After the resounding commercial and critical success of Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the twenty-first century”, the author himself responded, in the form of an article in the latest release of  Basic Income Studies, to critics and to proponents of Basic Income (BI). As Michael Howard puts it in the introductory paper of the referred edition of Basic Income Studies, “he is wary (…) of treating a cash transfer as a ’magic bullet’.”. However, Thomas Piketty has been a defender of progressive taxation and some forms of BI ever since 1997, particularly the negative income tax (NIT). Although he remains consistent with his prior views on the role of the welfare state, he supports “universal cash transfers for dependent children” and “basic income for all adults with insufficient market income.” Nevertheless despite disagreements, he views basic income as a valid subject of discussion.

In the same Basic Income Studies volume, other authors discuss Piketty’s book from various perspectives. For instance George Grantham evaluates whether Piketty’s view can be reconciled with mainstream economics, while acknowledging that capitalism is surely compatible with a modest basic income. Also Louise Haagh in her article underscores, like Piketty, that BI is not a magic bullet, but indeed an important component for a progressive agenda which promotes social equality and development. In turn, Karl Widerquist stresses that not only entrepreneurs have a tendency to become rentiers but also that inequality depends both on the difference between the rate of return of capital and  growth rate of the economy (the famous “r > g” inequality) but also on how much capitalists actually spend in the economy. He adds that, besides progressive taxation, resource taxes should also be imposed, coupled with some form of resource dividend or basic income.

All these authors, among some others that also shared their views on “Capital in the twenty-first century” in the latest issue of Basic Income Studies (Ruben Lo Vuolo, Geoff Crocker and Harry Dahms), essentially agree that social problems are caused by inequality and that new forms of redistribution (or reinforcement of present forms) are essential to restore social balance, or at least reduce inequality for the time being. In the background, remaining to be addressed is the dark cloud of political control, at the moment very much tilted towards the wealthiest members in our society.

Basic Income Studies (cover)

Basic Income Studies (cover)


More information at:

Thomas Piketty, “Le Capital au XXIe siècle [Capital in the twenty-first century]“, Catalogue Sciences Humaines et Documents, September 2013

Ed. by Haagh, Anne-Louise / Howard, Michael, “Basic Income Studies“, De Gruyter, 2015

Credit picture CC Universitat Pompeu Fabra