If you think about it,
we already have everything we need to offset inequality: the people who can help and the people who need it.
Today, one percent of an average salary in the global north can be equal to a full salary in much of the global south. Many people in wealthier countries are committed to addressing inequality, though they don’t always know how or where to start. At the same time, the widespread use of mobile phone-based money transfer services in developing countries has made it easier than ever to send money directly to people in need at almost no cost.
What is Social Income?
The Social Income project wants to harness this potential by combining two approaches to wealth redistribution. The first is universal basic income, which experts agree is highly promising, though still hard to implement on a large scale. The second is direct cash donations to people living in poverty. Not only has research shown that those who receive direct aid greatly benefit from the money, it’s also shown that they use it locally, responsibly, and successfully.
Sending regular, long-term cash contributions to people in need can have a big impact on reducing poverty. And we think it can be done from person to person, without relying on government improvements to social infrastructure, which is mostly non-existent in the world’s poorest countries. By directly sending cash to recipients, Social Income also circumvents the administrative costs that are unfortunately hard to avoid for NGOs.
How does Social Income work?
Contributors pay 1% of their monthly paycheck, which is added to the social income fund and directly deposited to a recipient’s mobile phone. The amount is determined by the average monthly salary where recipients live. For Social Income to be effective, it should be about 30% of an average local salary.
In Sierra Leone, for example, a monthly salary is typically about $60, so recipients in this case would be given $20 each per month. If a contributor’s salary were $6,000 per month, their 1% donation of $60 would then be split into three universal basic incomes of $20 each. Recipients would be paid without conditions, and would be guaranteed to receive payments every month for three years.
Who benefits from Social Income?
Socal Income won’t end structural inequality once and for all. But it will build a foundation for real change, helping people who live in poverty and giving everyone a chance to contribute to a fairer, more sustainable future.
The project’s approach to redistribution will take the enormous income gap between global north and south as a starting point. By deliberately asking for a modest minimum contribution of 1%, we hope to make it possible for people from all walks of life to donate. This could evolve over time, too, depending on how willing the public is to address inequality in this way. Social Income shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for solutions like policy, law, education, and healthcare, but a complement to them.
This project by Random Institute is made possible by funding from the art institution Stroom (The Hague), who invited us to develop a proposal centered around an urgent issue.
For more information see: socialincome.org