Academic Articles; From the web

Matt Wilder, “Debating Basic Income: Distributive Justice and the Normative-Technical Nexus”

Matt Wilder, doctoral candidate in Political Science at the University of Toronto, won first place in the 2016 Progressive Economics Forum (PEF) graduate student essay contest with his paper “Debating Unconditional Basic Income”.

A revised version of Wilder’s award-winning paper has recently been published in the Canadian Journal of Political Science.


Much of the literature on unconditional basic income considers reciprocity to be necessary for its success. From a normative standpoint, receiving without giving is unjust. From a technical standpoint, the absence of mechanisms that promote reciprocation invites free riding which threatens to erode the economic structure upon which the system of distribution depends. As a solution, it has been proposed that communities adopt social norms that encourage basic income recipients to contribute to the productive capacity of society by engaging in volunteer work. This article interrogates whether this alternative to conditionality is consistent with the rationale for implementing unconditional basic income and finds the instillation of stronger norms to be unnecessary for the project’s success.

Wilder uses data from the World Values Survey to establish his claim that stronger social norms are unnecessary to reduce the threat of freeriding, arguing that individuals with income security are already inclined to act altruistically.  

The PEF student essay contest is open to all Canadian students, with separate competitions for graduate and undergraduate students. The graduate competition carries a $1000 cash award for the first prize.

Wilder also won the 2014 PEF graduate student essay contest for “Internationalization and Variable Confluence in State-Assisted Economic Sectors: Lessons from Canada’s Experience Under Free Trade”.

Reviewed by Caroline Pearce

Photo: Soup kitchen in Montreal, CC BY 2.0 Gerry Lauzon

Kate McFarland

About Kate McFarland

Kate McFarland has written 500 articles.

I was a statistician, then a philosopher, then a journalist for a certain Basic Income News, and I have never been the sort to wed myself to any specific position or career path. (I have always chosen to remain in the precariat for this reason: my sense of duty is strong enough that I’d risk imperiling my own self-development if I were to accept a permanent position.) If you want to learn more about what I’m about, and how I see my ideal roles in the basic income community going forth, read the “cover letter” of sorts that is my Patreon homepage (updated November 2017).

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