Wispelaere, Jurgen De and Lindsay Stirton, “The Politics of Unconditional Basic Income: Bringing Bureaucracy Back In”

Abstract: We challenge the view, typically assumed by advocates of unconditional basic income (UBI), that its administration is uncontroversial. We identify three essential tasks which, from the point of view of the administrative cybernetics literature, any income maintenance policy must accomplish: defining criteria of eligibility, determining who meets such criteria and disbursing payments to those found to be eligible. Building on the work of Christopher Hood, we contrast two alternative ways in which the design of a UBI might apply the principle of ‘using bureaucracy sparingly’ to the performance of each of these three tasks. Relating these alternative designs to the politics of basic income, we show a correspondence between contrasting senses of using bureaucracy sparingly and ‘redistributive’ and ‘aggregative’ UBI models.

Wispelaere, Jurgen De and Lindsay Stirton, “The Politics of Unconditional Basic Income: Bringing Bureaucracy Back In,” Political Studies, Early View published online November 26, 2012.

Central American States can and should move towards the implementation of a Universal Basic Income

Central American States can and should move towards the implementation of a Universal Basic Income

By: Carlos Alvarado Mendoza y Jonathan Menkos Zeissig
Translation: Julio Linares
The Spanish version of the article can be found here.

Recently, the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies (Icefi) proposed for Central America the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI), seeking that the States of the isthmus have a minimum guarantee of social protection, while contributing to counteract the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. A UBI, accompanied by other public, social and economic investments, would accelerate the fulfillment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and, by proposing a change structural in the welfare and economic growth model, could be the basis for the discussion of new social, political, economic and prosecutors in Central America.

Central American governments have implemented actions in order to contain the spread of the virus and reduce the impacts on people’s health and economic activity. However, these states have faced a complex scenario, although to varying degrees in each country, as the pandemic has exacerbated structural problems mainly related to the lack of equity in access and care of public health systems, the weak health care system and social protection and the low capacity to generate formal employment and productive transformation, which has as a consequence lead to high levels of inequality and poverty. Indeed, prior to the crisis, 45 out of every 100 Central Americans (about 22.5 million people) lives in conditions of poverty; furthermore, 82 out of every 100 poor Central Americans lives in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

According to estimates by the Institute, the current crisis could cause the loss of up to 1.9 million jobs, and induce a significant increase in general and extreme poverty. Especially in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, the current crisis could add at least 4.9 million people to poverty, according to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), which would further erode the weak social fabric of these countries of the region (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 2020, “Latin America and the Caribbean in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic: economic and social effects”, Special Report COVID-19 No. 3). Among the main measures that have been implemented by most Central American governments to limit the impact on the population, in terms of ensuring income, food security and basic services, particularly for vulnerable groups, are: food delivery; the creation of new monetary transfers; suspension of payment for basic services (particularly water, power and telephone); and, the increase in the amount of previously existing monetary transfers. Likewise, different types of protection programs have been put in place for workers in the formal sector, among which are teleworking, paid absence from work, unemployment insurance, reduction of working hours, among others. Additionally, additional direct support has been provided to individuals and families, consisting of credit payment facilities, support for workers in the informal sector, among others.

Although the measures adopted by the governments of the region are limited and of a temporary nature, they indicate the urgent need to implement permanent actions, from a long-term perspective, that make it possible to guarantee the gradual reduction of poverty in the countries of the region until they are eliminated and the rights of the people by strengthening States through the universal provision of social protection that allows rebuilding the social fabric of those countries.

Faced with the above, the Icefi has urged the Central American States expand and strengthen their social protection systems in a way that protect the population, prioritizing traditionally excluded groups
and the most vulnerable, the economic and financial damages derived the crisis and accelerate the process of economic recovery. To achieve these objectives quickly and effectively, the Institute proposes the implementation launch of a universal basic income (UBI) that eliminates extreme poverty and significantly reduces general poverty. In its III Report Central American fiscal policy ―whose first chapters were published in July―, the Institute has calculated the costs and effects of the application of a universal basic income.

For the implementation of a UBI, the Icefi proposes to assign a sum monetary to each member of society, equivalent to the amount associated with the international threshold of extreme poverty (USD 1.90 per day in parity of 2011 purchasing power). From that account, you would also be paying the achievement of the 2030 Agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 10, 12, and 16. The application of a UBI has an operational simplicity that pays to its rapid execution, avoiding creating more bureaucracy, opening paths to corruption and keeping beneficiaries in the trap of poverty. By being assigned unconditionally, it would allow not only to eradicate extreme poverty, decrease overall poverty, reduce inequality in income distribution, increase levels of economic activity and create the conditions for new jobs, but also the measure should provoke the modernization of fiscal policy and rebalancing necessary of responsibilities between citizens, companies and the government. From that account, when proposing a structural change in the welfare and economic growth model, UBI could be the basis for discussion of new social, political, economic and fiscal pacts in Central America.

The initial estimates made by the Institute suggest that the annual investment required for the implementation of a UBI ranges from 1.2% and 7.5% of GDP for the six countries of the region, Honduras being the country that would require more investment due to the size of its GDP and the
number of inhabitants of the country. Similarly, Nicaragua would require an investment of approximately
5.8% of GDP; while in Guatemala and El Salvador, investment necessary would reach between 5.0% and 5.3% of GDP, respectively. In contrast, the countries that would face the least fiscal pressure to implement this policy are Costa Rica and Panama, whose investment would be around 2.2% and 1.2% of GDP, respectively.

Figure 1: Central America: necessary increase in public spending by the central administration to implement a UBI from threshold poverty level (2020-2030, figures as percentages of GDP).

At the Institute’s discretion, the implementation of a UBI could be carried out
gradually, as shown in Figure 1 ―in a maximum period of ten years and serving the population in the territories with the highest poverty and less development, consistent with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and with the necessary institutional, fiscal and economic restructuring that guarantees the effectiveness and sustainability of this policy over time. This way of gradually achieving the universality of basic income would allow States to advance comprehensively in the universalization of other public goods and services related to education, health, water and environmental sanitation, housing, among others.

According to estimates by the Institute, among the greatest impacts of executing this agenda, in addition to the elimination of extreme poverty, is the generation of 2.0 million direct jobs; the increase average of 20% in the rhythm of economic activity, mainly driven by domestic production; as well as improvements in the indicators of social welfare and equality. For the general fulfillment of the SDG2030 Agenda in the Central American region, the Institute has identified various probable sources of financing, among which the increase in tax collection stands out. As a result of the reduction of illicit capital flows, smuggling, evasion of taxes and fiscal privileges; as well as by the increase of some taxes that, additionally, could improve the
global progressiveness of the tax system. In some states, indebtedness can also be considered as a financing mechanism. Additionally, the Institute reiterates that, on the side of public spending, it is possible to generate spaces additional prosecutors through two channels: by eliminating the items that are not oriented towards development goals, so that resources can be reallocated to programs that have such an orientation; as well as by improving efficiency of those that can generate better results in economic and social terms.

Table 1: Fiscal Space on the Taxation Side

The gradual implementation of a universal basic income, together with the advancement of public investments that guarantee the fulfillment of development goals, and a comprehensive fiscal reform ―more income, public spending based on results, greater transparency and an effective fight against corruption – are the elements that will allow Central Americans to successfully face this health and economic crisis, expanding rights and rebalancing social responsibilities. For this reason, the Institute urges all of society – peasant movements and promoters of individual human rights, workers, businessmen, academia, political parties and governments in office – to promote an open and sensible national dialogue, with a vision of the future, that has as objective of transforming States through a social, economic and fiscal pact that changes current political and socioeconomic trends and sets Central America on the path of sustainable, inclusive and democratic development to which the great majority aspire.

In particular, the states of the countries of the region must advance in the strengthening of their social protection programs, a central element of policy that allows reducing existing inequalities, not only in terms of income, but also from an inclusive perspective in economic terms and social that promote social cohesion. Furthermore, for Icefi, reducing the exacerbation of the poverty conditions in which more than half of Central Americans live may be possible by universalizing access to social protection programs, since the current context has only accentuated the existing limitations in terms of of the economic and social model. A better Central America is possible to the extent that an inclusive development model is formulated and built in economic, social and environmental terms, so that a universal basic income ensures a minimum base of protection that is accompanied by policies that guarantee for all a quality education; access to timely, effective and efficient health services; have public services of economic and social infrastructure that favor social cohesion; and that all implemented policies are consistent with an environmentally friendly strategy.

Originally posted in Spanish in Sin Permiso here.

Why I March for Basic Income

Why I March for Basic Income

Below is the a copyedited version of the speech I delivered at the Basic Income March, New York, October 26, 2019 in the Bronx, New York, October 26, 2019. Pierre Madden ranscribed and copyedited it, in Montreal, Quebec, September 2020. Then I copyedited it again, at St. Elizabeth’s, Napoleon Avenue, New Orleans, September 11-13, 2020

I march for UBI because it’s wrong to come between anybody and the resources they need to survive and that is exactly what we do in just about every country in the world today. Poverty doesn’t just happen. People don’t get themselves into poverty. Poverty is a lack of access to resources. The world is full of resources. The only reason you can lack access to the resources you need to survive is because somebody else controls them whether it’s an owner, whether it’s a politburo or whether it’s a bureaucracy. It doesn’t matter who controls them. If it’s not you and they say you can’t use them unless you do what we say, you are not free.

YouTube player
A video of the actual speech, October 26, 2019

Freedom is independence. Freedom is the power to say no to anybody who wants to give you orders. But we’ve set up the world so it seems so natural that some people should just own the earth. And the rest of us, the 90%, the 99%, we all have to go to them to get our job or we have no resources to keep us alive. And we call that “work.” We act like there’s no other kind. As if the only thing work could possibly mean is going and taking orders from somebody who has more privileges than you do. Working for yourself has become impossible. It’s been impossible since we kicked the peasants off the land and enclosed the commons. Working for yourself has been impossible since we killed the buffalo. Working for yourself has been impossible since we abducted the slaves. And the freed slaves knew this at the end of the Civil War. That’s why they asked for 40 acres and a mule. Unfortunately, their masters knew it too: that’s why they didn’t get it.

Marching from Harlem to the South Bronx
October 26, 2019

There’s nothing wrong with a job. Jobs don’t make you unfree. What makes you unfree is when instead of saying I want you to work for me so I am going to pay you enough that you’ll want to work for me, they say I’m going to take everything starve you into submission. A small group of owners took all the resources. They didn’t invent these resources. These resources were here before all of us. And this group of people, this tiny little privileged group of people are going to take all the resources and they are not going to share with anybody until the people who have nothing provide services for the people who already own everything. That’s why when you control resources, you don’t get just the resources; you get to control other people.

The obligation should go in the other direction. Instead of the poor being obliged to work for the rich, the rich should be obliged to work for the poor. The only thing you could possibly do to justify owning resources, to own more resources than other people do, to have more access to resources, to have more control over resources, to use and use up more resources than other people do, is to provide some sort of service for them.

The New York Basic Income March, October 16, 2019

That’s why we need to tax the owners of property. All property is made out of resources. Every single piece of property, even on the internet. You need a place to stand when you make the internet. You need energy to make that internet work. All property is made out of resources.

They’ll tell you they’ve paid for those resources. No, they paid the last guy who owned them. They didn’t pay all of us who don’t own any resources. If you want to take a part of the earth that was here before you, you’ve got to pay back, provide a service for those who own nothing. That’s why you have to pay a tax on resources and the distribution of the revenue from that tax has to be unconditional.

But they’ll say, that’s something for nothing. No, that’s exactly backwards. The system we have now is something for nothing, where people who own the Earth don’t pay anything to those of us who therefore must do without. That’s something for nothing.

The South Bronx, October 26, 2019

We pretend we’re free because we have a choice of which one of these property owners we can work for. A choice of masters is not freedom. Freedom is independence. Freedom is the power to say no to anyone who would want to be your master. When you establish that, everybody gets some of the value of the resources of this earth, enough to live in dignity, enough to survive, enough that you don’t have to work unless somebody makes it worth your while. Oh, but they will say: All those lazy workers won’t work if you do that.

Notice how it’s always lazy workers and never cheap employers. No, that’s never said. So what we’re really doing when we say this, is we’re taking sides in a dispute. When somebody offers a job and somebody else doesn’t want it, that’s a dispute about wages and working conditions. Everyone has their price, right? So, if there’s a good price, people will take it: Good wages, good working conditions. Someone will take that job. But if we say whatever the wage is, if you don’t take that job you’re a lazy worker. Never a cheap employer. It’s like we’re looking at a dispute and pretending it’s not even a dispute. We’re pretending that only this side counts. We’re taking sides in a dispute, and we’re siding with the most privileged person. We’re morally judging the weakest, the least powerful person, the most vulnerable person, and leaving the privileged people beyond reproach, as if they’re not even a party to a dispute.

YouTube player
A video documentary of the Basic Income March,
Harlem to the South Bronx, Ching Juhl,
October 26, 2019

That’s the way the system works today.

And that’s based on a ridiculous assumption that the privileged people of the world, whether they’re in government or whether they’re private resource owners, they get to judge everybody else. They get to judge the weak and the vulnerable. They say: you deserve to live; you don’t. You go be homeless, you go eat out of dumpsters or do whatever else you have to do to keep yourself alive. That is the ridiculous assumption that there is anyone who doesn’t deserve the basic resources that they need to survive. And they decide who’s deserving on the self-serving assumption that privileged people have the right to judge whether unprivileged people deserve to survive. Those assumptions are self-serving to begin with. And look how self-servingly they use that power! In practice, the number one thing that we ask of the poor is, “if you’re truly needy, are you willing to work for the rich?

Are you willing to work for people who own property? That’s what you’ve got to do to prove that you’re worthy. That’s so self-serving on the part of the privileged. And for almost all of us, it’s self-defeating, because most of us don’t have enough property to work for ourselves. The vast majority of us have to work for someone who owns enough property to hire us. By creating the situation where the more privileged to get to block the less privileged from the resources they need to survive, we’ve created a situation where just about everybody has to work either directly or indirectly for the wealthiest of us.

Marching from Harlem to the Bronx, October 26, 2020

And that creates this terrible work incentive problem. When they talk about incentives, they only talk about the incentives for those lazy workers to work. What about the incentive for those cheap employers to pay good wages? That incentive problem doesn’t just affect the people at the low end. 41 years ago, real per capita income was half of what it is now. That means we could all be working half as much and consuming the same or we could be working the same and consuming twice as much as we did 41 years ago. But most people are working just as much as their parents were 41 years ago and consuming little if any more than their parents did 41 years ago. We’ve had all this economic growth all this automation in the past 41 years and the benefits have all gone to the top 1%. Basic Income is not just for those other people at the low end, it’s for everybody who has no other choice but to work for a living.

We have owed each other a Basic Income since we enclosed the common lands, since we abducted the slaves, since we killed the buffalo not because some long-dead person stole something from some other long-dead person but because they created a system that privileges some, impoverishes others, and corrupts us all. We all owe each other a Basic Income now. That’s why I’m marching today and thank you for joining me.
Karl Widerquist, the Bronx, New York, October 26, 2019, final edits St. Elizabeth’s, Napoleon Avenue, New Orleans, September 13, 2020

YouTube player
A video interview of Karl Widerquist, by Ching Juhl, June 22, 2020


All the images and videos above are by Ching Juhl of Juhl Media.



Pierre Madden, transcribed this text, did some of the copyedting.


For David Graeber

For David Graeber

Since I heard from a mutual friend at lunchtime today: ‘David is gone’, the shock I felt then seems to have reverberated around the world. One of the most curious of minds, finest of writers, kindest of hearts, most courageous and consistent callers of bull shit ever. Gone.

David and I met over a Twitter conversation about the appalling copy editing of the first edition of ‘Debt the 5000 years’. After swallowing the book whole when it came out in 2011, I complained on Twitter that it must not have had an editor, some of the sentences didn’t read as smoothly as most of the others, in fact were pretty confusing. David came back immediately that no, in fact it had too many, apparently nine before publication, but he was red-lining a copy for the paperback edition. I grumped in response that yes that’s it, no one had pulled a paper copy before, impossible to see all the faults on screen.

The last chapter of ‘Debt’ reintroduced me to the concept of basic income and sent me off round the internet to find out about it. UBI pulled together all the strands of my organising over the previous 30 years: housing, heath, welfare, work and women. Unlike monetary reform I could talk about it from my own experience, from the gut. I liked the fact that people either loved or hated the idea straight away, and it was fun to talk people round who immediately disliked the idea to at least consider it more seriously.

Later on in 2013 I invited David round for food with a friend, after feeling that if he had finally responded to Brad deLong’s obsessive trolling he must be lonely. He arrived in spatz, and was somehow nothing like the writer, or the Twitter warrior in his gentleness and kindness. I myself was at a low ebb: my job as a welfare rights advisor was getting ever bleaker with the reforms, and the propaganda campaign against claimants.  His interest in the idea that shame about welfare is the flip-side of the shame about debt was encouraging, and he respected my experience even without a book to my name. We went on to be great buddies.

Since I’d lived in London and been politically active here since 1981, I knew the genealogies of most groups and people on the left. From David I got a better picture of what had been going on in the US in the aftermath of Occupy and in academia. We talked a lot about value, and care, politics of course – though we didn’t always agree – and personal travails, especially as Americans abroad.

By 2013 I was also trying to organise a movement for basic income here in the UK, but not making much of it. Over the next years David was consistently encouraging, getting me to speak about it at meetings, getting me a gig on the Keiser Report, doing an interview about it with me for Occupy London Youtube. I don’t know that I would have stuck with basic income without David. He helped me find my voice.

David refused to be pigeon-holed into writing about just one thing after he had a lot of pressure to carry on about debt after the success of ‘Debt’. He insisted that there was little point in being famous if he didn’t use it to write or talk about whatever interested him. We are all the richer for it, with considerations of bullying, democracy, bureaucracy, money, work, play, the future, care and many other subjects that defy expectation, challenge assumptions and expand our minds.

When David interviewed me about basic income for the final chapter of ‘Bullshit Jobs’ in 2018 I was worried about protecting the charity I worked for, so I didn’t want to be named. Also it seemed apt if everybody else was under a pseudonym that I should be too. He was sceptical, but respected it. And then made me two people for good measure.

David used the power he had as an academic, activist and a writer, and the money he earned by it, to pull many people and groups out of financial, academic, political holes. Others will talk in more detail about his role in saving the Syrian Kurds from Isis, but this is only the most famous of his interventions. He added his voice to defend Corbyn from the accusations of anti-semitism when Corbyn wasn’t defending himself. While a self-proclaimed anarchist, a practitioner and defender of direct action, an expert in consensus-building within groups, he was also a pragmatist about working with politicians, and did whatever he could to support working class demands.

David enjoyed what he had, and never forgot where he came from. He constantly acknowledged the fact that he got many of his ideas from conversations with other people, and insisted that the famous ‘We are the 99%’ was written by committee. He wrote and said publicly what so many of us thought or experienced silently, and in doing so changed our collective consciousness about it.

He always said, ‘The problem with privilege is that not everyone has it’. David lived his life working to spread what privilege he had as widely as he could, in whatever way came to hand. For that his life stands as an example of what to do with privilege, while owning one’s access to it.

That was the foundation of his support for basic income. For him it was a way to spread his privilege of having a secure, and sufficient income, while also having the freedom to pretty much do what he wanted. He wanted everyone to have that. ‘The imagination strikes back’, he said about it.

He was quite insistent that we start the negotiations high. ‘Oh I don’t know, about £30k? That’s good, isn’t it?’

I’m so grateful for what David wrote, and what he did, for our friendship and laughter over the years. But now there will always be that next other thing I won’t be able to discuss with him when it occurs.

I’ll always miss him. Forever.

More results of the Finnish experiment published

More results of the Finnish experiment published

At a presentation on Wednesday 6th May, Kela, the Finnish social security agency, gave further results from the first year of its Basic Income experiment.

The trial group was 2,000 randomly selected unemployed individuals who had their unemployment benefit made unconditional for a period of two years. A control group of 173,000 unemployed individuals had no changes made to their unemployment benefit.

During the first year of the trial there was no statistically significant change in employment market activity among the trial sample. Analysis of the data generated by the second year of the experiment has now shown that, for the trial group, employment rose on average by six days between November 2017 and October 2018. Larger increases were experienced by families with children, and by individuals whose mother tongue was not Finnish. Evaluation of the second year’s employment data had been complicated by the implementation of a more activation-oriented social security system for unemployed individuals half way through the experiment, which means that changes in employment market behaviour will have been affected by various consequences of the new policy as well as by the unconditionality of the trial group’s unemployment benefit.

The response rate to survey questions about wellbeing was predictably low, but it had still been possible to conclude that, compared with 5,000 randomly selected individuals from the control group, the trial group had experienced a higher rate of generalised trust, less stress, less depression, less bureaucracy, less financial stress, and better cognitive functioning.

From interviews with 81 recipients of the Basic Income, it was discovered that some had experienced a wider variety of participation in society outside employment, and that a sense of autonomy had increased.

The researchers had concluded that wellbeing effects were more significant than employment market effects, which mirrored results from experiments with different but similar mechanisms in Canada and the Netherlands.

A telephone survey to gauge public opinion after the experiment had found that 46% of respondents believed that a Basic Income should be introduced.

The discussion that followed the presentation explored the definition of Basic Income, whether different experiments could be compared if they were experimenting with different things, the importance of a secure layer of income, how long it would take to implement a Basic Income, the importance of social experiments, whether a Basic Income would make people lazy, and the extent to which the effects of a nationwide and permanent implementation of a Basic Income scheme would differ from those of a two year experiment.

Still to do: a report in English; a report on experiment participants’ use of other social benefits and services; and a study of the reasons for individuals with a non-Finnish mother tongue had been disproportionately enabled by their Basic Incomes to gain new skills and find employment.

To see a recording of the presentation, click here.

The final report can be found here. An English summary will be found on the last few pages, starting on page 187.

Social Europe has published an article about the results by Philippe Van Parijs