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AUDIO: Universal Basic Income – Has its time come?

This twenty-seven-minute audio broadcast from BBC World Service is dedicated to discussing basic income, on general terms, and has been played for the first time on the 20th of November, 2016. The discussion is chaired by Ed Butler, who has invited Louise Haagh (University of York and Basic Income Earth Network Co-chair), Michael Faye, Michael Tanner (economist, senior fellow at the Cato Institute) and Ian Gough (visiting professor at the London School of Economics).


Michael Faye starts out by saying that giving cash directly to people is more effective than all the advice and control any “expert” can provide. He communicates that Give Directly is presently launching the most ambitious program ever in the organization, providing a basic income for 25,000 people in East Africa, for 15 years. According to him, there is plenty of positive evidence from these trials, with people investing the money in improving their lives. He concludes that cash transfers are effective, whether given to less or more developed nations (in spite of their differences).


Louise argues that the case for basic income does not rely solely on evidence collected from pilots, but also by verifying the limitations and problems with welfare states. State’s response to growing precariousness, lower wages and rising economic insecurity has been ineffective and ever more punitive. The moral error here, according to Louise, is to qualify people as deserving and not deserving, in order to provide them with social benefits (even just for the bare minimum of subsistence). She refers to basic income as possibly cost neutral (although some critics challenge this notion), using tax structures to transfer money from the relatively wealthy to the relatively poor. Louise points out that most current basic income proposals are not meant to replace the welfare state, with its wide range of public services, but to complement it.

Louise Haagh (credit to: Michael Husen, BIEN Danmark)

Louise Haagh (credit to: Michael Husen, BIEN Danmark)


Michael Tanner states that in principle the basic income idea is a good one. It is less paternalistic, and creates more incentives within the system. He feels the problems arise in the practical aspects of implementation, citing the (presumed) prohibitively expensive cost for rolling out the policy in the United States. This, he thinks, means that basic income will not be taken up in the US any time soon. However, he recognizes that the present social security system is failing, regarding a basic income strategy as more humane and efficient. He also agrees that delinking income from work is beneficial when it comes to some aspects of social security, and that this may actually eliminate the associated disincentives to work (of the present system). Treating people like adults and not paternalizing them with conditions is, according to him, the way forward. In his final words, Tanner expresses that basic income is one of the most promising ideas for social development.


On the critical side of basic income, Ian Gough does not believe that basic income experiments in poorer countries are helpful for the case of (basic income) implementation in wealthier countries. He dismisses basic income as unaffordable or incapable of providing a decent level of security. Furthermore, he associates basic income with the dismantling of public services such as health and education. Gough also mentions that providing a basic income at the poverty line would mean an average tax level of 50%, which he thinks is not attainable.


Listen to the full conversation:

BBC World Service, “Universal Basic Income – Has its time come?”, BBC World Service – In the Balance, November 20th 2016

About Andre Coelho

André Coelho has written 181 articles.

Activist. Engineer. Musician. For the more beautiful world our hearts know it's possible.

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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.

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