying to tech-fix things which are broken on a whole different level. Education is effectively free today. You pay to get the certificate. I think that's a broken system.

I agree that it's a broken system. But when systems are broken because of egregious market inefficiencies, as in the case for "pay $150k for a certificate from a university" case, I think you have an opportunity to make a large amount of money while improving the world. Things that can make large amounts of money can be funded by the markets, rather than requiring legislative fixes.

(I am not opposed to legislative fixes! I'm a statist liberal Democrat. I'm confining my response to the terms 'sama set out.)

I disagree. While college is becoming less of an important step for many careers, education, especially post-graduate, is vital for many others. For example, if I were a large tech company hiring physicists for R&D, I really don't think it's unfair to expect some sort of post-grad education, nor do I think these instances really contribute to any sort of problem right now.

What's important is that the skillset exists, not that a university has been given a considerable sum of money to provide certification that it exists. University was not the normal way to establish credibility until very recently. University is too expensive to sustain in its current form -- the whole thing has to be reworked to be affordable.

So don't ask yourself "What degree does this guy have?", but "How much physics research has this guy done? Can I see his body of work? Is it high-quality stuff?" The latter is performed anytime a competent person performs a hire anyway. It's fine to skip/ignore the education when someone can demonstrate competence. The problem really comes in "soft" degrees like business, marketing, communications, etc., where it's not really possible for a body of work to be presented as evidence that the individual knows what he/she is doing.

I think the parent is saying that if someone can demonstrate they can handle a physicist position for R&D, does education even matter? It would really depend on the criteria used to determine the ability to perform at the job. If the criteria is good enough I see no reason why someone without a PhD could take the job.

Can you devise a filter that's as rigorous as all the tests and projects that a student would have successfully completed over the X years it took to earn the degree?

Seeing the degree is a shortcut to verifying that the basic level of knowledge in the applicant's major has been satisfied. The testing necessary to verify that independently (and redundantly - one for each company being applied to) seems prohibitive.

For physics? Probably not. But physics grads don't make up a particularly big part of the economy; it's actually not an especially great degree to get if your primary concern is a STEM-y career.

For HR directors, purchasing managers, corporate controllers, practice managers, financial advisors, and jobs like that? Yes, I think you can devise filters for anything colleges filter for that would be both more effective and far cheaper than college.

> Can you devise a filter that's as rigorous as all the tests and projects that a student would have successfully completed over the X years it took to earn the degree?

Eventually I don't see why not but I don't think it's an easy thing to do nor do I know how to do it for a physics R&D type of position. Obviously education isn't the only criteria people use today anyway (I can't tell you how many CS grads I've interviewed who really struggled or flat out didn't know a lot about CS).

It's an age-old problem: how do tell if someone can do what you need them to do without wasting your time and money? As the skill and knowledge requirements go up this becomes harder and harder to do, with or without the degree shortcut.

For our profession? Yes. For example your github repos, SO profile, the app you've built or your projecteuler stats may prove better filters.

But I don't need to - smarter people already did the work for me. This approach is already practiced (mini scale I believe) in our industry.

Physics is a field that is almost entirely taught within the traditional college system and probably would get less of a benefit than other fields. The problem is the college system is so expensive that those who COULD become physicists aren't because of economic reasons, and those who want to more than anything are being saddled with debt and a lot more burden which probably doesn't help them advance the field.

just ban education based discrimination

I am not sure I understand this. If you are going to a doctor, you would want to make sure she is qualified, isn't it? And the only way (currently at least) to make sure is that degree that proves she knows what she is doing. Of course this doesn't apply to all professions.

I think that's true to some degree but most types of doctors still require going through an internship (sometimes), rigorous and lengthy residency program and passing their specialty boards.

It's true if someone can do those 3 things without going to medical school they may be missing a great deal of knowledge passed from medical school that maybe they were not explicitly tested on or experienced in the field. I'm not sure what to do about that. If you could find a solution for that then banning from asking or considering education could actually work, I think...but that's a hard problem to solve.

Guess what the person who graduated last in medical school gets called? Doctor.

There is still a path to become a practicing lawyer without going to law school. You need to pass a test and become certified, but going to school is only necessary for the pedigree. Arguably the simplest solution is to remove undergrad degree requirements from med / law school.

In terms of education there are two options. Ban mentioning degrees only credentials, or ban mentioning school names which deflates the ivy name recognition. In both cases schools would need to focus on education not name recognition.

Interesting, one of the top tier schools in my area has a little trick: they give you a ring. The idea being you wear the ring to interviews, so that they know you're from the school. Of course, if they looked at your application form they would know your school, but for other areas where they cannot ask for your school this gets around that. I personally find that very elitest but people will go to lengths to make their reputation known (they ban wearing school uniforms, but rings are exempt for example_

In reality, there's no good path to a career in the law that doesn't go through a small subset of the big law schools, because there's a huge glut of lawyers. A starting point for looking into this is the Google search "third tier toilet".

The thing that unlocks legal professions from the grip of $200k law schools is going to be something that reimagines the role of a lawyer, creating a new kind of legal professional that makes radically less money than a BigLaw lawyer.

Qualifying tests and apprenticeships can make that work for almost all cases. Some of that is already in place for professions that need practical experience.

Great example. To be a doctor you need to pass the medical board exams.

> 100% guaranteed positive outcome

I really, really, really doubt that.

Let's also ban previous-employer based discrimination. ;)

And skill-based discrimination.

Interview based discrimination is really where it is at. Also, since it is almost impossible to remove indicators of protected statuses such as gender or race, it will help ensure no such discrimination occurs. Best we couple it with a ban on performance based discrimination once hired.

Wow, this is such a simple, practical, and subversive idea that my mind has been too boxed up for coming up with that. Whether I agree with this genius, devious and trivial idea... not sure yet.

Make it illegal to ask what level of education you have received or just where you went to school?

No one really cares where you went to school anyway unless it's literally a top three school for your field.

The flipside to your first point is that employers can probably get an edge these days by simply ignoring college degrees. If you're skilled enough at hiring to actually find good people, ones without degrees are probably undervalued by a significant margin.

That's true in technology, which is why I qualified the second suggestion with "non-technology jobs". It's much less true in other fields, where the work hasn't yet been done to create evaluation rubrics that don't depend on signaling from college.

This is a seriously great list of high-impact possibilities - I especially like the alternatives to university. Your thinking is clear and logical. +1

on your last point, I've wondered if it would be within the scope of 18F or the US Digital Service to create a local.gov site/platform that is a repository for all local government information and vector for engagement. Figuring out who all the locally elected officials are and what they are supposed to do is nearly an impossible task.

That's probably outside 18F's scope, as they are cost recoverable and must be hired by a federal agency. So getting that done would require convincing a federal agency to spend the money to hire 18F to build the platform. USDS could do it if it were a presidential priority, but while creating a one-time snapshot of that list would already be an incredibly huge task, actually keeping it updated would be very difficult just because of all the points of contact involved. Especially if it went down to the city council and school board level, which would certainly be useful to local communities, but really difficult to keep track of on a national level.

*I'm an 18F employee speaking in a personal capacity.

Absolutely - it is certainly a HUGE undertaking. Though the value to the society/community/voters would be equally enormous it's unlikely we'll ever find the resources to have such a thing executed in a thorough, responsible (unbiased) manner. I suppose this is the part where I motivate myself to design and build it because nobody else will...

Sidenote - high-five for the stuff going on at 18F :)

Thanks! It's an exciting place to be.

> Equally credible alternatives to university education for professions

You're talking about trade schools? Good. That's a step in the right direction. It doesn't go far enough though. One unfortunate reality of our existence is that people differ markedly in cognitive skill. These differences are innate and immutable. Not everyone can benefit from an education.

If we pitch education as the way to address to inequality, we're not only going to waste a lot of money on useless education, but we're also going to give these negative-marginal-value people false hope of economic success.

We need to figure out an alternate way of living for people who are intellectually incapable of contributing to a modern technologically advanced economy. A basic income is a good start.

I think you're underestimate the number of jobs that can be done with extremely little cognitive skill, and over-estimating the speed with which technology will make them go away.

I agree on the education front, but disagree that there are significantly many negative-margin-value people. Personally I think a huge amount of that perception comes from the fact that people just don't fucking move to better economic opportunities. That problem may be solvable as things like distributed call centers and other location-independent work becomes more common.

We need to figure out an alternate way of living for people who are intellectually incapable of contributing to a modern technologically advanced economy. A basic income is a good start.

There is another dimension to this problem though; national borders and status.

There are a TON of really smart mexicans and other immigrants of every nation who are stuck into an effective caste system based on their status.

In fact, modern American society would literally fall apart if all the mexican service workers were raptured.

My point is that while we look at those who cannot contribute to a technologically advanced economy, we also are pigeon-holing many many others who are based on the complexities of citizenship status problem.

We already have programs for granting preferential immigration to high-skilled foreigners. Every advanced country does. Unrestrained immigration is incompatible with a welfare state. Which would you rather have?

There's not necessarily a conflict between the two. One middle road would be to maintain the welfare state, but to add a rule saying that only people whose ancestors were citizens before year X could receive welfare.

The result would be extremely visibly racist, but I think the right response to that is to understand that existing immigration laws are in effect equally racist. It's the visibility that would change, rather than the degree.

> existing immigration laws are in effect equally racist

Now it's racist for a country to provide services to its own citizens that it doesn't provide to the citizens of other countries?

No, I am not talking about trade schools. The jobs staffed by trade school grads already do a decent job of not being beholden to university signaling. I'm talking about white collar professional jobs that rely on those signals for reasons having nothing to do with job aptitude.

What do you have in mind then? The for-profit university experiment has largely been a scammy failure.

I agree with that too. A big part of the reason for that outcome is that for-profit universities are pin-compatible with the university education system --- which, as noted upthread, is often really just a means for wealthy people to purchase status for their offspring --- which allows them to capture student loan subsidies, enabling them to bid prices up the same way universities do.

The alternative to college education isn't going to look like a college.

In what respects would it differ? On-campus residency is an optional feature, and MOOCs can help education scale better, but in the end, you need to somehow 1) compensate experts for the time they spend teaching material and evaluating students, and 2) even more importantly, implement a robust accreditation system to eliminate the temptation to loosen standards in order to raise enrollment.

What you end up with ends up looking a lot like a college. Now, we can talk about changing how funding for college works, but that's a separate discussion from changing the fundamental model, which I don't see as a practical goal.

I don't think it's true that the dominant input to prestige university education is courseware and delivery expertise, nor do I think it's the case that a 4-year degree or something that purports to duplicate it from a computer screen is the ideal vehicle for inculcating the skills and values white-collar employers are looking for.

There doesn't need to be one universal answer to this suggestion; it would be a boring suggestion if that were the case. Instead, you could look at the market for white-collar jobs and break it down looking for lucrative subsets, and then devise some kind of apprenticeship scheme.

If you could eliminate the 4-year degree requirement for HR directors, company controllers, purchasing managers, or jobs like that, replacing it with something tailored to the specific job, you could allow people to get an early start on a white-collar career while offering them opportunities later in their career to get something like an MBA or a JD.

But because the only current credible signaling mechanism we have is a 4-year degree, there is currently no good way to get the kind of job that might legitimately demand an MBA or a JD without first getting a degree in Russian Lit.

I get in trouble with HN by suggesting that general intelligence is both real and important in life outcome, but I really can't help point out how, when we require a four-year degree for an HR director candidate, we're not really filtering for candidates with a particular body of knowledge, but filtering for candidates with the intellectual capacity to acquire one.

Any college replacement scheme is going to have to perform the same kind of filtering if it's going to be useful, and anything that performs this kind of filtering will be subject to exactly the same controversies the college system is subject to today. This outcome is because disparities in intelligence matter, and as long as we these differences exist and we need jobs with a certain cognitive threshold, we'll need something like college to indicate that certain candidates possess the needed traits.

It's important that it be very hard to lie about these qualifications, because anyone who could, would, due to the clear economic benefits of doing so. The only surefire way to determine whether someone has intellectual chops is to make him or her do something intellectual. That's what college is.

You'd get into trouble (meaning, pointless unproductive argument) with me trying to bring general intelligence into a discussion about HR directors as well, so that's a topic we're better off ignoring.

The good news is, we don't have to dig into that. All I'm saying is that it's calamitously expensive, across multiple axes (direct cost, opportunity cost, brittleness of opportunities) to assess capacity to perform the job of "HR Director" by looking for a 4-year degree.

I doubt that you believe a UMich Russian Lit degree is intrinsically an important qualification to work in HR (HR: one of the fastest growing white-collar jobs in the US, hence that example). I'm saying: that's a market inefficiency, and if you could find a way to arbitrage it, you could make a mint while making it possible for more people to get stable white-collar employment without reading Solzhenitsyn in a dorm room.

One unfortunate reality of our existence is that people differ markedly in cognitive skill. These differences are innate and immutable.

Leaving the defeatist mentality aside, instead of saying they do not fit our current model, why not work on personalizing education. People go to school and meet a few professors with this attitude and they leave convinced they cannot be made good for anything. Not good.

So what? Your suggestions have nothing to do with basic income, and would not materially solve the issue that basic income tries to address.

The top comment of this submission is "Ask HN: What can startups do to increase prosperity for everyone?"

None of this relates to the "universal basic income" idea.

and of course, a little bit of taxes to redistribute YCombinator money made from startups-that-don't-help-people-to-eat to those people who'd be relieved by basic income

President Ptacek, elected alongside new House Speaker Ptacek, would add more than a "little bit" of taxes, but startups can't do that, so it's outside the scope of the question. :)

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