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Crowdfunding a Basic Income, First in Germany, Now in US

Crowdfunding a Basic Income, First in Germany, Now in US

What would you do if you had a guaranteed income of $1,250 a month?

A social-enterprise-marketer-slash-Lyft-driver recently started something called the My Basic Income project, a crowdfunding campaign to financially support one person (or more) for one year. Inspired by an existing project in Germany with the same premise, if the crowdfunding campaign is successful, the My Basic Income project will hold a raffle to determine who will receive $1,250 a month for twelve months. As part of the project, people signing up for the raffle would be asked to say what the income would allow them to do.

The project was started at the Basic Income Create-a-thon, which ran from November 13 – 15 in San Francisco. The Create-a-thon was put on by the Universal Income Project, a new nonprofit sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute. Interest in basic income has been rising worldwide, but the recent Create-a-thon and the resulting projects indicate that at least a small number of Americans are ready to stop talking and start taking things into their own hands.

This video was produced over the course of the Create-a-thon.

Cameron Ottens, the Lyft driver and small business owner who helped start My Basic Income, is fairly new to the idea of a basic income. He tells Civicist he first started reading about it six months ago. Once he was sold on the idea, however, he realized he realized we shouldn’t “hold our breath” waiting for our government to get to it.

“I thought the crowdfunding they were doing in Germany was a great idea—to just start, instead of waiting for a gatekeeper or politician to do it,” Ottens says. (The founders from the project in Germany actually attended the event.)

“The ultimate goal is to spread the idea of this from a personal angle,” Ottens says, which is why he is asking people to share what they would do if provided with a basic income. Ottens thinks that it will help dispel the belief that a guaranteed basic income would make everyone (else) lazy.

In the introduction to the crowdfunding campaign, Ottens writes:

Imagine if you could give someone $1,250 per month with no obligations, no limitations, and no strings attached for one full year. How would that change their life?

We want to find out! What would happen if everyone had an amount of money that covers their basic needs? Would people be lazy or would they use it to take on new risks? Would they waste it in one night or invest with intention in their futures? We don’t know, but what if we funded a full year of basic income for a complete stranger, to find out?

I asked if there would be some kind of report at the end, to prove the success of projects like My Basic Income. He acknowledge the inherent contradiction in requiring someone to do something in exchange for no-strings-attached cash—his hope is that recipients (if not all than some) would be moved to help spread the word.

The Basic Income Create-a-thon was attended by more than 60 people actively working on various projects, and more than a hundred came Sunday to see the final presentations (with another 350 watching a livestream). Jim Pugh, one of the organizers of the Create-a-thon, tells Civicist that organizers in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, Minnesota, have already reached out about conducting Create-a-thons in their respective cities.

Jim Pugh, the CEO of Share Progress, says that he connected with other advocates for universal basic income earlier this year, and the Create-a-thon is the result of their conversations. They originally came up with the idea of hosting a hackathon but as a group decided they didn’t feel comfortable having it be exclusively tech-focused. A Create-a-thon allows for input from artists, writers, filmmakers, and other non-techies.

“I haven’t worked specifically in the arts space before but recognize the value of those people involved if you want to make an emotional appeal for a new idea,” Pugh says. He tells Civicist that, as a Bay Area resident, he realizes that a more automated future is almost guaranteed, and the basic income is a feasible solution for when “full employment isn’t feasible or necessarily desirable.”

As for Ottens, he says that with a basic income he would spend a little less time driving, and a little more time growing his business.

First Post



The need for deep, sustained coverage of the super-rich; the seduction of always-on ambient surveillance; and more.

  • oday’s civic-tech must-read: Joshua Tauberer, a 15-year veteran of open government platform-making (he runs, has posted a well-reasoned rant explaining why people trying to fix democracy with new tech tools or platforms are almost universally going to fail. IMHO, Tauberer is a bit too harsh, but he is right to argue that most people approach this arena with little sense of how hard or expensive it is to make a dent in the problem

  • Related: Longtime press critic Michael Massing takes note of recent efforts by the New York Times to cover the “one percent,” like a front-page story focused on the 158 families that have given nearly half the money raised by presidential candidates, but argues that more such attention is needed. He writes:

    In American journalism as a whole, the coverage of the superrich is far too sporadic, fleeting, and unimaginative to make a real difference. News organizations need to develop a new methodology that can allow them to document the structure of wealth, power, and influence in America—to show how the ultrarich make their money, what they do with it, and to what effect. The coverage needs to be more sustained, ambitious, and broadly conceived. And digital technology can help.

  • Massing points to some exemplars (without hyperlinks in the original, though—what’s up with that, New York Review of Books editors?): “Muckety, along with three other eye-on-the-elite groups, LittleSisSourceWatch, and RightWeb, are all useful, but they are underfunded, overmatched, and (at times) ideologically oriented. A new site with an experienced staff of reporters, editors, and digital whizzes could burrow deep into the world of the one percent and document the remarkable impact they are having on so many areas of American life. As information on them is gathered, it could be incorporated into a database that could become the go-to site for information about the nation’s elite and their power.” Of course, such a site would cost a bit of money to create. Where might such money be found?

  • This is civic tech: Our Jessica McKenzie reports on the launch of NYC Councilmatic, an open government platform built by (Civic Hall member) David Moore of the Participatory Politics Foundation that stands on the shoulders of earlier versions built by civic hackers in Philadelphia and Chicago.

  • Making All Voices Count has announced 50 semi-finalists for its global call for innovative approaches to governance issues. “We’re seeing more local-level use of technology, from radio programmes connecting women to their members of parliament on a regular basis, to parents sending SMSs to a public dashboard that tracks whether teachers turn up at their local school,” the group notes.

  • Keep calm and carry on: Nate Silver of says it’s too early to take Donald Trump’s front-runner status seriously, because “most people aren’t paying all that much attention to the campaign right now.” According to his analysis of Google search data from 2008 and 2012, interest in the primaries doesn’t really start to peak until a week or two before Iowa’s caucuses.

  • Brave new world: ShotSpotter, an expensive technology that uses net-connected microphones to pinpoint the location of gunshots in urban environments, could help authorities know, as quickly as possible, when a possible terrorist attack is happening, Christopher Mims writes for the Wall Street Journal. The company has recently announced a deal with General Electric that would piggyback on its new “smart” LED lights that are laden with motion, sound and video sensors. Ahh, the seductions of “always-on” ambient surveillance…

  • An FAA task force studying drone policy has recommended that registration of pilots be mandatory for anyone flying a unmanned aircraft weighing more than half a pound, Joshua Goldman reports for CNET.