Elizabeth McCullough Humanities and Social Science
Basic Income: Theory and Practice in Neoliberal Aid
Direct cash transfers, often termed ‘basic income,’ are an emerging trend in contemporary development interventions. This form of poverty alleviation depends upon a particular form of social contract between state, civil society, and citizen. While influential thinkers from across the political spectrum have long supported a basic income, including economists such as Milton Friedman and activists like Martin Luther King, Jr., I will investigate why basic income is taking hold in this specific moment across the development industry. To whom is this form of poverty alleviation attractive and why? How does this trend speak to the current political economic conjuncture? My study will focus on Give Directly, a central organization in the growing trend towards basic income programs. I will investigate the organizations distinct configuration of direct cash transfers which reconfigures social contracts through a new form of NGO-citizen alliance. First, I will explore how the ideas of GiveDirectly’s founders were translated into a particular form of cash transfer. What sort of discussions, debates, and opinions went into this project? How did the translation-institutionalization process occur, putting theory into practice? How do these opinions continue to shape the organization and its work? Second, I will investigate the relationship between this form of cash transfer and its donor community, based primarily in Silicon Valley. Why is this form of poverty alleviation enticing to the tech industry? In what ways is Give Directly’s program shaped through these donor relationships? Throughout my investigation, I will explore the ways in which gender emerges through the institutional structure of GiveDirectly and its relationship with donors.