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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nearly included a policy in her presidential campaign that would have given ordinary citizens regular checks just for being alive.
In her new book “What Happened,” and in a recent subsequent interview with Vox Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein, Clinton explains how she seriously considered including a version of universal basic income – a radical solution to poverty, currently being tested in cities and countries around the world – as one of her platforms in the 2016 US presidential election.
The platform would have been called “Alaska for America,” in homage to the state’s Permanent Dividend Fund. Every year since 1982, Alaskans have received a yearly check – typically ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 – as a kickback from the pot of money that has been set aside in case oil reserves dry up.
As of 2015, the fund’s value was nearly $52 billion.
“The Alaska for America idea was really intriguing to me because, in effect, it was to argue that our natural patrimony really does belong to every American,” Clinton told Klein in an interview. Private-sector companies shouldn’t be the only ones benefiting from natural resources; like Alaska has done for 30 years, the US ought to adopt a similar approach, she said.
Clinton said she ultimately scrapped the idea because it conflicted too much with her stance on renewable energy, given that Alaska’s fund survives primarily because of its extensive oil reserves. Trying to apply the policy nationwide would have complicated the search for similar resources, she said.
“Are we talking about fossil fuels, which then might perversely encourage the continued extraction of fossil fuels?” she said, because that “would be an outcome which we weren’t necessarily thinking would be in the best interest.”
This stance is an apparent reversal of the one Clinton held during the campaign.
Last summer, in an interview with LinkedIn Executive Editor Daniel Roth, she criticized universal basic income as a form of “just giving up and saying, ‘Okay, fine … the rest of us who are producing income, we’ve got to … distribute it and you don’t really have to do anything anymore.'”
Many of the greatest supporters of basic income are in the tech and venture-capital world. These supporters see it as a solution to the widespread unemployment caused by current and future job automation. In fact, just a few weeks after Clinton’s interview with Roth, President Barack Obama suggested it could someday be a pick-me-up for workers whose jobs have been replaced by machines.