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Opinion
Noah Smith

Will New Mexico Prove a Universal Basic Income Can Work?

A statewide "stability stipend" under consideration there would provide the perfect laboratory to test the pros and cons of government cash benefits.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, is testing the idea of a guaranteed income.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, is testing the idea of a guaranteed income.

Photographer: Luke E. Montavon/AFP

Americans are talking again about the possibility of some form of universal basic income. In the past, talk has died down with little action, but this time the idea might have legs. Individual states make a perfect laboratory for experimenting with basic income — and New Mexico could lead the way.

New Mexico’s government is considering giving everyone in the state a so-called “stability stipend.” The amount hasn’t been decided, but $400 is a number being thrown around, since that’s the amount that some Santa Fe, New Mexico, residents are getting in a pilot program in that city. The price tag for the whole state would be $800 million — about 11% of New Mexico’s current annual budget. If the state goes forward with the plan, it will be a landmark experiment that could eventually lead to the transformation of the entire U.S. welfare system.