Taiwan holds ‘historic’ basic income conference
The Universal Basic Income in the Asia Pacific international conference was held at National Chengchi University (NCCU) on March 18. This was the first conference dedicated to universal basic income (UBI) focused on the Asia Pacific region. Scholars, activists, officials, and guests traveled from all over the world to participate in the event.
Around 100 people participated in the event in person, including participants who flew from America, Switzerland, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, and mainland China. There were nearly 1,000 streams of the Chinese-translation broadcast of the event, and there were over 1,200 views of the livestream videos on Facebook. A total of 16 different sessions were held, with over 100 questions posed to the UBI experts in-person and online. Furthermore, the event page has reached 35,000 unique viewers to date.
Enno Schmidt, leader of the Swiss referendum campaign, gave the keynote speech for the event: “Basic Income and Democracy.”
“The Asia Pacific UBI conference undoubtedly has been one of the historical steps in furthering the worldwide UBI movement, focused on the recognition of Asia Pacific, as well as unity and collaboration,” Schmidt said.
The event has been in preparation since November, when organizer Tyler Prochazka, an NCCU International Master’s Program in Asia-Pacific Studies (IMAS) student and features editor of Basic Income News, received a grant from the US State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship Alumni Development Fund along with James Davis, a junior from Columbia University. NCCU’s College of Social Sciences (CSS) later agreed to sponsor the event, and NCCU’s IMAS department provided additional assistance.
NCCU CSS Professor Ping-Yin Kuan provided the welcome speech for the event, where he discussed how he first learned about the idea of UBI while he was studying in the United States. His master’s thesis advisor was involved in the “Income Maintenance Experiment” in New Jersey, which tested a form of negative income tax in the 1960s and 1970s.
“As a student who came from Taiwan – at that time Taiwan was a relatively poor country – I was amazed by such a crazy idea. And I thought that only the US, a rich country, would come up with such a scheme,” Kuan said.
“After I became more familiar with issues of social inequality, I could see that it was not a crazy idea at all. The question that should have been asked then, and I believe should still be asked now, is why a country as rich as the US allows a significant proportion of its people to live below a basic decent condition,” Kuan expanded.
“Now Taiwan is considered a rich county, and we can certainly ask the same question here.”
Conference co-organizer James Davis prepared a documentary for the conference, meeting with prominent figures in finance, technology, and politics to discuss basic income.
“Universal basic income is the future of redistribution and welfare policy. It has the potential to alleviate global poverty and unleash an entrepreneurial spirit unlike anything we’ve seen before. These interviews explore the practical and ideological grounds of universal basic income, debunking the critics, and anticipating its challenges,” Davis said.
Sarath Davala, a researcher on the Indian basic income trial, presented on the “Transformative Power of Basic Income for India” via Skype.
“Universal basic income is the most radical idea of our contemporary times. It takes the discourses of democracy and poverty to the next level,” Davala said. He noted that UBI Taiwan “has created history by organizing the first regional activity in Taipei.”
“This conference is the foundation for future cooperation at the regional level, which is very much needed to take forward the basic income movement in each of the countries in the Asia Pacific region,” Davala said.
Ping Xu, coordinator for UBI Taiwan and co-organizer of the conference, presented on the feasibility of basic income for Taiwan.
“This is the first step for basic income in the Asia Pacific. It represents an awakening of human evolution toward traditional Asian culture and away from our current inhumane working standards,” Xu said.
Joffre Balce, secretary of the Association for Good Government in Australia, presented on “Rewriting the Textbook to Deliver Universal Human Dignity.”
“The first Asia Pacific Conference on Basic Income was a glimpse of how society can work together for a common vision — bold, innovative, diverse yet respectful of each other’s noble intentions, united in efforts and determined to realize each other’s vision for a society of equality in rights, the self-determination of the individual and the freedom to cooperate for a better society,” said Balce.
Ted Tan, the coordinator for research and information for UNI Asia and Pacific Regional, flew from Singapore to attend the event. He said he “hopes there will be another conference next year.”
“The conference was very interesting and it could have easily been extended for another half or one day. There is still much to discuss on the possibility of a universal basic income in this region, so I appreciate the inputs and sharing of all the experts in the same room,” Tan said.
Chung Yuan Christian University provided simultaneous Chinese translation for the event. Enzo Guo, a Taiwanese senior at Chung Yuan, led the group of translators.
“I felt so honored to interpret for those brilliant scholars with their ideas and findings. I benefited greatly by their talks. These are important matters that people living in Asia Pacific should know,” Guo said.
Musician Brandy Moore also provided her song “Just Because I’m Alive” for the conference and its promotional videos. Moore wrote the song after hearing about basic income in 2015 and performed it at a basic income conference in 2016 for the first time. In June, Moore will perform the song at NABIG 2017 in New York City.
“Being invited to put my song forward to be part of this recent basic income conference held in Taiwan was a wonderful additional surprise,” she said.
“Music reaches people on a heart level and it’s going to take both heads and hearts to make basic income a reality,” Moore said.
Purchases of Moore’s song will help fund basic income organizations after she recoups the funding to produce it.
Julio Linares, an NCCU student from Guatemala, had met many of the presenters at the BIEN Congress in South Korea, where he also presented.
“I argued how a Basic Income Fund (BIF) could work as a way of creating long-term investments whose profits are redirected back to people in the form of a monthly basic income while at the same time making the fund financially sustainable over time,” Linares said. “The attendees were not only from Taiwan but from different countries and they all showed great interest in the topic as it raised quite a lot of discussion.”
Petra Sevcikova, an NCCU IMAS student from the Czech Republic, organized the NCCU volunteers for the conference.
“After working in event management in Europe, helping to organize the UBI Conference in NCCU in Taipei was a new and extraordinary experience. I believe that the conference was unique and quite important for people interested in the basic income,” Sevcikova said.
Speakers included Gary Flomenhoft (University of Vermont, USA), Sarath Davala (India), Julio Linares (NCCU), Gregory Marston (University of Queensland, Australia), Joffre Balce (Australia), Munly Leong (Australia), Toru Yamamori (Doshisha University, Japan), Ping Xu (Taiwan), Enno Schmidt (Switzerland), Hyosang Ahn (Basic Income Korea Network), Cheng Furui (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), and Tyler Prochazka (NCCU). The abstracts for each presentation can be found here. A compilation of the research will soon be published online.
For Kuan, bringing these scholars to Taiwan will help to highlight the important issue of inequality, as many social welfare systems in the Asia Pacific are “not working effectively.”
“It is important to bring regional scholars to share knowledge about basic income and spark new ways to think about social security. This is particularly important, not just in Taiwan, but the Asia Pacific in general,” Kuan said.
Yamamori presented on “What Can We Learn From a Grassroots Feminist UBI Movement?: Revisiting Keynes’s Prophecy” via Skype.
“While I was able to attend only via Skype, I could still feel positive vibes and energy from the venue. I know Tyler, Ping and others made a huge effort to make this conference successful,” he said.
“Let me show my gratitude to them and participants, and let us go forward for an unconditional basic income together,” Yamamori said.
Guo said he is optimistic that the conference will have a big impact on Taiwanese society.
“By gathering the elites and people from different fields together and discussing with each other, I believe this conference has undoubtedly paved the way for the popularization of UBI in Taiwan,” he said.
When reflecting on the potential of the UBI in the Asia Pacific, Schmidt said it can bring together all people from all backgrounds, both in the Asia Pacific and beyond.
“The idea of an unconditional basic income for everyone must remain clear, which is regardless of any life circumstances, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly. This idea does not exclude anybody, it does not fight against anything. The idea of UBI unites and connects people and restores our forgotten values,” Schmidt said.