Japanese tycoon to give away $12m in social experiment

Mr Yusaku Maezawa will give $12,000 each to 1,000 Twitter followers, selected at random.
Mr Yusaku Maezawa will give $12,000 each to 1,000 Twitter followers, selected at random.

He aims to inspire debate over the idea of basic income, which is gaining traction

TOKYO • Japanese fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa is giving away US$9 million (S$12 million) to his Twitter followers in what he says is a "social experiment" to see if the payment boosts their happiness.

Mr Maezawa will give 1 million yen (S$12,000) each to 1,000 followers selected at random from those who retweeted a Jan 1 post, with the impact of the money to be tracked through regular surveys.

"It's a serious social experiment," Mr Maezawa said on YouTube, and he hopes to attract interest from academics and economists.

Mr Maezawa, who is to be the first private passenger to fly around the Moon with Mr Elon Musk's SpaceX, is known for his spending on art and sports cars. But he also has a predilection for musing on ideas like a world without money.

He tied the giveaway to the idea of universal basic income, or the theory of providing a periodic no-strings-attached payment to all citizens, that has gained traction in some political circles and is backed by Democratic US presidential hopeful Andrew Yang.

Mr Toshihiro Nagahama, senior economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, said: "Basic means a regular minimum amount offering a sense of security. What Maezawa is offering is totally different."

Mr Maezawa said given that he "has the money and free time" to make the payments, he felt the need to try and inspire greater debate over the merits of the theory in Japan.

The idea of a universal basic income has gained support over fears that technology like artificial intelligence will wipe out large numbers of jobs, but that concern is far less pronounced in Japan with its tight labour market, said Mr Nagahama.

This is the second giveaway - and a larger one - by the entrepreneur, who in November secured a US$900 million payday through the sale of his online fashion business Zozo to SoftBank Group.

 

Mr Maezawa, who recently made headlines over his split from actress girlfriend Ayame Goriki, has gathered almost seven million followers on Twitter with his mix of displays of conspicuous consumption and folksy pronouncements on the meaning of life.

YouTube is the latest online outlet for the businessman, with videos including a tour of his private jet, a visit to the barber to dye his hair and updating his bank book after November's windfall.

The debate over basic income comes as income inequality continues to grow in the US where, in recent years, some of its wealthiest entrepreneurs have pledged to give away most of their fortune.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2020, with the headline 'Japanese tycoon to give away $12m in social experiment'. Print Edition | Subscribe