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Japanese billionaire to give away US$9m as a 'social experiment'

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Yusaku Maezawa tied the cash to the idea of basic income, or the theory of providing a periodic no-strings-attached payment.

Tokyo

JAPANESE fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa is giving away US$9 million to his Twitter followers in what he says is a "social experiment", to see if the payment boosts their happiness.

He will give a million yen (S$12,420) 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," said Mr Maezawa on YouTube, adding that he hopes to attract interest from academics and economists.

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

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

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."

The billionaire said that, 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.

Mr Nagahama said that the idea of a universal basic income has gained support over fears that technology such as artificial intelligence will wipe out large numbers of jobs. However, the concern is for now less pronounced in Japan, with its tight labour market.

The entrepreneur is no stranger to making news. Last November, he secured a US$900 million payday through the sale of his online fashion business Zozo to SoftBank Group Corp.

He recently grabbed headlines with his split from his actress-girlfriend Ayame Goriki, and boasts 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 United States, where in recent years some of its wealthiest entrepreneurs, from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to investor Warren Buffet, have pledged to give away most of their wealth. REUTERS