Viral cash: Basic income trials, policy mutation, and post-austerity politics in U.S. cities

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During the covid-19 pandemic, basic income pilot programs spread across U.S. cities like the novel coronavirus itself. The policy of no-strings-attached cash transfers marks a potentially significant change in the development of post-austerity politics, but only if basic income programs can endure beyond their trial phase. This paper centers the phenomenon of viral cash—cash transfer programs that mutate and multiply like the coronavirus to which they respond—as a means of assessing the possible pathways from trial programs to standing policy. Drawing on case studies of pilot programs in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Denver, I argue that basic income pilots extend beyond their end-date by creating individual and institutional constituencies invested in unconditional cash transfers. Focusing on these constituencies draws attention to basic income’s role in popularizing child tax credits, program cash stipends and other policy reforms recently enacted by cities and states. Seen this way, basic income’s virus-like susceptibility to mutation plays a key role in seeding support for urban policies and politics that counter prior austerity by centering investment in human capacity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)927-942
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2024


  • Covid-19
  • Urban politics
  • basic income
  • cash transfers
  • policy mobilities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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