Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght, “Basic income and the freedom to lead a good life”

Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght, “Basic income and the freedom to lead a good life”

Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght, authors of the new book Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy (Harvard University Press), have contributed a chapter to the book The Good Life Beyond Growth: New Perspectives, a collection of essays published as part of Routledge’s series Studies in Ecological Economics.

Their contribution, titled “Basic income and the freedom to lead a good life,” is based on the first chapter of Basic Income, in which the authors detail the distinguishing characteristics of a basic income (e.g. universality, lack of means test, lack of work obligation, payment to individuals rather than households), providing motivation for each of these features.  

Van Parijs and Vanderborght introduce basic income as a way to address poverty and unemployment without reliance on sustained economic growth. Summarizing their position near the end of the chapter, they state:

Involuntary unemployment is a major challenge. But activation and growth, routinely offered as self-evident remedies, are both unrealistic and undesirable. An unconditional basic income offers a way of addressing this challenge without relying on an insane rush for keeping pace with labor saving technical change through the sustained growth of production and consumption.

They contend that a basic income would “mak[e] it easier for people to choose to perform less paid work at any given point in their lives” and “subsidiz[e] paid work with low immediate productivity”. Further, they claim, such lifestyle choices would result in lower material consumption in developed nations. In this way, the “freedom to lead a good life” supported by basic income would promote sustainability goals.  


The collection The Good Life Beyond Growth originated with a conference by the same name, which was held in May 2015 at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and convened by the university’s Research Group on Post-Growth Societies. At this conference, which presented interdisciplinary perspectives on questions of “what a good human life is about, what its subjective and objective conditions are, and how it may be reframed for a post-growth society,” Van Parijs presented “Good Life and the Welfare State” with another founding member of BIEN, Claus Offe.

Van Parijs and Vanderborght’s contribution is the only chapter in The Good Life Beyond Growth to deal specifically or at length with the idea of basic income. Another contributor, the social theorist and political economist Andrew Sayer, mentions the idea, but expresses doubt that it is the best means to achieve societal well-being without growth.

Reviewed by Genevieve Shanahan

Photo CC BY 2.0 Giuseppe Milo

Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy, by Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght

BIEN co-founder Philippe van Parijs and his former student and recurring coauthor Yannick Vanderborght have coauthored a major new work: Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy, published in March 2017 by Harvard University Press.


In the book, van Parijs and Vanderborght present a thorough history of basic income as well as a philosophical and practical defense. In the first chapter, they elaborate upon the concept of a basic income (“a regular income paid in cash to every individual member of a society, irrespective of income from other sources and with no strings attached”), explaining the significance of each of the key characteristics: it is paid in cash (rather than in kind), paid to individuals (rather than to households), universal, and obligation-free. In the second chapter they proceed to contrast basic income with alternative (but often closely related) proposals — such as the negative income tax (which is sometimes conflated with basic income), basic endowment, Earned Income Tax Credit, job guarantee, and working-time reduction.

In the following two chapters, van Parijs and Vanderborght turn to the history of the idea of basic income, beginning in the sixteenth century with the writings of Thomas More and his fellow humanist Juan Luis Vives, then progressing alongside policy developments from England’s Poor Laws to the Speenhamland system to Bismarck’s social insurance to contemporary welfare states. The fourth chapter delves in more detail into the intellectual history of the idea, starting from Thomas Paine’s seminal proposal in Agrarian Justice and the competing proposal of his contemporary Thomas Spence. Van Parijs and Vanderborght relate the ideas of subsequent thinkers — including J.S. Mill, Bertrand Russell, George D.H. Cole (who coined the term ‘basic income’) — in their historical context. The authors describe the varied strands of support for minimum income proposals in the United States during the 1960s and early 1970s, briefly review the creation of Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend, and overview the emergence of the European movement in the 1970s and 1980s, including the founding of BIEN.  

After this history, the authors devote a series of chapters to analyzing and rebutting arguments against basic income — the ethically based “free riding objection” to the lack of a work requirement, the practical concern that a basic income could not be sustainably funded, and the worry that basic income is not politically feasible. Finally, they devote a chapter to the impact of globalization on the implementation of a basic income.

Basic Income has been featured as “Book of the week” by Times Higher Education, which published a review along with wide-ranging interviews with van Parijs and Vanderborght.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has described the book as “essential reading for anyone interested in the problems of deprivation and unfreedom that survive even in the richest countries in the world” — calling it “powerful as well as highly engaging—a brilliant book.”

Reviewed by Russell Ingram

Photo: CC BY-NC 2.0 Patrick Down

Yannick Vanderborght & Toru Yamamori, "Basic Income in Japan"

A new book has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan in its series “Exploring the Basic Income Guarantee.” Entitled “Basic Income in Japan. Prospects for a Radical Idea in a Transforming Welfare State“, and co-edited by Yannick Vanderborght & Toru Yamamori, this collective volume provides the international audience with the very first general overview of the scholarly debate on basic income in Japan. The fifteen chapters offer a balanced picture of this debate, using basic income as a test case for analyzing the ongoing transformations of the Japanese welfare state. Contributors address many of the key issues faced by other developed nations today, such as growing economic insecurity, income and gender inequalities, poverty, ageing, migration, and the future of universal versus selective programs. Even if some remain skeptical about the immediate prospects for this radical idea, all contributors believe in its relevance for the study of contemporary Japan. The volume includes a foreword by Ronald Dore, one of the most prominent experts of Japan’s economy, and a long-standing basic income advocate.

For further information, and the table of contents, see here

A conference on the book will take place at Maison franco-japonaise in Tokyo (in French and Japanese) on October 31, 2014. More details on the conference here.

Full references: VANDERBORGHT, Yannick & YAMAMORI, Toru (eds.) (2014), Basic Income in Japan. Prospects for a Radical Idea in a Transforming Welfare State, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght, "Il reddito minimo universale"

Bocconi University Press has just published a second edition of “Il reddito minimo universale”, an introductory book on basic income written by Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght (Louvain University). Originally published in French in 2005, this book had been translated into Italian in 2006, with a preface by Chiara Saraceno. The French version is out of print, but still available online.

Further details:

Full references: VAN PARIJS, Philippe & VANDERBORGHT, Yannick (2013), Il reddito minimo universale, Milano: Università Bocconi Editore EGEA, 192p., 2013, ISBN/EAN: 9788883502040

Karl Widerquist, Jose Noguera, Yannick Vanderborght, and Jurgen De Wispelaere (editors), "Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research"

Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research

Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research

Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research presents a compilation of six decades of Basic Income literature. It includes the most influential empirical research and theoretical arguments on all aspects of the Basic Income proposal. According to the publisher, it presents the best theoretical and empirical arguments for and against Basic Income. It includes unpublished and hard-to-find articles. It is the first major compendium on one of the most innovative political reform proposals of our age. It explores multidisciplinary views of Basic Income, with philosophical, economic, political, and sociological views. It features contributions from key and well-known philosophers and economists, including Tony Atkinson, James Buchanan, Milton Friedman, Erick Fromm, Andre Gorz, Claus Offe, Philip Pettit, John Rawls, Herbert Simon, Philippe Van Parijs, and many more.

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

The publisher’s U.S. webpage for this book is:

The publisher’s E.U. webpage for this book is: