A short history of BIEN

The origins (1983-1986) – An idea, a collective, a prize. In the Autumn of 1983, three young researchers decided to set up a working group in order to explore the implications of an extremely simple, unusual but attractive idea which one of them had proposed to call, in a paper circulated a few months earlier, “allocation universelle”. Paul-Marie Boulanger, Philippe Defeyt and Philippe Van Parijs were then, or had recently been, attached to the departments of demography, economics and philosophy, respectively, of the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium). The group became known as the Collectif Charles Fourier. Its main output was a special issue of the Brussels monthly La Revue nouvelle (April 1985). But along the way, it won a prize, with a provocative summary of the idea and its putative consequences, in an essay competition on the future of work organised by the King Baudouin Foundation.

The first meeting – With the money it thus unexpectedly earned, the Collectif Charles Fourier decided to organise a meeting to which they would invite a number of people to whom the idea of an unconditional basic income had, they gradually discovered, independently occurred . This became the first international conference on basic income, held in Louvain-la-Neuve in September 1986, with sixty invited participants. This was quite an extraordinary event, with many seemingly lonely fighters suddenly discovering a whole bunch of kin spirits. They included, among others, Gunnar Adler-Karlsson, Jan-Otto Andersson, Yoland Bresson, Paul de Beer, Alexander de Roo, Rosheen Callender, Nic Douben, Marie-Louise Duboin, Ian Gough, Pierre Jonckheere, Bill Jordan, Greetje Lubbi, Annie Miller, Edwin Morley-Fletcher, Claus Offe, Hermione Parker, Riccardo Petrella, David Purdy, Guy Standing, Robert van der Veen and Georg Vobruba.

Seeds of a lasting network – At the final session of the conference, several participants expressed the wish that some more permanent association be created, with the task of publishing a regular newsletter and organising regular conferences. Guy Standing proposed calling this association Basic Income European Network, which gathered an easy consensus, since no one could beat the beauty of the corresponding acronym (BIEN). Its purpose, later enshrined in its Statutes, was formulated as follows: BIEN aims to serve as a link between individuals and groups interested in basic income, and to foster informed discussion on this topic throughout the world. Peter Ashby (National Council for Voluntaty organisations), Claus Offe (University of Bremen) and Guy Standing (International Labour Organisation) became co-chairmen. Walter Van Trier (University of Antwerp) became secretary, and Alexander de Roo (parliamentary assistant at the European Parliament) treasurer.

BIEN’s past and current activities – From 1986 on, in addition to smaller events, BIEN has been organising one major international congress every second year, in an increasingly structured and professional way. In each case, a major academic or international organisation has accepted to host it, and financial support has been forthcoming from many sources, both public and private, both national and international. BIEN’s first two congresses were small enough to lend themselves to the publication of proceedings, but subsequent congresses had far too many contributions for them to fit into a volume of proceedings. Many of the papers presented were independently published and several found their ways into three books largely inspired by BIEN’s congresses:

  • Philippe Van Parijs ed., Arguing for Basic Income. Ethical Foundations for a Radical Reform. London & New York: Verso, 1992
  • Robert J. van der Veen & Loek Groot eds., Basic Income on the Agenda. Policy Options and Political Feasibility. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000
  • Standing, G. ed., Promoting Income Security as a Right. Europe and North America, London: Anthem Press.

Since 1988 BIEN published a Newsletter three times per year since 1988 (33 issues, some in collaboration with the London-based Citizen’s Income Study Center). Publication of the Newsletter has been discontinued, but instead since January 2000 BIEN has started publishing a regular NewsFlash. BIEN’s NewsFlash appears every second month and is dispatched electronically to over 1500 subscribers. Since 1996 BIEN maintains a very substantial website. All issues of the newsletter and the newsflash can be downloaded from BIEN’s website. Finally, BIEN keeps an archive in Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium) which includes, among other items, a great number of books and reports on BI. The titles currently stored in the archive are listed here (updated November 2010).

After its Congress in Barcelona (2004), BIEN extended its scope: now its name is Basic Income Earth Network. All life members of the Basic Income European Network, many of whom were non-Europeans, automatically became life members of the Basic Income Earth Network.