Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Give People Money: The Simple Idea to Solve Inequality and Revolutionise Our Lives

Rate this book
A brilliantly reported, global look at universal basic income--a stipend given to every citizen--and why it might be necessary for our age of rising inequality, persistent poverty, and dazzling technology

Imagine if every month the government deposited $1,000 into your checking account, with nothing expected in return. It sounds crazy, but it has become one of the most influential and hotly debated policy ideas of our time. Futurists, radicals, libertarians, socialists, union representatives, feminists, conservatives, Bernie supporters, development economists, child-care workers, welfare recipients, and politicians from India to Finland to Canada to Mexico--all are talking about UBI.

In this sparkling and provocative book, economics writer Annie Lowrey looks at the global UBI movement. She travels to Kenya to see how a UBI is lifting the poorest people on earth out of destitution, India to see how inefficient government programs are failing the poor, South Korea to interrogate UBI's intellectual pedigree, and Silicon Valley to meet the tech titans financing UBI pilots in expectation of a world with advanced artificial intelligence and little need for human labor.

Lowrey examines the potential of such a sweeping policy and the challenges the movement faces, among them contradictory aims, uncomfortable costs, and, most powerfully, the entrenched belief that no one should get something for nothing. She shows how this arcane policy offers not only a potential answer for our most intractable economic and social problems, but also a better foundation for our society in this age of turbulence and marvels.

288 pages, Paperback

First published July 10, 2018

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Annie Lowrey

2 books49 followers
Annie Lowrey is a contributing editor for The Atlantic. A former writer for the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, and Slate, among other publications, she is a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. Lowrey lives in Washington, DC.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
572 (21%)
4 stars
1,323 (49%)
3 stars
653 (24%)
2 stars
107 (3%)
1 star
31 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 442 reviews
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
769 reviews1,146 followers
January 28, 2019
The concept of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is something that has been of interest to me since I first came across it in a book a couple years ago. How would it work? Would it be good for the economy? Would people just stop working en masse and become mindless (or MORE mindless!) seekers of entertainment if not forced to work? I was excited to see this book, hoping it would answer some of the questions I have about UBI.

Annie Lowrey did her homework before writing this book, though it's not as deep and all encompassing as I'd have liked it to be. However, it's a terrific introduction to what exactly UBI is, how it's being experimented with in some places, and how it might be able to work in the USA. Ms. Lowery takes us around the world, first to Kenya where a Silicon Valley charity has started "giving people money". Realising that giving people things, such as clothing or food, often disrupts the local economy, GiveDirectly began giving people money instead, money without strings attached so that the people can buy exactly what they need or even use it to start businesses. Ms. Lowrey interviews some of the recipients, learning how this program has changed and benefited their lives. She travels to India, where 99% of the 1 billion+ citizens are now enrolled in Aadhar, a system which
is based on citizens' biometric and demographic data and which will make it easier to implement UBI, an idea the government is toying with (or at least was at the time the book was written). UBI pilots are also starting in countries like the Netherlands, Canada, Finland, and Germany.

In America, "where about 41 million people [as of 2016] live in poverty and more than one million households with children subsist on less than $2 a person a day"", Ms. Lowrey suggests that giving each citizen a flat thousand dollars a month could lift many families out of poverty and help many Americans remain in the middle class. She suggests that "Replacing the current American welfare state with a UBI would eliminate huge swaths of the government's bureaucracy and reduce state interference in its citizens' lives." For instance, UBI could replace Social Security and many antipoverty programs, among others. It would provide a safety net for citizens, especially as we are facing mass unemployment with AI predicted to take over a large percentage of jobs in the near future.

I was surprised to learn that this concept has been around for quite some time, dating back to the 16th century when Sir Thomas More argued for it in Utopia. Through the years, it has had support from people as diverse as Martin Luther King Jr, Richard Nixon, Daniel Moynihan, Milton Friedman, and John Stuart Mill. When the idea was toyed with in the 1960s, some people worried that UBI might increase divorce rates.... which to me is a positive if it means people are freer to leave an unhappy or even abusive marriage!

Whilst I did get a much better understanding of UBI from reading this book, I still have questions about it. In particular, I don't feel Ms. Lowrey provided much in the way of how it could be paid for in the US. Overall, I am in favour of implementing a UBI, along with Universal Healthcare and free college education (with some strings attached to the latter), but I feel there are some real flaws and obstacles which will need to be worked out with great care before attempting this. I think UBI could solve many of the problems facing people today.

Ms. Lowrey points out many of the problems with our current "welfare" system, along with the lack of rights of workers. She points out the many ways in which UBI could bring a fairer playing field to all. In a country racked with systemic racism, it could also help many minorities, especially African Americans. HOWEVER, since racism is the underlying reason social welfare programs are fought against, we need to tackle the deep issues of racism before we will be able to move to a system that is fairer for all.

I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about UBI, how it could/would work, the possible benefits and disadvantages of such a system. It is well worth considering.
Profile Image for Michael.
657 reviews966 followers
April 20, 2020
A balanced introduction to the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI), Give People Money considers why so many people, from libertarians to progressives, are starting to advocate for this radical idea, which proposes giving every individual an unconditional sum of money each month. Across ten chapters journalist Annie Lowrey argues that UBI might help address impending waves of technological unemployment ("the prospect that robots will soon take all our jobs"), grating inequality and wage stagnation, and the inefficiency of existing welfare programs across the world. She travels from Kenya to South Korea, considering the strengths and limitations of UBI pilot programs and sketching the idea’s surprisingly lengthy history. She also examines how UBI might help compensate women for their unpaid domestic labor, and she responds to the resistance it likely would meet in the United States, where white racial resentment toward Black and Latinx communities would impede the policy’s implementation. Lowrey’s prose is accessible and highly readable, her examples concrete and convincing. Give People Money avoids the thornier aspects of the debate, but it’s perfect as a starting point.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,403 reviews316 followers
June 21, 2018
'UBI' is not a social disease but refers to a concept that has been around for a very long time--the idea that by giving everyone a basic income--enough to live on--society can end poverty and economic injustice. Would you believe that President Nixon supported the idea in the 1960s? Or that Thomas Paine wrote about it? Across the world communities and countries have been trying a Universal Basic Income on a small scale.

41 million Americans are living in poverty. What if they received $1,000 a month, no strings attached, to do with as they need. The Federal government could shut down a whole slew of social programs such as food stamps.

Annie Lowrey became obsessed with the idea of UBI and asked was it "a magic bullet, or a policy hammer in search of a nail?" Her book considers what UBI is and the cultural prejudices that surround it, how its implementations have succeeded and failed, the impact it would have on poverty, and how a UBI would cut through all social and racial classes.

I loved how she began the book at the Cobo Center North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The birthplace of the auto industry was abandoned very early when auto companies moved their plants outside of the city. But the showcase of the cool new vehicles takes place there. Lowrey talks about the technological changes being shown, the 'cars of the future' that drive themselves.

Imagine taxis without drivers.

Next thing we know, semi-trucks will be self-driving. Drones will deliver small packages. The Obama administration set the numbers between 2.2 and 3.1 million jobs lost to self-driving vehicles.

This is nothing new. Technology has been depriving humans of jobs since the industrial revolution.

Yes, robots will take over the world. We humans can spend our time painting and climbing K2 and volunteering and making quilts...Only if the huge profits (made when business and industry replaces all the workers) is shared. We are already seeing a few people holding all the money. It's not going to get better. And the programs we have now are meant to be gap measures, for short-term needs. When unemployment becomes permanent--what then?

Sure there are some jobs that are unfilled. Fruit and vegetable pickers, for instance. Michigan is in sore need of them. Take asparagus picking in West Michigan. All you need to do is lay on a board attached to a tractor, hovering over the field, picking asparagus all day in the hot sun. Here in Metro Detroit, our town needs summer help with yard waste pickup. They can't get people to apply for the jobs. Of course, neither pay a living wage.

Unions were strong when my dad was supporting us kids. He made a good living with overtime pay working at Chrysler. Today union membership has dropped from one in three to one in twenty. Woman's salaries still lag behind men's. Companies no longer offer pensions or health care. They hire more contract workers and part-time workers. The companies get tax breaks and subsidies while their employees get tax-funded food stamps and assistance. It's a win-win for business and a lose-lose for citizens. One study found that $130 million dollars a year are spent on WORKING families whose wages can't cover their basic need.

What we have is a crisis situation that won't be getting better.

We can't just GIVE PEOPLE MONEY! I hear you thinking it. Why not? It's the AMERICAN way, you reply. People pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,

they work hard and rise, God helps those who help themselves. And a lot of other old chestnuts come out of the closet. And besides, you think, 'those people' will just use the money for cigarettes or drugs or alcohol or a fancy car or a fur coat or to take a cruise. Because we can't trust 'those people' to have the values we approve of.


When my husband pastored in the inner city it was a big concern that handing over cash meant people going directly to the corner bar, or later the corner crack house. So the church had local grocers and gas stations in partnership to give commodities instead.

Sure, there are a few bad apples. But giving things you think people need is not very useful either. Lowrey talks about a village overrun with Tom's shoes. But give people cash and they can get what they really need. Most people will buy another cow, make sure the kids are eating right, make sure the kids can afford to go to school instead of going to work to help support the family.

Lowrey went to Kenya to see a UBI project called GiveDirectly and to India to see how the country's Public Distribution System was working. "Done right, cash works" she writes. Ontario, Canada has tried a pilot program and so has Stockton, CA.

I was appalled to learn that America's "safety net" design flaws trap people in poverty--and have a racist bias. European countries whose safety nets eliminate poverty are those whose population consists of native-born citizens. The 'us vs. them' factor does not come into play.

Like Finland. My exchange student daughter lost her job in the recession and she married a man who also lost his job. They came to America to study at their denomination's school and visited us. I wondered how they could afford an apartment and food and such. In America, they would have long lost unemployment and health care and housing and would not have been able to marry. Finland has national health care, too. It did in 1969 when I had a Finnish exchange student sister. Two years later I was married and we had no health insurance for three years.

Discrimination abounds in the safety net. Especially on the state level. The 1935 Social Security act excluded farm and domestic workers--who were mostly African American. The Federal Housing Administration funds fewer houses in black neighborhoods. The GI bill helped more white than black men since fewer schools accepted black students. The Clinton administration made benefits contingent on work, which affected single mothers. The Supreme Court allowed states to opt out of the Obama Medicaid expansion to over nondisabled, childless adults.

A UBI for everyone would be color and gender blind, disabled and able treated the same. Stay at home mothers would be compensated, and what work is more important than raising families and providing a stable home life? America is the only country with no support to new mothers and we don't have enough quality daycare especially in rural areas. A UBI would help new mothers stay home. I had to take leave of absence from a job to care for my dying father. I lost income. A UBI would have made that more comfortable.

How would a UBI be distributed? Could it be targeted by fiscal hawks? How would we pay for it? There are questions to be answered.

I felt Lowrey's book was a good balance to Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman, which I read last year. I especially appreciated the section that showed the challenges in rural India for distribution of cash. She raised issues and questions I had not even imagined.

Read an excerpt of the book at


I received a free book from First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Profile Image for ash | spaceyreads.
343 reviews204 followers
March 16, 2019
As I'm reading this book, I'm struck by how neatly put together it is. My colleague, when I told her I'm reading a book about UBIs, said (jokingly), "Oh, like because of the robot uprising?" I have never heard of a UBI before I read this book, but it must be a common angle in which talk on a UBI come about because that was what Lowrey addressed in her opening as well.

She went on to present a compelling argument for UBIs, covering a number of issues and concerns, making it sound like a feasible solution to problems closer to home than technological unemployment. She acknowledges while AIs taking over our jobs definitely is something that may happen in the future, it seems a surface problem hat is part of a larger set of issues - deep structural racism, the patriarchy, poverty, workers rights, and so on.

"Here, poverty in the United States is a choice. Stagnant middle-class incomes are a choice. Technology-fueled mass unemployment is a choice. Racism is a choice. The patriarchy is a choice. This is not to discount how deeply entrenched existing policies, interests, and tendencies are - but to recognise that while they might be entrenched, they are not immutable."

One topic that resonated with me is her criticism of the current American social services system and welfare programs, as well as international charity programs. Her research brought her across the world to rural villages in Kenya to understand the villagers' experiences with various charities. They have been recipients of many people's generosity, and that is something that is definitely worth celebrating. But Lowrey did not beat around the bush in her compact 200-page novel when she arrowed in on the issue here:

"The harder argument is: you should shut down your USAID program, which is bigger than the educational budget of Liberia, and give the money to Liberians."

"Donor resistance - there's the usual worries about welfare dependency... it's basically a psychological feature of the landscape. Ultimately, there might be a deeper lesson too, in the... discomfort we have with the decision-making prowess of the poor."

The people in Kenya do not need Toms, they do not need extra water jugs, they do not need unskilled volunteers building them wells. GiveDirectly, a startup that is piloting a UBI programme, gives money directly to the people in Kenya. By giving money directly to the villagers, you are giving them resources to make their own choices. They know best what they need, they just need the funds to get it.

Of course, she qualifies that there are many other initiatives and programs that are equally as beneficial to the welfare of a country's citizens. For example, in Kenya, there are a lot of initiatives to help farmers with resources to be able to better farm, such as deworming efforts and water sanitation. These are resources that are not something that the layperson can directly access or facilitate.

She urges us to dig deep into our societal presumptions that shapes how we view and deal with poverty, and to understand how it pervades throughout our policies and have very real effects

"This puritanical obsessed with differentiating the deserving from the undeserving crossed over to this former British colony, where it married with out country's deep sense of individualism and our cult of self-reliance.

Sounds familiar. A pervasive attitude even amongst our social service professionals. Unsurprising as we all work in a system that makes our work difficult - every time I have to explain to a client that I see that they are falling through the cracks, a service just out of their grasp, because of a technicality or some other (actually only a few days ago me and my colleague held our breath as we checked the age of a young teen neglected by her parents. She's a few months shy of 16 years old, which is great, because once she hits 16 CPS doesn't intervene, and there are no protections for teens between 16 to 18 for some stupid reason), and that there's nothing I can do, I die a little inside.

She goes on to talk about how a UBI can bridge the structural disadvantages of certain vulnerable or minority groups - racial minorities, women and children, people living in poverty or are homeless. These are problems in the here and now, and the numbers are startling. Something that really struck me is the racial wealth gap in the USA between Blacks and Whites. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, white families were able to pick themselves up by buying homes through loans given by the Federal Housing Administration, loans that were not given to black neighbourhoods, not even rich ones. Black Americans missed out on the economic boom because they started out with less, and by the mid 1980's, the median white household has a net worth 11 times more than the median black household. All because of racist policies.

"[P]overty, as economists have long held, is about social exclusion as much as it is about deprivation. Implementing a UBI or another universal, unconditional cash program might help us to tackle other forms of exclusion, whether the racial hegemony that stifles the potential of young children of colour or the gender inequality that hurts the earnings of women or a thousand other inequalities and differences and disparities."

I love how Lowrey applied the idea of a UBI to many different scenarios, showing that universally, cash is best. Or at least to a certain extent. And she does it with her crisp writing and compelling research. A great book for anyone - even those skeptical of a UBI will benefit from her all-rounded discussion of today's issues.
Profile Image for Beth.
926 reviews21 followers
July 6, 2018
Lowrey does a great job of explaining, through many and varied real-world examples, why a UBI-type program is needed and how it's improved life in some places that have started testing it out. She also gives a good (if not entirely successful) effort at addressing and trying to dispel the common myths and complaints that come up whenever someone brings up the topic: that it would encourage laziness, that people will misuse the funds, that it's not necessary to give money to people who aren't in dire need of it, etc. And that's all good food for thought.

However, where Lowrey falls short here, is in arguing for HOW to implement and fund UBI. It's not until the 10th and final chapter of the book that we actually get down to brass tacks here, and even then, it's a half-hearted effort. Frankly, at points it's genuinely laughable - for example, when Lowrey states, "Still, the knee-jerk opposition to some form of UBI - crying that it is too expensive or unrealistic - feels over-wrought," and then in the VERY NEXT SENTENCE utters this absurdity: "Raising enough revenue for a $1,000-a-month UBI is more a matter of will than of mathematics." Huh? That's some wonky view of economics. But this piece of nonsense got the biggest eyeroll from me: "It also seems worth raising the issue of whether a UBI needs to be 'paid for' at all. The Bush tax cuts were not 'paid for.' The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not 'paid for.' The United States controls its own currency, and has far more latitude in financing new programs than even most progressives would care to admit...the federal government spends first and raises taxes later. Save for a few whispery moments, it has not bothered to balance its budget nor has it raised enough money to cover its spending in the postwar era." ::FACEPALM::

In the end, I tried to approach this with an open mind as I didn't know too much about the details of UBI, but I have to say after reading and thinking about this, it's left me with the same thoughts that most of Bernie Sanders' proposals did in 2016: Great in theory, not much realistic thought on how exactly to pay for them, ultimately unlikely to happen any time soon.
Profile Image for Samantha (AK).
349 reviews38 followers
June 26, 2018
I received free access to an advance galley through the Penguin First to Read program.

Going into this I knew almost nothing about the conversation surrounding Universal Basic Income (UBI). I knew that there was a conversation, and I knew that people felt very strongly about it. But my economics classes hadn’t discussed it and it didn’t dovetail with any of my other studies, so until now I’ve ignored it.

Then I threw an entry token at this book on a whim, and (because the universe likes to push me) was approved for an advance galley. Ignorance was no longer an option.

Money… is universal and universally fungible. (p.175 ARC)

Despite the title, Lowrey doesn’t open her book by saying ‘I think we should give people money and this book is going to explain why I’m right.’ Instead, the introduction starts by asking the reader to contemplate possibility. ‘Hey, so there’s this crazy idea floating around, and I’d like to have a serious conversation about it.’

Universal Basic Income. Universal, in that it is available to everyone. Basic, in that it is sufficient to cover basic needs. Income, in that it is money that the recipient is free to spend as they will.

It is kind of a wild idea, and Lowrey knows that. And she’s willing to take the time to explore it in a way accessible to general audiences, knowing that her general audience is going to be resistant to the concept. More than, ‘we need to give people money,’ the message of this book is that we can’t afford to keep our heads in the sand. ‘We should consider our options.’

Annie Lowrey’s been a name in economic journalism for a while, (Currently, she writes for The Atlantic) and I was pleasantly surprised by her balanced approach. (This less a comment on Lowrey specifically and more on popular nonfiction in general). Broadly, this book explores the relationships between UBI and work, poverty, and social inclusion, with a concluding epilogue to cover the potential design of such a policy shift.

In just over 200 pages, Lowrey covers automation, the gig economy, causes of poverty, pros and cons of the current social welfare net, and--of course--how UBI relates to and could impact all of these things.There were a lot of things I hadn’t considered before (changing structure of the labor force, history of various social welfare programs, the results of UBI and cash-transfer pilots around the globe, etc.), and if I came away with more questions than answers, at least now I have an idea of what questions to ask.

The epilogue is a weak point. I enjoyed the Star Trek vs. The Jetsons exploration, but in order to make a UBI work in the real world, Lowrey’s arguments twist and contort on themselves until the result looks more like our current social safety net (if slightly improved) than a UBI as described in previous chapters. At least one of her proposals (‘why not just print more money to foot the bill?’) deserves a couple high-controversy books of its own. I don’t know if Lowrey just felt the need to close on a more definitive note, but there’s an attention to detail in the main body of the text that is missing from the final pages.

I also have a couple major stylistic complaints. First of all: citations. Because of the format of the galley I received, it was not immediately clear that there were endnotes at all. They’re not referenced in the body of the text, but if you’re curious you’ll find them in the very back of the book organized by page number with reference to their subject sentence. (Does anyone know what style this is? I’ve seen it in a couple of other popular nonfiction books so I assume it’s standard somewhere, but I’m not familiar with it and Google is failing me.)

[A Quick Note for the Above: I reiterate that I read an advance, unedited proof. If anyone can confirm that the citation format has changed for the final copy, please let me know. This was one of the most frustrating aspects of my reading experience.]

Second, but related to the first: In the absence of hard data, Lowrey has a tendency to build up maybe/perhaps statements to make her conclusions. On the one hand, she’s given me a lot to think about. She’s clearly an intelligent woman and she’s spent a lot of time pulling this book together for a general audience. On the other hand, too many maybes in a row give me hives. That’s not an argument. It’s a pipe dream.

And yet I have to credit Lowrey for what she’s accomplished here. It’s not the most academically rigorous work, but as an introduction to the conversation around UBI, I think it’s ideal. Lowrey’s not going for straight advocacy-journalism here, she’s starting a conversation. And she’s clear-eyed about the hurdles such a conversation will face in the U.S.

I don’t think UBI is necessarily a bad idea, but I don’t know if we can make it work, and I also don’t know if it’s the best of potentially feasible options. One thing I do know is that we’re undergoing some economic rebalancing, and however we come out the other side is going to look different.

I know more than I did before reading this, so that’s something. Recommended to people who--like me--were looking for a starting point.
Profile Image for Marina.
352 reviews26 followers
July 16, 2018
I’m usually to be found at the fluffier end of the non-fiction spectrum, enjoying books with colourful pictures and ingredient lists.
But I’ve heard of the concept of a Universal Basic Income – a regular payment, paid to every citizen, just for being alive. Could it eliminate poverty? Would it be more effective than means-tested welfare programmes? I wanted to know more.
Lowrey brings her research alive with stories of ordinary people and some of these (most memorably in the chapter The Poverty Hack, where she looks at schemes such as Give Direct) were quite inspiring.
However, because so much of it was a very detailed look at the American welfare system, I felt like a caring spectator rather than a stakeholder. I want to know how it could work here in Britain.
I did find the book quite hard-going at times. It is (rightly), very thorough. Lowrey makes a point and comprehensively backs it up. Personally, I would have been happy for her to make the point, give a few brief examples and move on. The problem is me, rather than the book.
But if radical policies like this are to be adopted, they need the support of the layperson like me, who has no education in economics and just wants to know the whys and hows.
So I applaud this work, recommend it to my more serious-minded friends and look forward to the short, simplified version, with a British focus, colourful pictures and ..er…lists of ingredients…
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC.
Profile Image for Radiantflux.
427 reviews405 followers
July 25, 2018
79th book for 2018.

The UBI has the simplicity of a child's idea: The most efficient way to get rid of poverty is just to give poor people money.

It's initials UBI stand for: Universal (everybody get's it), Basic (high enough to remove poverty, not too high to discourage work), Income (Cash - not other stuff).

Lowrey explores the history of the UBI (Nixon, amongst others toyed with the idea) as well as its current initial trials, both as a direct form of developmental aid in Africa and as a reform of welfare in countries such as India and Finland.

As numerous authors have pointed out, the coming robot/AI revolution will prove dramatically disruptive over the next 20 years to today's workforce (both in the West and elsewhere). A UBI may offer possible way of short-circuiting a possible dystopian future where wealth is increasingly constrained in a few hands.

A must read for progressives.

Profile Image for Carmen.
2,050 reviews1,832 followers
Want to read
March 22, 2019
"Are Robots Competing for Your Job?
By Jill Lepore
March 4, 2019

He has no patience with advocates of universal basic income, either. “We have reached a point where the rich think paying everyone else to go away represents compassionate thinking,” he writes.

Like Hyman, Cass blames mid-twentieth-century economic thinkers for the current malaise, though he blames different thinkers. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, he argues, economic policymakers abandoned workers and the health of the labor market in favor of a commitment to over-all economic growth, with redistribution as an adjustment and consumerism as its objective. That required quantifying prosperity, hence the G.D.P., a measure that Cass, along with other writers, finds to be disastrous, not least because it values consumers above producers. Cass sees universal basic income as the end-stage scenario of every other redistribution program, whose justification is that the poor will be fine without work as long as they can buy things. Here he mocks the advocates of the current economic arrangement, who are prone to note that the poor are not actually starving, “and so many people have iPhones!”
Profile Image for Adam Floridia.
583 reviews30 followers
August 26, 2018
So, assuming that the ultra-wealthy are not just purchasing this book en masse and then promptly burning it to keep it out of the hands of the lowly proletariat, then it would be safe to venture that anyone who does buy the book is, at the very least, open to the idea of a universal basic income (UBI), right? Regardless, the latter includes myself, and myself does tend to be very open-minded and I like to consider myself discerning of the merits of ideas through sound, thorough debate fueled by logos. This book just wasn't for me, then. The majority consists of the author's personal journey discovering how/where/why a UBI might work. However, she then offers what seem to be sweeping counterarguments--and acknowledging them IS good. However, acknowledging without thoroughly rebutting does not a strong argument make. And, again, let's assume I'm already open to the idea, so I don't need to know about Kenya or North Korea or India: I need to know how this could functionally work in the U.S. and all the repercussions--both positive and negative--to fairly weigh the idea. My biggest question: okay, where does the money come from and what impact does this have? Well, finally chapter 10 (of 11*) begins with "The question is how to do it." Two pages in, I get the answer I've long been waiting for: "Raising enough revenue for a $1,000-a-month UBI is more a matter of will than of mathematics" (187). Well, shit! That isn't helpful. In fairness, the author does go on to mention potential taxes and revenue streams, but none are covered in nearly the depth I would like or with the logos I would like. I guess what I'm actually looking for would be a real policy proposal, not just a "hey, here's a new idea that we should consider--not sure how it would work, but here are some ideas to explore."

*Chapter 11 bases its logic on The Jetsons, Star Trek, and The Hunger Games. This almost caused me to drop this to one star. Almost.
Profile Image for Andre.
510 reviews138 followers
July 1, 2018
A fascinating read that at first hear sounds like NEVER going to happen. But Ms. Lowrey slowly and meticulously builds a case for the unimaginable. I read the following and thought wow, yes radical and elegant but can’t envision it happening in the US in my lifetime.

“Imagine that a check showed up in your mailbox or your bank account every month. The money would be enough to live on, but just barely. It might cover a room in a shared apartment, food, and bus fare. It would save you from destitution if you had just gotten out of prison, needed to leave an abusive partner, or could not find work....Let’s say that you could do anything you wanted with the money.....You would not have to be a specific age, have a child, own a home or maintain a clean criminal record to get it.....This simple, radical and elegant proposal is called a universal basic income, or UBI.”

That is the thrust of Annie Lowrey’s Give People Money. She is clearly an advocate and proponent of UBI and has made me a believer. She tackles the hows, pros, cons and costs of what a UBI might look like and even embedded herself in communities in India and Kenya to observe the functions of UBI like programs there. She makes a compelling case for implementing such a system, and she doesn’t shy away from dealing with the tough issues that make this a non-starter for a large swath of the population. The biggest hurdle is the mindset of American people, how comfortable can most of be seeing people get something for nothing, even if we are getting the same ourselves?

The one major challenge to bringing this idea to fruition here in the US, besides the cost factor is the racial element. A unique feature of US society that prevents ideas that could provide poverty relief from ever being realized. “In 2001, three top economists....asked why the two economies on either side of the Atlantic were so different in that way, given how similar they were in so many others.” The above referenced quote is in relation of Europe to the US and the former’s greater effort in blunting the effects of income inequality. Their ultimate conclusion was,

“Within the United States, race is the single most important predictor of support for welfare. America’s troubled race relations are clearly a major reason for the absence of an American welfare state.” Annie adds to this summation, “Any of the thousand ways that those researchers test it, studies show that relatedness intensifies reciprocity, that closeness inculcates altruism. We humans do not trust faces that do not look like ours.”

So, aside from that reality taking the wind from my sails and dare I say, any real chance for an American UBI, Annie will make you seriously consider the possibility of a UBI and ponder the what-ifs. Despite being wonky in parts, this book is very readable and as work continues to diminish in the US, we must be able to arm ourselves with the knowledge of new ideas. Give People Money goes a long way towards that effort. Thanks to First to Read a Penguin Random House Books program for an advanced DRC. Book will drop July 10, 2018.
Profile Image for Monica **can't read fast enough**.
1,030 reviews330 followers
August 2, 2018
Really interesting subject that I had never given much thought to, but I found the execution of the book wasn't able to engage me fully and keep me interested in the way that the information was presented. I'm glad that I read and I did learn something from it, I just wouldn't pick this one up again.

You can find me at:
•(♥).•*Monlatable Book Reviews*•.(♥)•
Twitter: @MonlatReader
Instagram: @readermonica
Facebook: Monica Reeds
Goodreads Group: The Black Bookcase
Profile Image for Grace.
2,577 reviews111 followers
December 7, 2021
4.5 rounded down

I've not read much about UBI and I thought this made a really excellent introductory book to the topic. It's clear that there is a lot more to cover in terms of actual practicalities and various aspects of the debate, but I thought this was a great case for UBI and has made me interested to dig further into it.
Profile Image for Kusaimamekirai.
647 reviews215 followers
July 20, 2018
The idea of a Universal Basic Income, or UBI, has as the author points out been around for a long time. In the 16th century as mercantile capitalism began to alter land rights and use, the idea of a UBI to provide basic necessities to displaced peasants took hold. Men as diverse as John Stuart Mill and Martin Luther King also advocated for it. In “Give People Money” Annie Lowrey looks at the historical antecedents for providing a monthly set income for each and every citizen, why it should be implemented, and some basic logistics to how it might work.
It is certainly an intriguing concept and considering how long the idea has been around and had support across the political aisle (Richard Nixon was also a proponent) it is not as radical of a concept as it may first appear.
Or is it?
It would first and foremost require, at least in America, a radical rethinking of class and the deserving or undeserving. As Lowrey points out, America is unique in that it has from its origins been obsessed with the idea of self reliance and that economic failure can only be linked to a kind of moral or ethical failure rather than anything systemic in society preventing success. She cites the experience of one man in poverty who cites the joy that being able to get a pint of ice cream through the benefits program SNAP brought him:

“ 'To me, SNAP is about bringing normalcy to people’s lives’ he said. ‘That normalcy is what they parlay into other successes and other advances.’ He talked about getting benefits and being able to buy a pint of ice cream. ‘It had been over a year since I could make any kinds of choices about what he could eat’, he said. ‘People see people using their  SNAP at the store and they judge what they’re buying. But you don’t know what that means to them.’"

The idea that poor people through what must be their own failures are inherently disqualified from even an occasional indulgence is rampant in American society. It reminded me of the statement of Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz who last year in an interviewed berated people on public assistance for having cell phones. He went on to argue that if they can afford one they can afford their own health care without government help. Leaving aside the ridiculous and callous comparison between a $500 phone one may need to look for employment and thousands of dollars in health care costs, the heart of his argument is that for him and many others, poverty is a condition brought on by bad choices. This stigma is described further by Lowrey:

“We believe (in America) that there is a moral difference between taking a home mortgage interest deduction and receiving a Section 8 voucher. We judge, marginalize, and shame the poor for their poverty to the point that we make them provide urine samples, and want to force them to volunteer for health benefits. As such, we tolerate levels of poverty that are grotesque and entirely unique among developed nations. This poverty comes at an extraordinary cost not just to the people experiencing it, but to us all.”

She goes on to cite some troubling statistics that seem to validate this claim. This attitude is particularly pernicious in regard to women:

“America is the only advanced economy that does not have a government program to pay new mothers or require companies to do so. (Finland, the Slovak Republic, and Hungary all provide three years of paid leave, and the average across the thirty- four higher- income nations studied is just over a year.) Just 12 percent of American private- sector workers keep their paychecks when they are home with an infant. It is not just rich nations that the United States lags behind either. According to the International Labor Organization, it is one of only two countries out of 185, the other being New Guinea, that does not provide some form of aid to new parents. Iraq and Afghanistan have paid maternity leave programs, at least on paper, and the United States does not.”

It also prevalent against minorities:

“Inevitably, states with large black populations became more penny- pinching and more restrictive. Lily white Vermont covers 78  percent of families in poverty with welfare, whereas former slave state Louisiana covers just 4  percent. The maximum monthly benefit for a family of three ranges from just $170 in Mississippi, 37 percent of whose residents are black, to $923 in Alaska, which is 4 percent black. When we look at some of these individual policies, we can see how having a higher share of African Americans in the population translate to a lower maximum benefit level, and harsher initial sanctions.”

Lowrey argues that the only way to combat these inherent structural biases is to provide a stipend to all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or income level of $1,000 a month for the duration of their lives. There would be no strings attached to this money and each citizen would be free to do with it what they wish. If all Americans receive the same amount, any cries of “socialism” or robbing the rich to feed the poor would be moot. We’d all be in the same boat.
How to pay for this though? Lowrey conservatively estimates that such a program would run about 3 trillion dollar a year. She proposes doing away with all other parts of the safety net such as food stamps, tax credits, Social Security and others to help offset the costs. Which raises the question, would we be better off? Lowrey offers anecdotal evidence (through her experiences with a UBI pilot program in Kenya) that services in the form of welfare are inefficient and that putting money directly into people’s hands is the most dynamic way to spur the economy and keep people above the poverty line.
She also advocates for creating a new top tax bracket for the rich to assist on paying for this so she is hardly a conservative fiscal hawk but after thinking about her arguments and admiring her enthusiasm for the concept, I was left unsure that we wouldn’t just be creating unnecessary problems.
As Lowrey points out, the current safety net (contrary to the alarmist rhetoric of some conservatives) is remarkably efficient. Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare among others routinely provide services with overhead well under 10%. That’s 90 cents and often more on the dollar going to those who need it. Do we need to dismantle programs that are operate with such efficiency?
I also question the need to make Universal Basic Income “universal”. Yes it would be egalitarian to have someone making $6,000 dollars a year getting the same $1,000 monthly check that someone making 6 million a year is. Lowrey seems concerned about this notion of fairness far less than I do however. If we are to dismantle the social safety net in place of a UBI, shouldn’t the money go to those that need it most? What justification is there in someone making millions every year also collecting an insignificant (for them) $1,000 a month? Are we that callous and greedy as Americans that the super rich would raise a hue and cry if they didn’t receive this money and someone in poverty did? If so, I fear we are as a society so hopelessly irredeemable to concern ourselves with any good that a UBI may do.
There are a host of fascinating questions raised by this book and Lowrey for the most part addresses them admirably. While I might not agree with all of her conclusions, she raises some important questions about what we value as a society going forward.
September 13, 2020
This is the second book I've read making an argument for UBI (Universal Basic Income) following Andy Stern's book "Raising the Floor" famous for being the base of Andrew Yang's 2020 presidential campaign. Annie Lowrey, author of "Give People Money", has done extensive research to make the case for UBI. She shares how other economies/societies around the world from Kenya to India to Silicon Valley have implemented a form of UBI and how successful it was in giving people justice and the right to have a grounded base-line for living and building upon it.

She criticized other UBI scholars, including Andy Stern (she said that Stern's idea of a $1000 monthly income is NOT a sufficient amount of money for many impoverished families), and made a case of her own to fund UBI with taxes other than income tax but with a carbon tax, wealth tax and etc. Her most compelling argument on how to fund UBI was her point that the Federal Government could spend first and then raise taxes later. " It also seems worth raising the issue of whether a UBI needs to be 'Paid For' at all...the Bush tax cuts were not 'paid for' the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not 'paid for'...the Federal Government spends first and raises taxes later" (187).
Profile Image for shabana ks.
27 reviews6 followers
Shelved as 'gave-up'
August 26, 2022
I tired....i really tired but the analysis is so.....painful? Even the opening sentences about N v. S Korea.....why?.....Like the chapter on automation was cringey and didnt interrogate any of the suppositions about tech advancement + algos. And the use of nonwestern countries as case studies with descriptors like "destitute" ...just had to close the book and move on
Profile Image for Nicole O.
62 reviews20 followers
July 10, 2018
This book is interesting, incredibly well-written, and thought-provoking! Without even knowing Annie Lowrey's background, it's apparent that she must be a researcher or investigator of some sort, because the topics/arguments presented within the book's pages are very well-researched, and she has the data and facts to back it up.

While I've heard about the concept of a UBI in passing, I've never looked into the economic policy in depth. It's a testament to Annie Lowrey's quality of writing that no prior knowledge of UBI is necessary in order to read and understand the book. In just about every instance that I've heard about the UBI, it's been presented as some sort of fantastical, utopian theory. Annie Lowrey brings the real possibility of implementing a Universal Basic Income to the forefront. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is even remotely interested in economics, societal issues, or wants to learn more about a Universal Basic Income. The author will actually be speaking about the book at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC on July 12. I look forward to hearing her conversation on this topic with Ezra Klein, the Editor-At-Large at Vox.

Special thanks to Random House Publishing Group! I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jenn.
149 reviews11 followers
July 10, 2018
I have a friend who is a big advocate for UBI, and I always thought the idea was a bit extreme, unrealistic and would never work. Seeing the title of this book, I decided to hear the author out. Despite its very literal action-calling title, readers can rest easy that this book is no manifesto on UBI, nor is it a how to guide on implementing UBI. Lowrey does a good job on giving the primer of UBI, overviews on small case studies of UBI and challenges for UBI in developing and developed countries. Overall this book has made me more open-minded about UBI.

Received an advance copy from Penguin FirstToRead program.
Profile Image for Brian Weisz.
266 reviews7 followers
August 13, 2018
A book about universal basic income - the idea of giving each person a basic monthly income. This would be available for everyone, with no means testing, no restrictions. Free money. Are you interested? Of course you are. We would all love an extra $1000 a month.

But the author spends the first 9 out of 10 chapters describing how awful it is to be poor. As if we don't already understand. In the last chapter she starts to get into the details a tiny little bit, but left SO much untouched. I expected an exploration of how we're going to do this, not an exploration of why being poor sucks. We all understand, almost instinctively, why being rich is better than being poor.

Where will the money come from? Simple: we'll just create a bunch of new taxes. How about a wealth tax, carbon tax, and a financial transaction tax? We could also eliminate all current social welfare programs. And that's about the extent of the exploration.

What about inflation? If everyone has an extra $1000 a month that they didn't have before, won't inflation instantly jump to that level? And how would we address that problem? Absolutely NO discussion anywhere in the book.

What about homeless people? What about people with mental disabilities? What about tons of other people who would be unable to handle the income? Children? The elderly? NO discussion, anywhere in the book.
Profile Image for Aaron Arnold.
428 reviews130 followers
September 25, 2018
The concept of a Universal Basic Income has been around in various forms for quite a while, but it's become more politically relevant recently for several reasons: rapid technological change combined with international supply chains, growing global wealth yet widening inequality, and the sense that not only do we now have the social structure to truly end poverty forever, but that the best tool is also the simplest. There are many examples in miniature of what a UBI could look like; Lowrey covers both historical and recent programs in places like India, Kenya, and Alaska to explore what has worked to reduce poverty, and what has not. For example, delivering unconditional cash grants via India's Aadhaar program (a vast biometric digital identity scheme tied to pensions, banking, census, and various welfare functions) has had many of the intended poverty reduction benefits, but at the cost of great disruption to established patterns of life; requiring that individuals receive their benefits themselves reduces fraud, but sometimes the system crashes, or someone can't send their relative to pick up the money and has to take off work, or they can't make the side deals they used to. That kind of James Scott's Seeing Like a State central control vs local knowledge stuff would be critical in any kind of implementation, both between countries (would a UBI dramatically increase illegal immigration from countries without them?) and within them (would poor people just waste a non-means tested UBI or otherwise stop entering the labor market?), so even beyond the philosophical question of "should we?", the "how exactly?" question remains.

Science fiction has dealt with these questions for a long time, so in addition to the extensive analysis of real pilot programs, Lowrey touches on what, if anything we can learn from those explorations in terms of program design. The founding text for modern sci-fi worlds of plenty is probably Keynes' famous 1930 essay "Economic Possibilities For Our Grandchildren", where he accurately predicted that by 2030 we'd be between 4 and 8 times as rich as in 1930 but inaccurately predicted that we'd all therefore choose to work much less. Star Trek is the most famous fictional example of a society that has solved the "economic problem" and allowed people to work for fun rather than out of necessity, but the questions of how one would actually acquire wine from Picard's family vineyard or gumbo from Sisko's restaurant were usually left offscreen (Manu Saadia's pleasingly nerdy Trekonomics is cited at length). For a different take I wish she had also discussed Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, in which free replicators simply increase inequality, a fantastically wealthy overclass taking full advantage of technological cornucopia while the proles squander their dole in a manner familiar to Dickens. I think the question of whether free money corrodes the work ethic is an empirical question, and as Lowrey shows, while of course some people in Alaska do spend their free money on luxuries, the idea that most or even many people would waste precious funds is more fantastical than Star Trek, where everyone is an amateur archaeologist or chef or what have you.

There are even some conservatives, like Charles Murray, who advocate a UBI as a replacement for the existing welfare state precisely because it maximizes personal choice in that way, and is not susceptible to the familiar incentive-warping problems of means-tested programs: if a program like Medcaid is only available to those with an income less than $X, the strong incentive not to make more than $X can end up entrenching poverty rather than reducing it, to say nothing of how complex overlapping benefits programs are. However, the seemingly more dystopian concept of a federal jobs guarantee seems to be competing for mindshare as the preferred solution for poverty, particularly among liberals. I haven't seen a jobs guarantee show up in fiction to a great degree, but as Nick Taylor's superb history American Made shows, in the real world America still depends to a surprising degree on the infrastructure built during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration, the first real experiment with guaranteed jobs. The two concepts need not be opposed - I don't see why people couldn't choose to supplement their UBI by also accepting a government job - but it is striking that a UBI seems much more popular among intellectuals than a jobs guarantee, given the historical record of each. Perhaps the worry is that guaranteed jobs could become mandatory jobs, combining the worst aspects of the medieval corvée with Soviet subbotniks. A UBI seems much more difficult to run poorly than a jobs guarantee, but the work requirements that conservative states are trying to inflict upon their Medicaid recipients should indicate that a government that's determined to harass its poorest or most vulnerable citizens will find a way.

Keynes was a big champion of capitalism as the best tool to raise living standards, and ultimately the idea of ending poverty is an economic question as much as a moral one. It may be that truly ending it involves a sort of struggle against diminishing returns: a typical capitalist economy working well enough for most people (80%?), with guaranteed jobs picking up the majority of the slack (15%?), and a UBI covering those few who for whatever reason can't handle employment in either the private or public sectors. The last mile of anything is always the most difficult, but since a UBI covers everyone, it's less susceptible to the "programs for poor people are poor programs" issues that that currently plague America's haphazard, rickety, and often racist welfare state. The single most difficult aspect of a UBI is the funding structure, and here Lowrey predictably is less able to give useful guidance, since these are bitter political and practical questions. Alaska's scheme is funded from oil, but not only is every state not Alaska, but even Alaska might find its wells running dry someday. As FDR said of his own attempt to fund a UBI for the elderly: "We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program." We don't have as much fiscal space as FDR did back in the welfare state's infant days, so either coming up with new taxes, such as on financial transactions or wealth, or finding acceptable ways to increase existing taxes, will prove the most challenging part of all. But, as Lowrey shows, there's no real mystery to ending poverty - just give people money.
Profile Image for Joseph.
463 reviews48 followers
June 10, 2020
What would you do if you were given $1000 per month, with no strings attached? That's one of the questions this book poses and tries to answer. I found that I didn't learn much from this book, and that the writing style was rather choppy and didn't flow well. The author strives to argue in favor of a Universal Basic Income, but the text in support of this idea isn't very convincing. My advice: unless you're on the far left, you won't gain much from reading this polemic work. Definitely a disappointment.
Profile Image for Macartney.
146 reviews75 followers
October 3, 2018
“The rich and the poor, the urban and the rural, the elites and the slaves: all worked and worked hard.”

“(In a particularly postmodern moment, a man in a Boy Scout shirt gave us directions when we got lost.)”

“(Would you want a recent felon watching your three-year-old? Would you want a high-school dropout bathing your grandmother?)”

A very hard no to this trite, shallow, almost offensive book. This is Malcolm Gladwell-lite (which is saying something).
Profile Image for Ryan.
976 reviews
January 6, 2019
In Give People Money, Annie Lowrey demonstrates that every time we see an economic revolution (agricultural, industrial, etc.), wonks ponder some form of UBI. Now, with machine learning and artificial intelligence before us and with the recession just behind us, people are once again wondering.

Some contemporary context. Facebook already uses AI, and it had to shut one down when it developed its own language. The gig economy seems to suck for workers, perhaps because workers seem to have so little leverage relative to corporations. Bregman notes in Utopia for Realists that GDP seems to be rising even as labor participation wanes. Who gets that money? (So far, a very small group.) Even in moments of low unemployment, as Kendzior notes in The View From Flyover Country, high poverty levels endure in America. And let's not forget about global poverty. In theory, Lowrey suggests with some confidence, UBI might strengthen the bargaining position of workers because they'd be better able to turn down exploitive compensation packages, and it might soften the blow of both poverty and the singularity. UBI, by the way, is mostly treated as $1K to $1.2K / month. In America, Lowrey speculates that a UBI program might cost $3.9 trillion--a fair bit of money--but in the penultimate chapter she argues it's doable. So should countries do it?

Well, what about about the culture of work and industriousness? People work for more reasons than just money in exchange for drudgery. Sociologist Marie Jahoda, for example, shows that people work to interact with people, they work to organize their time (an underrated impulse, in my opinion), they work to accrue status, and they work to find meaning. If people have $90K/ year (I don't know the real inflection point, but I'd bet it's lower), there is evidence that they'll stop working. Much of the debate on UBI may boil down to what is the correct amount to give and under what conditions. Having said that, there is no evidence that 10-12K annually would threaten the culture of working and Lowrey presents evidence that it would actually lead to greater productivity.

Will UBI be wasted? Lowrey argues that the brilliance of UBI is that it's aid in the form of cash, and she argues that people tend to use cash responsibly. There is a deep reluctance to give money, even though money empowers those receiving it to get what they need rather than being told they need shoes or used t-shirts or canned corn. I wonder whether we can get over our distaste for any waste associated with such programs. Should we help five people by giving money more indiscriminately even if a sixth will drink irresponsibly? (I'm not saying 1/ 6 is the actual ratio, and I worry even 1:100 "wasteful recipients" to "responsible recipients" would be unacceptable to some.) Financial analysts point out that people have to identify their risk tolerance when buying stocks, and I suspect we need a similar concept for aid and UBI. At what point do our cognitive biases become opposition and at what point should they become opposition to such programs?

Give People Money is often at its best when it introduces tangential questions. Who, for example, deserves money from government programs? Agriculture receives aid in the form of subsidies, and corporations receive aid in the form of subsides and tax breaks. At one point a labor activist points out that when American fast food chains advise their workers to go on government assistance rather than providing a living wage or health benefits, it's worth asking why the government would offer them tax breaks or any other incentives on top of paying for their workers' health. Although many conservatives are attracted to the idea of UBI (conditional on using it axe welfare policies, it seems), I note that Doug Ford, the Trumpish premier of Ontario, cancelled its UBI experiment. To some extent, UBI is tied up in group identity; people want UBI for themselves but they unfortunately view others as lazy and untrustworthy. As always, it's worth noting that we are all worse at empathy than we think.

This is an important book, regardless of whether readers support or oppose UBI. It stacks well with Raworth's Doughnut Economics, Bregman's Utopia for Realists, Storr's Selfie, Kendzior's The View From Flyover Country, and Rosling's Factfulness. This is a good time to return to Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age, which may be his most prescient and important novel--maybe Anathem will beat it in the long term. Much of this stack has a leftist slant, but the right's response to the AI threat, so far as I can tell, mostly seems to involve hoarding and bunkering. I'd welcome book recommendations.

A final note: I really appreciate that Lowrey always places columnists and think tanks within a political spectrum (i.e. a conservative columnist for Bloomberg or the left of center Y Institute).
Profile Image for Venky.
936 reviews337 followers
December 27, 2019
According to Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, global inequality, has attained damaging and dangerous proportions. In a fascinating piece titled, “How Bad is Global Inequality, Really?” and published on his website, Mr. Hickel observes that, “the poorest 60% – the ones depicted as the “winners” in the elephant graph – continue to live under the poverty line of $7.40 per day (2011 Purchasing Power Parity).” The elephant graph here refers to a famous and popular graph, originally developed by Branko Milanovic and Christoph Lakner using World Bank data. This graph charts the change in income that the world’s population have experienced over time, from the very poorest to the richest 1%. Mr. Hickel’s findings paint an extremely somber picture. In his own words, “…the top incomes… well, they have grown by what can only be described as an obscene amount, with millionaires doubling or tripling their annual incomes, gaining some 14,000 times more than the average person in the poorest 60% of the world’s population”.

Whilst umpteen number of measures, ranging from the well intentioned to the ill-conceived have been promulgated over the years to extricate humanity from the pernicious swamp of poverty, there seems to be no ameliorating improvements in so far as outcomes are concerned. While a teeming mass of humanity have been released from the clutches of impecuniosity, the progress has, unfortunately been restricted to a few geographies in general, and the emerging economies, in particular.

A tool for alleviating penury and leveling income inequality, that has recently shot into prominence, is the Universal Basic Income (“UBI”). Annie Lowrey, a journalist covering politics and economic policy for The Atlantic Magazine, in her extremely readable book, “Give People Money”, infuses a new and refreshing breath of life into the concept of UBI. Taking an unbiased, impartial and critical stance, Ms. Lowrey evaluates the merits of UBI as an implementable policy mechanism and concludes that this measure ought to be introduced to supplement – if not supplant – the various means tested benefits that exist by the dozen today. Although a book primarily focused on and having at its core, the American context and economy, “Give People Money” also takes its author to the scorched earth of Kenya and the rural hinterlands of India, as she explores the success and failures of various pre-existing Government sponsored schemes direct benefit transfers.

In Kenya, Ms. Lowrey meets with various beneficiaries and recipients of a UBI experiment instituted by the US non-profit organization, Give Directly. Set up by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates, Give Directly remits substantial, and unconditional payments via mobile phones to impoverished villagers hitherto surviving – or gallantly attempting to – on a pittance of 60 cents a day.

She visits rural India, getting herself acquainted with complex poverty eradication schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes (“MNREGA”), rations of reduced price staples such as rice, wheat, salt, sugar etc. distributed via the ubiquitous Public Distribution System (“PDS”) and above all, the sophisticated cloud-backed biometric ID system called Aadhaar, employing which States have started to link their anti-poverty Programme to the system. Piloted and pioneered by Nandan Nilekanan an Indian entrepreneur, bureaucrat, politician and also the co-founder of Infosys, an Information technology behemoth, the Aadhaar system, in the words of the former Chief Economist at the World Bank, Paul Romer, “is the most sophisticated that I’ve seen”. The basic purpose underlying Ms. Lowrey’s travels is to ascertain whether UBI passes muster vis-à-vis the mixed results of government subsistence programmes.

From Maine, Ms. Lowrey brings to us the harrowing story of Ms. Sandy Bishop. A disabled woman, Ms. Bishop narrates in a heart wrenching manner how she keeps losing food stamps, courtesy the maze of paperwork involved. The banal and absurd degree of bureaucracy permeating systems makes it next to impossible for the neediest and desperate to access assistance even when such help is at hand.

In an age where minimum wages ironically mean just that – minimum – Ms. Lowrey demonstrates a strong bargaining power which could be ushered in courtesy, UBI. This is highlighted with a powerful example of how a family ought not to be going about its lives. The Ortizes, in downtown Houston, hustle and bustle their way through a staggering eight jobs at once! The children are not spared even – forced to sacrifice at the altar of a low paying fast food job, the precious benefits of procuring an education. UBI for this family would be an indispensable boon.

As Ms. Lowrey informs us in dangerous detail, the need for a UBI may soon attain an attribute of inevitability than remaining at the periphery as a viable option. With untrammeled progress and frightening advances being made in the complex fields of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Learning, the world is in for a massive job substitution where robots will take over both blue collared as well as white collared jobs. Ms. Lowrey forecasts that self-driving vehicles alone could wipe out between 2.2 to 3.1 million jobs in the US. Hence the prevalent redistribution policies employed by the state would not attain either the requisite level of traction or the desired length of sustainability to pose a formidable defense to this looming threat of structural unemployment.

The proponents of and for UBI are slowly, but steadily making their arguments known and felt in all the relevant places such as Corporate Boardrooms, Parliaments and the portals of renowned and progressive think-tanks. The Economic Security Project, a new UBI think-tank, deliberates thus: “In a time of immense wealth, no one should live in poverty, nor should the middle class be consigned to a future of permanent stagnation or anxiety.” Michael Faye, the co-founder of the intrepid GiveDirectly that is piloting its UBI in Kenya, tells Mr. Lowrey, “We could end extreme poverty right now, if we wanted to.” Philippe Van Parjis and Yannick Vanderborght make an arresting case for the implementation of UBI in their best-seller, “Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy” Adding to an already burgeoning number are stellar thinkers such as Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, the authors of “Inventing the Future”, Rutger Bregman, and Guy Standing, a long standing member of BIEN, the Basic Income Earth Network, a primary body advocating for UBI.

While there is an unhesitating recognition of an urgent imperative to make lives better and obliterate avoidable tragedies, we still seem to be entrenched in the dogma of means testing schemes and benefits thereby shying away from instituting complementary or even competing schemes such as the UBI. An as Ms. Lowrey brilliantly emphasizes, the sooner we change this mind set, the better it will be for humanity.
Profile Image for Nick Fowkes.
89 reviews
December 15, 2022
I have been interested in the idea of a universal basic income plan for a while. This book was my first attempt to dive deeper into the policy idea. To be honest it was awesome to see situations in society where pilot programs have worked. However, I wish there was a little more focus in on HOW a policy like this could take shape in the United States and how quickly it ~could~ take shape. Overall a good read.
Profile Image for Jason Furman.
1,167 reviews764 followers
July 28, 2018
Annie Lowrey’s book is a beautiful example of combining the power and insights that come from telling people’s stories (aka journalism) with a wide range of social science research, policy thinking and lots of passion for addressing injustice and making the world a better place. Her range is truly impressive: reporting from Maine to Kenya to India and on everything from AI to welfare programs to development economics. I learned new things even from the chapters I have thought a lot about (e.g., technological unemployment), was introduced to new ideas I have thought relatively little about (e.g., the intersection between this policy and race and gender), and it also made some aspects of the issue more vivid (e.g., the complexities of current welfare programs).

The argument of the book is simple—in fact all you need to do is read the title “Give People Cash,” or what goes by the name “Universal Basic Income” (UBI). While I am a skeptic on the idea overall (and Lowrey herself is unsure), I think the argument makes two important contributions—one one the wonky specifics and a second on the broader vision.

On the wonky specifics, Lowrey’s chapters on development assistance are spectacular and make a compelling case that if we just replaced all in kind aid (shoes, water buckets, and the like) with cash we would greatly reduce poverty—putting money in the hands of people who can’t afford to not spend it much more wisely than we could ever imagine for them. Similar reasoning would argue for a child allowance instead of a child credit in the United States. (Lowrey also advocates converting SNAP—or what used to be known as food stamps—to cash, a measure I am much less convinced of since the relatively small benefits from shifting from near-cash to cash seem dwarfed by the reduction in political support such a program might garner.)

On the broader vision, Lowrey makes a compelling argument for “the principles of universality, unconditional its, inclusion, and simplicity, and it insists that every person is deserving of participation in the economy, freedom of choice, and a life without deprivation.”

Lowrey’s book can be critical of some of the arguments for UBI. She is, rightly, much more concerned about the problems we face today like poverty than speculation about technological unemployment. While she is a strong advocate for universal programs, she is well aware of the fact that low-income programs have often gotten more political support/growth than universal ones.

Perhaps understandably for a book that is part reportage but also part argument and manifesto, Lowrey is not always as critical as might be warranted of arguments for UBI and larger claims for its impact while providing an overly optimistic take on policies to pay for UBI. Moreover, Lowrey only considers the monetary cost and does not address issues like: should someone who is unemployed for longer get more money than someone that is unemployed for less time, should parents of newborns get more than parents of sixteen year olds, should disabled Americans get more than others, etc., none of which would go away in a world of UBI. And much of the framing does not consider the opportunity cost, for example even if UBI does not discourage work is there another way to spend $4 trillion a year—or a subset of that amount—that would actually actively encourage it?

Only in one spot did Lowrey’s analysis, and the economics underpinning it, rub me badly in the wrong way: her treatment of what economists would call the incidence of public benefits. In places she laments the complexity of signing up for SNAP and other benefits, but in other places criticizes corporations for helping their workers sign up for these benefits (I would note no one ever criticizes corporations for helping higher-income workers sign up for their retirement, childcare and other government benefits). She also describes the existing social safety net as a subsidy to corporations while arguing that UBI would help bargaining power and raise wages—hard to see how both of these could be true. Why is SNAP an excuse for company’s to pay workers less but UBI would be a strike fund allowing them to bargain for more?

Overall, I don’t think the idea of UBI is ready for prime time and until Americans are willing to pay European levels of taxes it will be hard to support a universalist vision. But many elements of the idea are ready for prime time and expanding the understanding of what we could buy with a more universalist approach is a conversation we should be having—and one that Lowrey does much to advance.
Profile Image for JMcDade.
357 reviews
February 17, 2019
Contrary to what the title says, this book isn't a diatribe on Universal Basic Income (UBI). It's a careful look at what might be possible. With the increasing use of robotics and AI, Lowrey makes the argument that we will need to plan for and envision what that future might look like and how we might survive and even thrive. It means re-imagining work and life as we now know it. If you want to be challenged to think in a different way, I'd recommend reading this book.
Profile Image for Keith Akers.
Author 6 books75 followers
September 3, 2019
This is the best general book on the universal basic income that I've seen recently. Most interesting and surprising is how a UBI works in less developed countries. I'd always assumed that less developed countries wouldn't be able to afford a UBI. Even if that's true, the effect of relatively small amounts of cash in a poor country is truly amazing, and a much more effective form of foreign aid than in-kind offerings of food or mosquito nets, which do no good for people who already have food and mosquito nets.

The other surprising features of a UBI is that it is anti-racist and anti-sexist. While we all know that women and blacks are discriminated against, it is hard to go into each individual case and show how systematic discrimination affected this particular person. The payment goes to everyone. But it benefits those at the lower end of the scale the most --- so people who may have suffered economically their entire lives, but may not be able to "prove" that they were discriminated against in any particular situation, will automatically benefit the most, including unemployed blacks and women who engage in "care" work without payment.

It would also enable us to dispense with the welfare bureaucracy and keep homeless people off the street, or people who may have suffered due to chance events --- like a delay in a payment that results in an eviction, and thus homelessness. There are a lot of problems with the "means test" (you have to "deserve" a welfare payment), because not only does this require a lot of bureaucracy to administer the test, but inevitably it's going to miss some people who clearly need help but don't fall in any established category of being "deserving."

I would have liked to have seen a little more discussion of "how we are going to pay for this." While she believes that we (in the United States) can "afford" a UBI, I always thought of the UBI as an income transfer project, not a tax and spend project. What we are really doing, if I'm reading this right, is just to take money away from the rich and give it to the poor. The amount of money stays the same, it just changes hands.

The one thing I haven't seen yet is a proponent of the UBI explain how this would work in a declining economy or a "limits to growth" world. Would a UBI stimulate economic growth? While economic growth may be a good thing in less developed countries in grinding poverty, economic growth is an environmental disaster in the United States, where we would like (I believe) to have people living simpler lives. This is the world we actually live in, where overconsumption is destroying the environment, but people don't realize it, so all of our anti-poverty strategies focus on making the economy bigger. This isn't what want in the U. S.! I'm thinking that a UBI would help in an environmental sense. It would lift people out of poverty and make it easier, perhaps even desirable, to live at the lower end of the income spectrum. If everyone lived more simply, the environment would benefit.
Profile Image for Becky Gallego.
258 reviews32 followers
October 7, 2018
A universal basic income to wipe out poverty. One of the basics of communism is wealth is divided among citizens equally or according to individual need. This book explains how the democratic party will repackage communism/socialism in a new package and present it as something the United States needs. Along with a universal basic income there would be a universal work program.

I really tried to have an open mind when I started reading this book. I didn't know much about a UBI and wanted to gain some knowledge. This book is filled with this "might happen" scenarios with a UBI, but doesn't back it up with facts. It also talks about it being unfair for poor people to work for the minimum wage and it not being a living wage. MINIMUM WAGE was never intended to be a living wage. It states that 2 out of 3 fast food workers is an adult. It goes on to talk about how many of those adults can't work in better jobs because they have criminal backgrounds or lack the job skills to get better jobs. Why should the workers making minimum wage make more money for skills that they do not possess?

Even when you get down to the implementation I don't see how it would help the poor people of our country. In theory you would give each citizen $1,000 a month, but then the other welfare programs would go away. Between section 8, food stamps and other programs most people that need these services would be getting less assistance each month and therefore instead of ending poverty it would hurt the same people they are claiming to be helping.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 442 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.