Korean Basic Income Network Launches Inaugural Conference
South Korea has a new basic income network. According to BIEN, the idea of a basic income took off in Korea only a few years ago, when Koreans with connections in Paris and Berlin discovered and reported back home that the leftist Italian philosopher Toni Negri and the wealthy German businessman Gotz Werner both defended an unconditional basic income. Google soon entered into action, and by 2006 the ramifications of BIEN’s network were being explored, and BIS articles downloaded. In 2006, Kwack No-Wan, a left-wing philosopher at the University of Seoul published an article in which he critically discussed the international theoretical literature on basic income and formulated a proposal for its implementation in South Korea. This spread the idea in Seoul’s left-wing community. The Socialist Party (a left-wing party founded in 1998) took it up, and so did, for example, the University teachers’ Trade Union. A network was formed in February 2009, and several books and pamphlets have now been published, including, most recently, a Korean translation of Redesigning Distribution (by Ackerman, Alstott & Van Parijs).
According to BIEN, hundreds of people gathered on January 27-28 at the heart of the world’s third biggest metropolis for two intense days of lectures and discussions entirely devoted to the proposal of an unconditional basic income. Hosted by Sogang University, the meeting was an impressively organized joint venture of several Seoul-based universities, a number of left-wing associations, and Korea’s small Socialist Party.
The first day (“Basic Income for All!”) was intended primarily for an activist audience. It started with opening addresses by Kang Nam-Hoon (Hanshin University), one of the first Korean scholars to become actively interested in basic income, and Philippe Van Parijs (Louvain & Harvard), chair of BIEN’s international board, and gave the audience an overview of the state of the basic income discussion in Japan (by Toru Yamamori, Doshisha University in Kyoto and coordinator of Japan’s basic income network), Brazil (by Eduardo Suplicy, federal senator and honorary co-chair of BIEN) and Germany (by Ronald Blaschke, parliamentary assistant for the party Die Linke at the Bundestag, and co-founder of Germany’s basic income network), as well as several contributions by Choi Gwang-Eun (representative of the Socialist Party and author of a Master’s thesis on basic income) and others about how basic income could fit into the Korean context.
The second day (“Sustainable Utopia and Basic Income in a Global Era”) was intended primarily for an academic audience. Contributions covered, among other themes, the relations between basic income and conditional guaranteed income schemes (Blaschke), disability pensions (Choi), migration (Van Parijs), single mothers (Yamamori) and investment in human capital (Neantro Saavedra, University of Tsukuba, JP), the “glocal agora” (Kwack No-Wan, University of Seoul), the impact a basic income would have on the distribution of income (Baek Seung-Ho, Catholic University, Seoul) and capital formation (Ahn Hyun-Hyo, Daegu University) in Korea. The conference ended with a very lively panel discussion which Senator Suplicy concluded, as only he can do, by getting the audience to sing “Blowing in the Wind”.
All the papers presented were available in advance in both Korean and English in the form of two hefty volumes (600 pages in all). The conference was also the occasion to present to the press a very eloquent “Seoul Declaration on Basic Income” signed by over six hundred academics and activists. And the foreign speakers (Suplicy, Van Parijs, Blaschke, Yamamori) were dispatched the following day to address seminars, student audiences and activist groups in various places throughout the city (Gyeongsang National University, Seoul National University, Socialist Party, New Progressive Party, Alternative Forum, Academia Communix, etc.).