News; News & Events

UNITED STATES: Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, “absolutely sympathetic” to basic income approach

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 981 articles.

Karl Widerquist is an Associate Professor of political philosophy at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University, 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 now serves as vice-chair. 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, the main source of just-the-facts reporting on UBI worldwide. 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 Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press 2017, coauthored by Grant S. McCall) and Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of 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 ( More information about him is available on his BIEN profile and on Wikipedia. He writes the blog "the Indepentarian" for Basic Income News.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.


  • Shirley0401

    This sounds a lot like progress, to me.
    “Absolutely sympathetic” is probably the most we can hope for in 2016.
    The more press he gets, and the more exposed people are to how reasonable his SOCIALISM is, the closer we get to a climate where BI can be taken seriously by national candidates.

    • Sam Farling

      My thoughts exactly! Bernie is clearing the way for such radical thinking. I’m amazed at his ability to address so many profound issues at the same time. Just read an article about how he has no endorsements from his peers. They are all afraid of bucking the establishment. Let’s enjoy the spectacle of him taking on and beating the Machine!

  • A list must be made of candidates who are spot on for the B.I.G. We need to get definitive support and make it very public. This issue is one of the most important for economic recovery. The plan is now for more of the same and people supporting an one percenter oligarch like Trump is crazy-making to me. If minor candidates for President are put on the record as supporting the B.I.G. it still has an influence. I know that Stewart Alexander who is one of the candidates from the Socials Party has talked about the B.I.G on his weekly show in the past.

    So the list, “Candidates for the Basic Income” how do we do this???

  • russell morris

    talking about “basic income” in groups or one to one ( in the context of real time dialogue) is a practice that leads to the breaking through and dismantling of the multitude of fears and habitual reactive conditioned ways of behavior. as WE takes a more responsible perspective for looking at OUR “global money system situation”, WE begins to think differently, seeing things differently ( more clearly) and actually developing or restoring OUR thinking habits so that actions, including speech and “work” effort reflect that which is best for all. life.
    discussing matters like someone else will do it, like berney sanders, reflects OUR present state of stuckness. “berney and his gang” just needs to be stimulated in a way that allows him to see the importance of basic income. when he sees that WE are able to overcome issues of mistrust and are unified in OUR priorities, basic income will be the key element of change. the key element for US to move forward with life. the key element regarding whatever kind of election (options) WE is presented .
    it is important to devote more time and effort to the educational discussion of basic income so that WE can see clearly again. i mean, breaking free of conditioning habitual thought patterns. and building a surge of this clarity that the idea of basic income brings ( apart from the status quo dialogue of re-affirmations) . so that when the time comes for change WE is able to proceed with whatever options present which meet OUR clear and optimal goal of what is best for all.
    i see basic income as a topic of regular discussions which brings about clarity of thinking and the obvious ultimate achievement of WE acting all together for the first time ever in history. globally. the most clever way of supporting US ( humans and all life) when WE is faced with automation more and more, having more time then to be with nature and earth, OUR re-source. naturally becoming more “still” and able to be with nature again.
    the balance to restoring life.

    before any battle …a discussion.
    a qi gong. of subtle movement, action (speech for example)
    firstly, being with the breathing.
    am i able
    to step into
    the unknown.
    do i trust
    other people ( the world as it is sometimes called)?
    can i trust
    my self?
    am i thinking,

  • Dear Friends of BIEN, now and when the E stood for European. I respectfully wish to repeat my 40 year rant regarding BI and/or whatever else it’s called.

    Inasmuch as I am somewhat familiar with and do respect all of your work, I would like to discuss with you, at your convenience, some of the opportunities presented by the general public’s increasing awareness of the always present but growing economic inequalities throughout every country, corner and continent of our potentially pleasant Spaceship Earth.

    Socioeconomic Democracy is here offered as a peaceful, effective and democratic resolution to humanity’s present and needless systemic problems and sufferings. Socioeconomic Democracy will further be found to satisfy the increasingly acknowledged need for a “Next System Project”, advocated by, among many others, Gar Alperovitz.

    The crucial question is whether humanity has yet evolved sufficiently to understand and peacefully resolve the utterly unnecessary obstacles to further healthy development and evolution.

    It is here respectfully suggested that all of humanity seriously confront the multitude of needless problems created by the growing and unjust distributions of monetary income and far more importantly monetary wealth, within and among every country on this planet.

    Fortunately, this appears relatively easily accomplished by simply recalling and reconsidering just a few insights and observations of writers and thinkers down through the decades, centuries and millennia, starting somewhat arbitrarily, to be sure, in ancient Greece.

    Plato, in his last and most mature Laws, preferred equality of personal property but realized that was difficult, if not impossible, to precisely define. He therefore thoughtfully suggested limits on both poverty and affluence. Plato’s attentive student, Aristotle, suggested, with admirable specificity, that “No one should have more than five times the wealth of the poorest person.” Prior to Plato, Thales of Miletus provided a reasonable assessment of the situation: “If there is neither excessive wealth nor immoderate poverty in a nation, then justice may be said to prevail”.

    Reluctantly neglecting all too many other important contributors to the increasing understanding and advancement of an economically and psychologically healthy humanity, may it briefly be mentioned that a powerful sequence of thoughtful humans, down thru the ages, considered and contributed to the discussion.

    A valuable list of some of these people is available at “A Brief History of Basic Income” (see below). Of course, the rapidly increasing popularity of some form and amount of universally guaranteed income for all (by itself) leaves in question just how it is to be financed.

    Nevertheless, this writer cannot constrain himself from explicitly mentioning two of the many contributors to this crucial conversation. First, the world-changing work and dedication of that Societal Engineer, Thomas Paine, who, in a later work following Common Sense entitled Agrarian Justice, proposed and discussed the virtues of a guaranteed income for all.

    Then there was Henry George who, not unlike Paine, did time in a print shop to get his writings printed. One of Henry’s major contributions was to link financial assistance for the poor with a suggested tax or limit on personal wealth, then mostly being land property.

    Over forth years ago this writer, and would-be Societal Engineer, was given the specific ideas of Socioeconomic Democracy. A history of the development and presentation of these ideas is available in our Bibliography (see below).

    Socioeconomic Democracy (SeD) is a theoretically consistent and peacefully implementable psycho-politico-socio-economic system wherein there exist both some form and amount of locally appropriate Universally Guaranteed Personal Income (UGI) and some form and amount of locally appropriate Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth (MAW), with both the lower bound on guarantee personal income and the upper bound on personal material wealth set and adjusted periodically and democratically by all participants of a democratic society.

    Socioeconomic Democracy is easily implemented with elementary Public Choice Theory. The median values of society’s preference distributions regarding these two crucial societal parameters peacefully, democratically and unambiguously resolve the matter.

    Whether society realizes some appropriate form of Socioeconomic Democracy is a cogent question. Clearly, public dissemination and discussion of the suggestions presented here will prove determinative. An alternative to Socioeconomic Democracy as defined above would be where the two economic boundaries discussed here were considered and established by, say, the legislative branch of a “Representative” Democracy.

    This planet’s trivially eliminated or significantly reduced societal problems, by realizing Socioeconomic Democracy, include but are by no means limited to, those familiar ones associated with Automation, computerization and robotics; Budget deficits and debts at the personal, national, regional and global levels; Contempt for much presently practiced politics; Costly crimes and costly prisons, both governmental and corporate profit-motivated; Corporate profit-motivated as well as general publicly expensive exogenous pollution; Inadequate public education for all ages, “races”, and both sexes of humanity; Oversights and confusions of some, but certainly not quite all, Economists and Politicians; Ignoring the elderly, to whom we all owe our very existence; International costly conflicts; national costly conflicts; Involuntary employment; Involuntary unemployment; Lack of access to necessary physical and psychological healthcare, causing unnecessary harm to the individuals themselves, their “close” relatives, and any “innocent bystanders”; Pay injustices to both sexes, all ages and all “races” of our human family; Corporately profitable yet publicly costly “Planned Obsolescence”; Political non-participation, carefully planned, designed, legislated and realized by some, but not all, power-intoxicated politicians; Population explosions; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) traceably caused by “patriotic” and/or pathetic human-killing wars, as well as all the PTSD created by all the other unnecessary societal problems; Voting district gerrymandering; Needless and obscene poverty, racism, sexism, and everything else that effectively opposes, neglects or negates the General Welfare.

    Break Time: Consider and enjoy “Rapids of Change” at

    Responses to this communication are welcome and sought.

    “A Brief History of Basic Income Ideas”

    You may enroll for a daily mailing of BI Newsletter at

    A Bibliography of Socioeconomic Democracy is available at

    Robley E. George, Founder and Director
    Center for the Study of Democratic Societies



  • Elizabeth

    It seems to me that he is theoretically in favor of a guaranteed basic income, and that our best chance of getting to that is to get him elected. People have to be brought along bit by bit, away from the illusion that we live in a meritocracy, where if you work hard, and have a modicum of talent, you will do fine, and that those with lots of money have always “earned” it. I would not want Bernie to lose any support just to satisfy my need to hear him say that he is unequivocally in favor of basic income..

  • Louis Steffen

    Bernie is not the place to go with this issue, like minimum wage and medicare for all, he doesn’t take the “accept nothing less” stance that is necessary. It’s nice he takes time to address the issue, but we really need some real activists to see it through.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.