A Japanese Mega-Collector Is Giving Away $9 Million to His Twitter Followers to See If Money Makes People Happy

Yusaku Maezawa's scheme was sparked by recent calls for universal basic income.

Yusaku Maezawa. Photo © Yusaku Maezawa.

The billionaire art collector and fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa is giving away ¥1 billion ($9 million) to a group of his Twitter followers in a “social experiment.”

The 44-year-old Japanese businessman, whose net worth is currently estimated at $2 billion, wants to find out if money really can buy happiness.

Maezawa is handing out ¥1 million ($9,000) each to 1,000 randomly selected followers (he has close to 7 million) who retweeted a post of his from January 1, and he intends to track the impact of the money through regularly conducted surveys.

He hopes that academics and economists will study the results of his findings.

“It’s a serious social experiment,” he said on YouTube, as translated by Reuters. Money will be distributed to the recipients on a monthly basis over the course of the next year, according to the London Times. There are no restrictions as to how the money can be used.

The founder of e-commerce giant Start Today and online fashion mall Zozotown, Maezawa has become a high-profile art collector, making headlines in 2016 by spending $81 million on five works at a single auction, and $98 million over two days.

Yusaka Maezawa with his prized Basquiat, Untitled (1982). Image courtesy of @yusaku2020.

Collector Yusaku Maezawa with his record-setting purchase: Basquiat’s Untitled (1982). Courtesy of @yusaku2020.

He followed that up in 2017 with the $110.5 million purchase at Sotheby’s New York of an untitled Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, setting a new record for a work by the artist at auction. (The painting later headlined an exhibition of the artist’s work at the Brooklyn Museum.)

Maezawa also plans to take between six and eight artists to space—he’s reserved seats on the first private space flight to lunar orbit, with Elon Musk’s SpaceX program. The idea is to turn the voyage into an interdisciplinary art project titled Dear Moon. The trip, tentatively scheduled for 2023, is estimated to have a $200 million price tag.

The new Twitter stunt marks the second time that Maezawa has experimented with giving away money to online strangers. When he pulled the same stunt last January, with $9,000 payouts to just 100 Twitter followers, Maezawa broke the record for retweets, with 4.68 million of them.

The idea of handing out money to the general public is inspired by calls for a universal basic income, an idea backed by Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, among others.

Maezawa was also inspired by the Japanese custom of otoshidama, in which families give money to their children at the start of a new year.

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