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How a North Carolina casino created a case study on unconditional basic income

Unconditional basic income is a popular idea these days, particularly in the tech community, as one way to respond to growing inequality. (Though, could our current levels of inequality just be the result of a larger economic cycle?)

One of the obvious counterarguments is that free money will make people lazy. But there are a number of studies out there, including real world examples, that suggest this isn’t necessarily true.

Wired recently published an interesting recount of one such example. 

In the late 90′s the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina opened up a casino. Many would argue that casinos are horrible as an economic development tool, but in this instance the roughly 15,000 tribal members were all promised an equal cut of the casino’s profits.

The first payments worked out to about $595 each. But in 2016, each tribal member received approximately $12,000. 

The operator takes 3% of annual profits as a management fee, and then the rest is funneled back into the community to cover things like healthcare and infrastructure. About half of the casino’s profits go toward these “per capita payments.”

All of this has made for an interesting case study on what can happen when you distribute unconditional money to low-income households. 

What researchers discovered was a slew of positive externalities ranging from not only higher household incomes and fewer people below the poverty line, but also better health outcomes and children staying in school longer.

For the full Wired article, click here.

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