Want $12,000? This writing contest has a rewarding twist.


Do you have a great, creative idea on how to create economic stability for all Americans? If so, you could earn $12,000 over one year — by putting your vision into writing.

Sponsored by the Economic Security Project, a two-year fund aimed at exploring the impact of unconditional cash stipends, the contest invites essayists to submit a work of speculative fiction that “imagines a future of economic security.” More specifically, submissions should explore “the impacts of a basic income on individual lives and on society at large.”

The case for basic income

Proponents of universal basic income argue that financial hardship — whether because of automation, the decline of the living wage or other causes — makes achieving the American dream nearly impossible for many hard-working people. Policy makers and think tanks like Pew Research Center offer research and recommendations about how to change the trajectory of the economy, but millions of workers may still feel stuck in neutral, as wage growth continues to stagnate and inequalities like the gender pay gap show few signs of ending.

Support for basic income, whereby all adults receive money to live on — with no strings attached — has been growing in recent years. Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Bernie Sanders among the many people who have advocated for it. What’s more, several experiments have already begun to see how it would work, including a 100-person pilot program in Oakland in 2016, a 2000-person trial that began in Finland on Jan. 1 and a more ambitious, 26,000-person, 12-year trial in Kenya, sponsored by GiveDirectly, to start in late 2017.

The essay contest is one of the newest ways people are being urged to find a creative approach to basic income, going beyond the data to imagine the underlying social change that cash stipends could create.

As the contest page explains:

Speculative fiction can be a powerful agent of change, and we are counting on you to show us what is possible. Can we build a new world on the back of capitalism? Will our internal lives dramatically shift once no one is burdened by economic uncertainty? How might our future unfold?

How to submit writing for a chance to win

Essays must be submitted by Nov. 1 and should be 5,000 words or less. Winners will be announced in January 2018. Story settings can occur within any time period, do not have to be based in the United States and should address how basic income — regular cash payments made on an unconditional basis — can create change.

Submissions should address how a new world could be created, what might drive change, prompt questions and challenge current policies. Essay writers are encouraged to watch a TED talk on basic income and draw inspiration from books like The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Makers by Cory Doctorow.

If you really want to win, think creatively about potential new economic concepts, how to address people’s basic needs and the possible consequences of giving out unconditional funds, if individuals were able to spend the money as they please.

But the contest parameters are intentionally vague: “We are not looking for a simple utopia in which basic income solves all of our problems,” the contest announcement read. “We want compelling stories. We recognize that any social change as fundamental as this one will be both complicated and complex. We want the best story to win.”

How are stories evaluated — and what happens if you win?

A team of experts, researchers and writers including Jenna Wortham from the New York Times, Tim Hwang, director, ethics and governance of AI Fund, and Evan Narcisse, senior staff writer for io9, will review submissions. Articles will be reviewed in November and December and the grand prize winner will be announced in January 2018.

The winning submission will be published on io9 and the author will receive $12,000: a $1,000 payout every month for one year, beginning in February 2018. The grand prize winner will also be treated to an awards dinner in San Francisco, with airfare and accommodations covered.

Looking for more insight into how to make your story stand out?

The Economic Security Project lists stories and books to inspire writers. You can also find inspiration from existing experiments with basic income detailed here and here.

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