Media’s Influence: A Tale of Two Studies

Quartz and the World Economic Forum recently teamed up to answer the question: What happened to all the hype about universal basic income? Olivia Goldhill, writer for Quartz, postulates that the premature termination of many pilot programs – such as in Finland and Ontario – has abetted a view that UBI is a utopian pipe dream.

“Multiple articles interpreted these moves as signs of failure,” she writes, “and it seemed as though we were giving up on UBI before it had even begun.”

She notes that UBI’s momentum is inextricably linked to political willpower. For instance, Ontario’s study was instated by a liberal government and ended by a conservative one.

However, in areas where the subject is less politically contentious, such as in Kenya and Barcelona, the studies are receiving far less international scrutiny. Because social-science experiments are susceptible to influence by media attention, she reasons this may be a good thing for the final results.

Even in the best circumstances, these studies are expensive, difficult to grok, and limited in scope.

The implications are clear for democratic candidates Andrew Yang and Pete Buttigieg. Running a presidential campaign on UBI could boon and curse researchers. Though increased public interest may spur grant funding, the money comes with prying eyes. 

Never delivering an answer to her initial question, Goldhill ends by raising a new one: What awaits the future of UBI, now that the conversation is coming back in vogue?