About basic income

A basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.

That is, a basic income has the five following characteristics:
  1. Periodic: it is paid at regular intervals (for example every month), not as a one-off grant.
  2. Cash payment: it is paid in an appropriate medium of exchange, allowing those who receive it to decide what they spend it on. It is not, therefore, paid either in kind (such as food or services) or in vouchers dedicated to a specific use.
  3. Individual: it is paid on an individual basis—and not, for instance, to households.
  4. Universal: it is paid to all, without means test.
  5. Unconditional: it is paid without a requirement to work or to demonstrate willingness-to-work.

A wide variety of Basic Income proposals are circulating today. They differ along many other dimensions, including in the amounts of the Basic Income, the source of funding, the nature and size of reductions in other transfers that might accompany it, and so on.

Although BIEN has not endorsed any particular proposal, and it is open to people who favor very different proposals, BIEN’s 2016 General Assembly endorsed a very broad description of a proposal in the following resolution:

A majority of members attending BIEN’s General Assembly meeting in Seoul on July 9, 2016, agreed to support Basic Income that is stable in size and frequency and high enough to be, in combination with other social services, part of a policy strategy to eliminate material poverty and enable the social and cultural participation of every individual. We oppose the replacement of social services or entitlements, if that replacement worsens the situation of relatively disadvantaged, vulnerable, or lower-income people

In keeping with BIEN’s charter (as an organization to “serve as a link between individuals and groups committed to, or interested in, basic income”), this motion is not binding on BIEN’s members or affiliates. But it does reflect a widely-shared aspiration among BIEN members, affiliates and supporters.

A Basic Income at this level is often called a “full Basic Income,” and a lower one is often called a “partial Basic Income.” However, the definitions of “full” and “partial” are highly controversial, and BIEN has not attempted to define them officially.

Some short-term proposals currently focus on the so-called “partial Basic Income.” Such a scheme would not be full substitute for other redistributive measures, but would provide a low – and slowly increasing – basis to which other incomes, including the remaining social security benefits and means-tested guaranteed income supplements, could be added. Some members see this as a path toward a full Basic Income; others prefer the strategy of pushing for a full Basic Income from the start; and perhaps some favor only a partial Basic Income.

A full Basic Income could replace at least some existing social policies, but there is controversy among Basic Income supporters about how many and which programs it could replace. The issue of how high is high enough to eliminate material poverty is also controversial among Basic Income supporters.

Many reasons have all been invoked in Basic Income’s favour, including liberty and equality, efficiency and community, common ownership of the Earth and equal sharing in the benefits of technical progress, the flexibility of the labour market and the dignity of the poor, the fight against inhumane working conditions, against the desertification of the countryside and against interregional inequalities, the viability of cooperatives and the promotion of adult education, autonomy from bosses, husbands and bureaucrats.

The inability to tackle unemployment with conventional means has, in the last decade or so, become a major reason for the idea being taken seriously throughout Europe by a growing number of scholars and organizations. Social policy and economic policy can no longer be conceived separately, and Basic Income is increasingly viewed as the only viable way of reconciling two of their respective central objectives: poverty relief and full employment.

Grassroots activism for Basic Income has increased greatly since 2010. In addition, many prominent European social scientists have now come out in favour of it – among them several Nobel laureates in economics. In a few countries some major politicians, including from parties in government, are also beginning to stick their necks out in support of it. At the same time, the relevant literature – on the economic, ethical, political and legal aspects – is gradually expanding and those promoting the idea, or just interested in it, in various European countries and across the world have started organizing into an active network.

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