Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 15, 2020
By Christian Britschgi, Reason
San Francisco will become the latest city to experiment with a universal basic income (UBI). Sort of.
In an effort to assist the city’s struggling arts community in bouncing back from the pandemic, Mayor London Breed announced last week that she’d be rolling out a cash transfer program for artists.
Under the mayor’s plan, 130 artists in the city will receive a $1,000 monthly cash stipend for a period of six months starting early next year. It’s one of several arts-themed policies sourced from the city’s Economic Recovery Task Force final report released last Thursday, which also includes funding for “artists to paint murals with a public health theme on boarded-up businesses and deploy performance artists to promote COVID-safe behaviors in high foot traffic areas.”
“In the months and years ahead, it’s going to take that same collective effort to confront the economic devastation caused by this virus,” said Breed in a press release. “We need to continue to translate these ideas into action so we can get people back to work and get San Francisco moving forward.”
The proposal is drawing both interest and criticism from UBI advocates.
“We’ve sort of gotten into the habit of cloaking anything that gives money to people as a universal basic income,” Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, tells Reason. “This is a subsidy for artists.”
A true universal basic income, says Tanner, has to be, well, universal, or at least broad-based. The limited number of people who could benefit from San Francisco’s program, he says, and the requirement that they have to be artists means Breed’s proposal is effectively a grant program for a select political constituency.
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