TruthOut Interview with Jurgen De Wispelaere
Jurgen De Wispelaere, a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath was interviewed on August 7th by Truthout, a nonprofit web-based news and commentary site whose aim is to provide “a platform for transformative ideas, through in-depth investigative reporting and critical analysis.” In this interview, he makes several important points regarding some of the issues in the current debate and research on Basic Income.
De Wispelaere’s key position is that Basic Income’s aim should be first and foremost about relieving poverty and social exclusion. Poverty is fundamentally a lack of money and Basic Income offers a solution to that problem. Compared to other forms of welfare, Basic Income avoids the well-known poverty trap, where earning wages leads to a loss of benefits, while also reducing the need for some of the bureaucracy associated with contemporary welfare states. De Wispelaere also says that welfare states already dispense some amounts of cash or quasi-cash, with Basic Income the main difference is really about how the money is distributed. As he says, “it is not just about whether or not you have more cash with a Basic Income, but also about how you get your cash.” Basic Income is characterized mainly by its unconditionality. De Wispelaere also mentions the Mike Leigh movie, “I, Daniel Blake” as an illustration of how current welfare policies can cause significant problems and how an unconditional Basic Income could make a big difference.
De Wispelaere also speaks about the value of Basic Income experiments, stressing that conclusions reached from one experiment may not be valid elsewhere due to limitations of time and location. Nevertheless, he argues that the experiments are worth pursuing and he identifies three key reasons for performing Basic Income experiments: implementation, politics, and philosophy.
There are a number of aspects of implementation that can be identified and fixed through running a limited experiment, things that are difficult to predict from a theoretical standpoint alone. Basic Income, although it is often presented as such, is not a simple policy; it will interact with other policies such as housing benefits, disability assistance, the tax system and pension rights. When doing an experiment, these interactions can also be tested, along with other parameters. Another great motivation for Basic Income experiments is politics. Risk-averse politicians may like the idea of a Basic Income but be reticent to propose implementing it in full. A limited trial can help gather more political support for a wider implementation. Finally, philosophical considerations reflect the different viewpoints as to whether we can trust people to play by the rules, or whether they are fundamentally lazy. Or, as De Wispelaere puts it, “do we think that the whole range of people to which Basic Income applies all are going to turn into Homer Simpsons?” According to De Wispelaere, “in many cases, evidence alone can’t solve these issues. It’s a philosophical and moral argument that has to be fought and won.”
De Wispelaere also says in the interview he is not convinced by the “Robots Are Coming” narrative. First, because we need Basic Income now to alleviate poverty, job fluctuation, and insecurity. Second, because when the robots do come there will be other significant issues that arise and Basic Income is not enough to solve those. Regarding the Silicon Valley positions, De Wispelaere says: “It is a bit of a caricature, but what they are effectively proposing is a very polarized, divided society. They talk about Basic Income as a necessary part of the solution but don’t mention other important social and economic struggles between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. For me, Basic Income may be necessary, but it’s certainly not enough.”
More information at:
Kate McFarland, “Jurgen De Wispelaere and Lindsay Stirton, ‘When Basic Income Meets Professor Pangloss’”, Basic Income News, January 28th, 2017