In an interview with Ezra Klein of Vox published on July 28, U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was asked pointedly about basic income. His response this time was more specific than his answer when asked about basic income on Reddit a year ago, but it was still rather vague.

Early in the interview, Sanders endorsed a single-payer healthcare system, which is an unconditional and universal program. He went on to say:

It seems to me that when you look at basic necessities of life — education, health care, nutrition — there must be a guarantee that people receive what they need in order to live a dignified life.

Klein responded later with a very specific question about basic income:

Let me end on a question about a policy that is getting, seems to be, some momentum but it’s not often talked about in Washington, which is a universal basic income. You’ve begun to have people go back to both Milton Friedman and Martin Luther King Jr., saying we should really have a fundamentally guaranteed standard of living in this country.

Sanders responded by saying, “I am absolutely sympathetic to that approach.” But of course, “absolutely sympathetic” is not the same as “absolutely in support of.” So, exactly what he means is unclear. The rest of his answer does not specifically address basic income. Here it is in full:

I am absolutely sympathetic to that approach. That’s why I’m fighting for a $15 minimum wage, why I’m fighting to make sure that everybody in this country gets the nutrition they need, why I’m fighting to expand Social Security benefits and not cut them, making sure that every kid in this country regardless of income can go to college. That’s what a civilized nation does.

Here’s the point. This is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but nobody in America knows it because their standard of living is going down and almost all of the new wealth is going to the top 1 percent. That is an issue that we have to deal with.

In the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, the top one-tenth of 1 percent should not own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Everybody in this country should in fact have at least a minimum and dignified standard of living. All right?

He didn’t specifically mention any unconditional programs and he specifically proposed expanding two conditional programs (Social Security and the Minimum Wage). Therefore, he indicated that basic income is not high on his agenda. He appears to be trying to attract basic income supporters to the idea that the conditional approach can achieve their goal of meeting everyone’s needs, if it is expanded and made more generous. However he might also be implying that he would be interested in basic income if it had sufficient public support to become a political reality. The facts that major-party presidential candidates are being asked about basic income and that some are responding sympathetically is taken by many supporters as an indication of the increase in the political viability of basic income.

The full Vox interview is online:

Ezra Klein, “Bernie Sanders: the Vox Conversation.Vox, July 28, 2015.

 

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 987 articles.

Karl Widerquist is a Professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University-Qatar, specializing in distributive justice—the ethics of who has what. Much of his work involves Universal Basic Income (UBI). He is a co-founder of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG). He served as co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) for 7 years, and a member of the BIEN EC for 14 years. He was the Editor of the USBIG NewsFlash for 15 years and of the BIEN NewsFlash for 4 years. He is a cofounder of BIEN’s news website, Basic Income News. He is a cofounder and editor of the journal "Basic Income Studies," the only academic journal devoted to research on UBI. Widerquist has published several books and many articles on UBI both in academic journals and in the popular media. He has appeared on or been quoted by many major media outlets, such as NPR’s On Point, NPR’s Marketplace, PRI’s the World, CNBC, Al-Jazeera, 538, Vice, Dissent, the New York Times, Forbes, the Financial Times, and the Atlantic Monthly, which called him “a leader of the worldwide basic income movement.” Widerquist holds two doctorates—one in Political Theory form Oxford University (2006) and one in Economics from the City University of New York (1996). He has published seven books, including "the Prehistory of Private Property (Edinburgh University Press 2020, coauthored by Grant S. McCall) , "A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments" (Palgrave Macmillan 2018), "Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy" (Edinburgh University Press 2017, coauthored by Grant S. McCall) and "Freedom as the Power to Say No" (Palgrave Macmillan 2013). He has published more than a twenty scholarly articles and book chapters. Most Karl Widerquist’s writing is available on his “Selected Works” website (works.bepress.com/widerquist/). More information about him is available on his BIEN profile (https://basicincome.org/news/2016/12/bien-profiles-karl-widerquist-co-chair/). He writes the blog "the Indepentarian" for "Basic Income News."