Japanese billionaire gives away $12 million to 1,000 Twitter followers
TOKYO : Japanese fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa gave away US$9 million (S$12 million) to his Twitter followers in what he said is a "social experiment" to see if the payment boosts their happiness.
He gave one 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," said Mr Maezawa on YouTube, adding 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 Tech entrepreneur 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, which has gained traction in some political circles and is backed by Democratic US presidential hopeful Andrew Yang.
"Basic means a regular minimum amount offering a sense of security, what Maezawa is offering is totally different," said Mr Toshihiro Nagahama, senior economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
Mr Maezawa 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.
The idea of a universal basic income has gained support over fears technology such as artificial intelligence will wipe out large numbers of jobs, but that concern is for now less pronounced in Japan with its tight labour market, said Mr Nagahama.
This is the second and larger giveaway by the billionaire, who in November secured a US$900 million payday through the sale of his online fashion business Zozo to SoftBank Group.
His first giveaway was last year, when he gave one million yen to 100 random people.
Mr Maezawa, who recently grabbed headlines after 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 his latest online outlet, with videos including a tour of his private jet and updating his bank book after November's windfall. - REUTERS