Universal Access and Choice

Our current investing thesis at USV is about expanding access to knowledge, wellness, and capital. We believe that these are core human needs and that opening up access to them is both good for society and also good business. Our approach to these challenges is centered on lowering the costs of these services and increasing competition to provide them.

Often society’s answer to providing universal access is to grant a monopoly. Look at cable services in the US. We granted local franchise monopolies in return for a commitment to build out the market and serve everyone. Look at our K12 system in the US. Everyone can go to school for free but you have to go to the school in your town, even if it’s much worse than the school in the next town. Look at Medicare in the US. Everyone over 65 can get Medicare. But everyone gets the same coverage even if they have vastly different medical needs.

These efforts are all great successes. They have provided needed services to the vast majority of society. But they are monopolies. To see them any other way is wrong.

I strongly believe in equity for all humans, but I also believe that choice is incredibly important. It keeps everyone honest. It keeps costs in check. And it is central to ensuring equity for everyone.

I started thinking about this during a debate with my kids and their friends this summer about making college education free for everyone. I wondered whether that would just entrench the current ridiculously expensive model of college education in the US. And whether there might be a better way of making sure everyone can access a high quality higher education experience.

It is tempting to say “we should standardize on this and agree that we will all pay for it and make it available to everyone.” How can you argue with that?

And yet we know that approach leads to systems that don’t change, don’t adapt, cost too much, fail us, and frustrate us.

This is the reason I am so drawn to the idea of a universal basic income. I can’t honestly understand how we would structure it, how we make it sustainable, and how we actually all agree to do it. But the idea of spending our money ensuring that everyone has the means to access the essential human needs instead of trying to provide these services makes a lot of sense to me. Imagine if we stop providing these services and use all of that money to give people to ability to pay for them.