Opinion; The Independentarian


This essay was originally published in the USBIG NewsFlash in November 2009.


The political barriers to the current situation in the United States and the implementation of a full basic income are daunting. On an international basis, the outlook is much brighter. As far as I can tell, there are more basic income projects underway or under discussion worldwide now than ever before. There are small, privately funded pilot projects going on in Namibia and Brazil. Thirty basic income supporters were elected to the German Bundestag in recent elections. The Nigerian government is considering a regional basic income in the Niger Delta area. The Mongolian government has recently pledged to introduce the world’s first national basic income. (See stories below.)

Just last week, October 29, 2009, I had the honor to be present when the city council of Santo Antonio do Pinhal, Brazil (a city of about 7,000 people in the State of Sao Paulo) voted unanimously to create a small basic income from local tourist revenue. What will come of this small, locally based income remains to be seen. But remember that the Alaska oil dividend was inspired by a local basic income introduced in a small town. And the Alaska dividend may prove to be an inspiration for similar programs in places as far away as Mongolia and Nigeria.

So, progress is happening worldwide. In America, however, it is important to focus on small victories. Politics is full of opportunities to change minds toward the ways of thinking that support basic income.

Two of the most compelling reasons to support basic income are the belief that people have an equal right to the world’s resources and the belief that everyone should have the right to meet their needs. Any policy that helps establish these norms moves us (however gradually) in the direction of basic income.

People don’t discover oil every day, but some kind of new government giveaway of natural resources does happen just about every day. Every new mine, well, or beach front hotel is an opportunity to establish the norm that people have a shared right to natural resources, and that they should be compensated if private firms want to privatize it.

Two years ago we missed an opportunity when the U.S. government gave away a substantial portion of the broadcast spectrum to a few corporations at no charge; and then allowed those companies to sell it back to us. But the issue isn’t settled. A recent study by the Consumer Electronics Association found that reallocating broadcast spectrum could yield cost savings of more than 1 trillion dollars. If and when that reallocation happens, we have the opportunity to press for auctioning off that spectrum and sharing the proceeds.

Several BIG-related campaigns are under way right now. The refundable child tax credit was won a few years ago. It is essentially a very small basic income for children, but only a portion of the federal government’s child tax credits are refundable. Several groups are pushing for a larger refundable credit. The cap-and-dividend approach to greenhouse gas reduction would establish a small basic income out of taxes designed to discourage the behavior that causes global warming (www.capanddividend.org). Cap-and-Dividend is a live issue on Capitol Hill, and several Members of Congress have signed on.

Probably the biggest issue in U.S. politics right now is healthcare reform. The current debate is largely a debate over whether there should be a universal right of access to healthcare. Almost every other country has established that right in law, and the United States might finally join them this year. The versions of healthcare reform on the table right now are not as close to true universality as the healthcare systems exist in most other countries, but they clearly help to establish the norm that healthcare ought to be universal.

Once norms like this are established in law, they tend to become more popular. Although the creation of national health was controversial in many countries, I don’t believe that there is any country in the world that has the universal right to healthcare in which a majority of people would like to go back to a system in which some have health insurance and some don’t. Public education is far from equal, but few people today want to deny a basic education to the children of the poor as most countries did a hundred years ago.

Establishing a universal right to healthcare is not the same as establishing the norm that all people should have an unconditional right to other necessities, but it certainly brings us closer to that objective. The fight for universal healthcare is our fight.

-Karl Widerquist,
Begun in Santo Antonio do Pinhal, Brazil, October 29, 2009
Completed in Doha, Qatar, November 4, 2009

Karl Widerquist

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 929 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 (works.bepress.com/widerquist/). More information about him is available on his BIEN profile and on Wikipedia. He writes the blog "the Indepentarian" for Basic Income News.

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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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