Bios & background Info

BIEN Profiles: Karl Widerquist, co-chair

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Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has been co-chair of BIEN since 2010. He is a political philosopher and economist at Georgetown University-Qatar. He is the co-founder of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee (USBIG) Network, which he chaired from 1999 to 2008.

Widerquist is best known as an advocate of Basic Income. But he is also an interdisciplinary academic writer who has published in journals in fields as diverse as economics, politics, philosophy, and anthropology. He is a consistent critic of propertarianism (also known as right-libertarianism or libertarianism), Social Contract Theory, and the Lockean proviso. 8, and he cofounded in 2011. He has been a commentator on several television, radio, and print networks.

Contents

  1. Biography
  2. Advocacy of Basic Income
  3. Empirical and anthropological criticism of contemporary political theory
  4. Other political and economic theories
  5. Bibliography
  6. Media appearances

Biography

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Karl Widerquist as a grad student-musician in 1993

Karl Widerquist was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1965. His family moved to Cassopolis, Michigan in 1969, and he grew up there. He completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics at the University of Michigan in 1987. For several years Widerquist pursued both music and economics. He was the original bass player for Michael McDermott, and play in several indie bands in New York in the 1990s.[i]

Widerquist completed a Ph.D. in economics at the City University of New York in 1996, later working at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and the Educational Priorities Panel. He was a Hoover Fellow at the Université catholique de Louvain where he worked with Philippe Van Parijs.[ii]

Widerquist received a second doctorate in Political Theory at the University of Oxford in 2006, and then worked as a Fellow at the Murphy Institute at Tulane University and as a Visiting Professor at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. Since 2009, he has been an Associate Professor at Georgetown University-Qatar.[iii]

Advocacy of Basic Income

Widerquist claims to have been a supporter of some form of Basic Income Guarantee since he heard the topic discussed on an episode of Milton Friedman’s television show, Free to Choose, in 1980, when he was only 15 years old.[iv] But he did not start writing, working, or publishing on the topic until the late 1990s.[v]

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Michael A. Lewis, co-founder of USBIG

Widerquist has worked on Basic Income as an economist, a political theorist, a public policy analyst, and organizer. In 1999, Widerquist cofounded the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee (USBIG) Network along with Michael A. Lewis, Fred Block, Charles M. A. Clark, and Pamela Donovan. Widerquist chaired the organization until 2008 and edited its email NewsFlash until 2014.

Widerquist has been the co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) since 2008. In 2011, Widerquist and Yannick Vanderborght cofounded BIEN’s news website, Basic Income News, and severed as its principle writer and editor until 2014, and he still writes for it occasionally. He and BIEN’s other co-chair, Louise Haagh chartered BIEN as a non-profit organization in 2016 and oversaw the expansion of BIEN’s activities.[vi]

Widerquist’s writing on Basic Income includes several articles reexamined the results of the Negative Income Tax experiments conducted in the United States and Canada in the 1970s.[vii] He and Michael Howard co-edited two books on Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend, addressing it as a small model of a Basic Income.[viii][ix]

He has been critical of the “reciprocity” or “exploitation” objection to Basic Income. Under these objections people who receive Basic Income without work are said to fail in the duty of reciprocity by accepting social benefits without contributing to their production and thereby they are said to exploit workers who do produce those benefits. Widerquist’s responses hinge on the distribution of ownership of resources, which according to him, violates the principle of reciprocity because the law gives ownership of the Earth’s resources to a limited group of people without compensation for the loss of the commons for others. Therefore, Widerquist argues, to be consistent with reciprocity those who hold resources must make an unconditional payment to those who do not.[x]

If this argument works, instead of violating reciprocity, Basic Income is required by that principle. Widerquist further argues that Basic Income, so conceived, does not not exploit workers because it does not matter how one gets control of resources (through work, inheritance, or any other means). What matters is that anyone’s ownership of resources must not be part of a system that imposes propertyless on others.[xi] The absence of propertylessness is important not only to ensure that the privatization of resources is consistent with reciprocity but also to protect all workers from vulnerability to exploitation by their employers.[xii]

This view of property rights as something that both protects owners from interference and imposes interference on nonowners is a running theme throughout much of Widerquist’s writing and his arguments for Basic Income. This idea is closely related to left-libertarian or Georgist views of property, which are based on the principles of self-ownership and some principle of equal access to natural resources.[xiii] Left-libertarians argue that this view of resource rights is more consistent with negative freedom than any other view because the establishment and enforcement of property rights inherently interferes with non-owners in very substantive ways and in a very negative sense of the term.[xiv]

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The first of two books laying out Widerquist’s theory, “Justice as the Pursuit of Accord.”

Widerquist does not endorse the whole of either of those theories of justice. Instead he presents his theory of justice as a separate ideology, which he calls “justice as the pursuit of accord” or “indepentarianism.” The central difference between this theory and more mainstream left-libertarianism is that it rejects the left-libertarian view that equal access to resources entitles people to an equal share of the market value of natural resources.[xv] Widerquist instead argues that disadvantage might be entitle to greater redistribution larger than what would be required to equalize the income generated by natural resources.[xvi]

He makes several arguments for this position, the most important of which is that respect for equal freedom requires that any legitimate authority protects individuals from the most substantively important interference. This principle, Widerquist argues, requires respect for individuals’ status free individuals, which in turn requires economic independence. They need access to enough resources to ensure that they are not forced by propertylessness to serve the interests of people empowered to give them access to resources. Widerquist calls this concept, “freedom as independence,” or “freedom as the power to say no.” He argues that respect for independence in the present socio-economic context requires redistribution to come at least in part in the form of an unconditional Basic Income and that it must be at least enough to meet an individuals’ basic needs. He also argues that Basic Income protecting vulnerable individuals from exploitation and other forms of economic distress better than traditional conditional welfare state policies.[xvii]

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Philippe Van Parijs at TEDx Ghent

Widerquist is not the first to recognizing the poverty effectively forces individuals to work in service to more advantaged individuals, nor is he the first to argue that Basic Income can relieve that effective force. The unique feature of his theory is the central role that it gives to “the power to say no” in an individual’s status as a free person.[xviii] This line of argument seems to have recently become more important to the movement for Basic Income with even Philippe Van Parijs, one of the movement’s long-term leaders, arguing along these lines in his recent TEDx Talk, “The Instrument of Freedom.”

Empirical and anthropological criticism of contemporary political theory

Widerquist’s criticism of right-libertarianism began in 2009 when he published both an encyclopedia entry on libertarianism and an article criticizing libertarianism. The article argues that the central principles that are meant to determine the just distribution of property in a right-libertarian economy can justify government ownership of the powers to tax, regulate, and redistribute property just as well as they can justify private ownership of property. It argues that there are no historical or principled reasons to believe that private owners holdings of their powers are any any better justified than government holdings of their powers.[xix]

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Prehistoric Myths, this book mentions Basic Income only once–on the last page

Karl Widerquist began collaborating with anthropologist Grant S. McCall with the publication of two articles in 2015 and a book entitled Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy released in January of 2017.[xx][xxi][xxii] The book uses anthropological evidence to debunk claims in contemporary political theory. It shows how, since the 1600s, most forms of social contract theory and natural property rights theory—especially those in the propertarian or right-libertarian tradition—have relied on the false empirical claim that Widerquist and McCall identify as “the Hobbesian hypothesis. That is, everyone is better off in a state society with a private property rights regime than everyone is, was, or would be in a society with neither of those institutions. The book shows how this claim became a central feature in the social contract justification of the state with Thomas Hobbes’s publication of Leviathan in 1651. Very much the same claim entered property rights theory a few decades later when John Locke made the fulfillment of his famous “proviso” central to his justification of the private property rights system. The book shows how the Hobbesian hypothesis has reappeared throughout the history of political thought since then and that it continues to be passed on in twenty-first century political theory.[xxiii]

The book argues, few of the philosophers who pass on the Hobbesian hypothesis offer any evidence to support it. Early philosophers relied on the colonial-era prejudice that any civilized man must be far better off than any savage natives. Later philosophers have simply relied on how commonly this claim is repeated to give it the air of obviousness. Yet, it is not the type of claim that can be obvious. It involves a comparison between the least advantaged people in modern, capitalist states with people who live in small-scale, stateless societies very remote to most modern writes in time and/or in place.[xxiv]

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Grant McCall

Widerquist and McCall present several chapters of evidence making that comparison and showing that the Hobbesian hypothesis is false: contemporary society has failed to fulfill the Lockean proviso. The least advantaged people in contemporary state society are actually worse off than the remaining native peoples who live outside the reach of the authority of the state or the property rights system. Therefore, if either of the two theories is to successfully justify the state and/or the property rights system, societies have to treat their disadvantaged individuals much better than they do now—whether that be by providing a Basic Income or by some other means.[xxv]

Other political and economic theories

Widerquist coauthored a textbook entitle, Economics for Social Workers.[xxvi] He has argued that Piketty’s observation that the rate of return on capital tends to exceed the growth rate in the economy should be seen as an outcome of the institutional setting rather than as a natural law of capitalism.[xxvii] Widerquist has also examined the effect that relaxing public choice theory’s assumption of self-interested behavior. He shows that many public choice problems exist as long as political actors are rational and disagree about what government should do, even if their disagreement stems from adherence to competing ethical theories rather than from competing self-interested wants.[xxviii]

Although Widerquist’s work uses some sufficientarian assumption, he criticized other aspects of sufficientarianism.[xxix] He has done historical work examining the many different (and often contradictory) ways that Lockean appropriation theory has been interpreted and revised.[xxx] He has written critically about wage subsidies as a redistributive strategy.[xxxi]

Media appearances

Karl Widerquist has frequently appeared in print, radio, and television news networks, including:

Publications

Books

Michael Anthony Lewis and Karl Widerquist, 2002. Economics for Social Workers: The Application of Economic Theory to Social Policy and the Human Services, New York: Columbia University Press

Karl Widerquist, Michael Anthony Lewis, and Steven Pressman (eds.), 2005. The Ethics and Economics of the Basic Income Guarantee, Aldershot, UK: Ashgate

Karl Widerquist and Michael W. Howard (eds.) 2012. Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend: Examining its Suitability as a Model, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Karl Widerquist and Michael W. Howard (eds.) 2012. Exporting the Alaska Model: Adapting the Permanent Fund Dividend for Reform around the World, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Karl Widerquist, March 2013. Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Karl Widerquist, Jose Noguera, Yannick Vanderborght, and Jurgen De Wispelaere (eds.), July 2013. Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell

Karl Widerquist and Grant McCall. Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, January 2017

Journal Articles

Karl Widerquist, 1999. “Reciprocity and the Guaranteed IncomePolitics and Society, 33 (3): 386–401

Karl Widerquist, 2001. “Perspectives on the Guaranteed Income, Part I” the Journal of Economic Issues 35 (3): 749–757

Karl Widerquist, 2001. “Perspectives on the Guaranteed Income, Part IIthe Journal of Economic Issues 35 (4): 1019-1030

Karl Widerquist, 2003. “Public Choice and Altruism,” the Eastern Economic Journal 29 (3): 277-278

Karl Widerquist, 2005. “A Failure to Communicate: What (If Anything) Can we Learn from the Negative Income Tax Experiments?the Journal of Socio-Economics 34 (1): 49–81

Michael Lewis, Steven Pressman & Karl Widerquist, 2005. “The basic income guarantee and social economics,” The Review of Social Economy 63 (4): 587-593.

Karl Widerquist and Jurgen De Wispelaere, 2006. “Launching a Basic Income JournalBasic Income Studies 1 (1): 1-6

Karl Widerquist and Michael A. Lewis, 2006. “The Basic Income Guarantee and the goals of equality, efficiency, and environmentalism,” International Journal of Environment, Workplace and Employment 2 (1): 21-43.

Karl Widerquist, 2006. “Who Exploits Who?Political Studies 54 (3): 444-464

Karl Widerquist, 2006. “The Bottom Line in a Basic Income ExperimentBasic Income Studies 1 (2): 1-5

Karl Widerquist, 2008. “Problems with Wage Subsidies: Phelps’s economic discipline and undisciplined economicsInternational Journal of Green Economics 2 (3): 329-339

Karl Widerquist, 2009. “A Dilemma for Libertarianism,” Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 8 (1): 43-72

Karl Widerquist, 2010. “The Physical Basis of Voluntary Trade,” Human Rights Review 11 (1): 83-103

Karl Widerquist, 2010. “Lockean Theories of Property: Justifications for Unilateral Appropriation,” Public Reason 2 (3): 3-26

Karl Widerquist, 2010. “How the Sufficiency Minimum Becomes a Social Maximum,” Utilitas 22 (4): 474-480

Grant S. McCall and Karl Widerquist, 2015. “The Evolution of Equality: Rethinking Variability and Egalitarianism Among Modern Forager Societies.” Ethnoarchaeology 7 (1) March: 21 – 44

Karl Widerquist, 2015. “The Piketty Observation Against the Institutional Background: How natural is this natural tendency and what can we do about it?Basic Income Studies 10 (1), June, 83-90

Karl Widerquist and Grant S. McCall, 2015. “Myths about the State of Nature and the Reality of Stateless Societies.

[i]Personal Web Page of Karl Widerquist”, at widerquist.com/karl/personal.html

[ii]Karl Widerquist”, at explore.georgetown.edu

[iii]Karl Widerquist”, at explore.georgetown.edu

[iv]Personal Web Page of Karl Widerquist”, at widerquist.com/karl/personal.html

[v]Selected Works of Karl Widerquist”, at works.bepress.com/widerquist/

[vi]About BIEN”, at basicincome.org.

[vii] Karl Widerquist, 2005. “A Failure to Communicate: What (If Anything) Can we Learn from the Negative Income Tax Experiments?the Journal of Socio-Economics 34 (1): 49–81

[viii] Karl Widerquist and Michael W. Howard (eds.) 2012. Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend: Examining its Suitability as a Model, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

[ix] Karl Widerquist and Michael W. Howard (eds.) 2012. Exporting the Alaska Model: Adapting the Permanent Fund Dividend for Reform around the World, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

[x] Karl Widerquist, 1999. “Reciprocity and the Guaranteed IncomePolitics and Society, 33 (3): 386–401

[xi] Karl Widerquist, 2006. “Who Exploits Who?Political Studies 54 (3): 444-464

[xii] Karl Widerquist, 2010. “The Physical Basis of Voluntary Trade,” Human Rights Review 11 (1): 83-103

[xiii] Vallentyne, P. and H. Steiner (2000), The Origins of Left-Libertarianism: An anthology of historical writings. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

[xiv] Vallentyne, P. and H. Steiner (2000b), Left-Libertarianism and Its Critics: The Contemporary Debate. New York: Palgrave

[xv] Vallentyne, P. (2000). “Left-Libertarianism – A Primer,” in P. Vallentyne and H. Steiner, Eds.). Left-Libertarianism and Its Critics: The Contemporary Debate. New York: Palgrave, 1-22

[xvi] Karl Widerquist, March 2013. Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

[xvii] Karl Widerquist, March 2013. Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

[xviii] Karl Widerquist, March 2013. Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

[xix] Karl Widerquist, 2009. “A Dilemma for Libertarianism,” Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 8 (1): 43-72

[xx] Grant S. McCall and Karl Widerquist, 2015. “The Evolution of Equality: Rethinking Variability and Egalitarianism Among Modern Forager Societies.” Ethnoarchaeology 7 (1) March: 21 – 44

[xxi] Karl Widerquist and Grant S. McCall, 2015. “Myths about the State of Nature and the Reality of Stateless Societies.Analyse & Kritik 37 (2), August

[xxii] Karl Widerquist and Grant McCall. Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, January 2017

[xxiii] Karl Widerquist and Grant McCall. Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, January 2017

[xxiv] Karl Widerquist and Grant McCall. Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, January 2017

[xxv] Karl Widerquist and Grant McCall. Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, January 2017

[xxvi] Michael Anthony Lewis and Karl Widerquist, 2002. Economics for Social Workers: The Application of Economic Theory to Social Policy and the Human Services, New York: Columbia University Press

[xxvii] Karl Widerquist, 2015. “The Piketty Observation Against the Institutional Background: How natural is this natural tendency and what can we do about it?Basic Income Studies 10 (1), June, 83-90

[xxviii] Karl Widerquist, 2003. “Public Choice and Altruism,” the Eastern Economic Journal 29 (3): 277-278

[xxix] Karl Widerquist, 2010. “How the Sufficiency Minimum Becomes a Social Maximum,” Utilitas 22 (4): 474-480

[xxx] Karl Widerquist, 2010. “Lockean Theories of Property: Justifications for Unilateral Appropriation,” Public Reason 2 (3): 3-26

[xxxi] Karl Widerquist, 2008. “Problems with Wage Subsidies: Phelps’s economic discipline and undisciplined economicsInternational Journal of Green Economics 2 (3): 329-339

Karl Widerquist in speaking in front of (a painting of) the Danish Parliament

Karl Widerquist in speaking in front of (a painting of) the Danish Parliament

 

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