Credit Picture CC / Foam: Futures of the Universal Basic Income


Reyer Brons, editor-in-chief of Vereniging Basisinkomen (Association for Basic Income), the Dutch branch of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), and also member of the Network for Political Innovation (NPI, a Dutch think tank), has, in recent months, collected about seventy objections that people might bring up in discussions about (the introduction of) an unconditional basic income (UBI). All objections are subdivided into twelve themes and provided with a short explanation and a refutation or relativisation.

The intention of the work is to give people some background information which can help them in debates about the UBI with supporters and opponents of the policy. As the complete work is rather comprehensive and written in Dutch, only the themes and objections will be presented in this article. An overview of all objections is given (unfortunately only in Dutch) on the website of the NPI with links to the full descriptions. The arguments are also published on the website of the Vereniging Basisinkomen, in a special category of objections (‘Bezwaren’).

In this article, a first example is presented, a short description of an argument with its concomitant explanation and relativisation. Then, some other themes and objections are listed.

For instance, one of the arguments under the theme ‘Implementation’, states “We cannot oversee the long-term effects”.

The objection is followed by a short explanation, that notes:

“It is probably true, that disadvantages of the introduction of a basic income will become obvious in time. However, it will be regarded as an acquired right by that time and therefore it is to be expected that negative developments will evoke opposition among the general public. For example, lowering the level of the basic income would lead to major problems, because many people will not be prepared to face the reduction.”

Subsequently a refutation is given:

“This type of argument is fatal for every policy change. Of course, there will be unforeseen effects, but what policy has none? There are many examples of unexpected consequences, but it did not stop progress. Who could have thought that the exploitation of gas fields in Groningen [a province in the north of the Netherlands] could cause serious earthquakes after decades of drilling? Or that fatal traffic accidents could increase again as a result of the introduction of the smartphone?
In the course of time, society will change in a variety of ways due to the introduction of the policy. Proponents look forward to experience with an unconditional basic income. In their eyes, the effects will have a strong positive influence on society. Furthermore, it is also possible to model the long-term effects (e.g. via micro simulation studies).
If undesirable long-term effects arise, further measures must be developed to counteract the unfavorable consequences. This also applies to the current welfare system. It must be understood that the adverse effects of the current system can hardly be tackled, until that system is thoroughly addressed. When economic conditions deteriorate in a given society, it cannot be ruled out that the basic income payment must be lowered, but the same applies to current benefits. On the other hand, it also cannot be ruled out that the payment will increase over time.”

All objections are listed below, arranged by theme:

1. Common misconceptions

  • Basic income is a utopian dream or a fantasy
  • Basic income is a hype or a cult
  • Basic income means free money and that is not possible
  • Basic income is a new and still immature idea
  • Basic income is a new label for the same old social security system
  • Basic income is unaffordable or antisocial

2. Values and philosophy of life

  • Reciprocity is necessary for the legitimacy of the social state and its moral support, that means that an unconditional basic income cannot be solidary
  • Having a paid job gives dignity, status and a sense of social integration, basic income will make people lazy
  • With basic income, young people no longer take the trouble to study
  • Only a small group of people is capable of handling freedom well
  • Basic income leads to an increase in the use of alcohol and drugs
  • Basic income is bad for the emancipation of women
  • The basic income lowers the participation of women at the labor market (they might stay at home to look after the children or take up other unpaid care work)
  • Talents remain unused
  • Basic income promotes overpopulation
  • People always want something more than they see with someone else, therefore they will begrudge someone a basic income
  • The group consisting of free-riders, maladjusted or anti-social people will grow, if there is basic income for everyone
  • Many are annoyed by the behavior of free-riders, profiteers and anti-socials. Those people are not worth to get a basic income. If they should receive the payment, it would be disastrous for its acceptance

3. Social vision and ideology

  • The idea of a basic income goes in the direction of communism, and that is bad
  • Basic income is a socialist idea, that cannot work
  • It is a reprehensible neoliberal idea
  • Basic income creates an undesirable class distribution in society or a strengthening of it
  • Basic income increases the chance of ghetto formation
  • Basic income increases the power of the state and makes citizens passive and dependent
  • Basic income requires unjust redistribution and is actually just theft
  • Basic income is a Trojan horse, as soon as it is introduced, massive savings on government spending will be realized

4. Economy

  • Basic income is unaffordable
  • Basic income does not use sophisticated information and is therefore cumbersome and limited in its goals
  • A basic income causes a huge inflation
  • Introduction of the UBI will lead to higher taxes and that is bad for innovation and industry
  • Basic income worsens the position of the Netherlands on the international market
  • Basic income will boost the informal economy, illegal transactions and fraud
  • Basic income promotes consumption and is therefore a catastrophe for the environment
  • Basic income means that fewer people will accept work, hence the economy will stagnate or shrink

5. Job market

  • Nobody wants to accept unpleasant work after the introduction of an UBI
  • Many people will be satisfied with the basic income payment
  • The loss of income due to unemployment will have a much greater effect with a basic income than in the current situation without a basic income
  • If you give people a basic income, that means that you let them down
  • Paid work is no longer necessary, so the meaning of work will ebb away. Which fulfilling, decent activity will replace it?

6. Government and bureaucracy

  • Basic income makes us all too dependent from government
  • The provision of cash to people is not a task for the government
  • A basic income turns us all in benefit claimants
  • Basic income will never be high enough in order to eliminate all bureaucracy
  • Basic income promotes corruption of the government

7. Borders and migration

  • The Netherlands on its own is too small for a basic income
  • Basic income promotes immigration, especially of economic refugees
  • Basic income is discriminatory for foreigners, who want to settle here, if the payment is only for residents
  • Basic income promotes unwanted emigration
  • Basic income promotes the closing of borders

8. An unconditional basic income will not solve the really important problems

  • People with a lot of debt are no better off with a small basic income
  • The growing inequality will not be resolved
  • Introduction of an UBI is not good for the environment
  • It is a solution from the system world, problems in the real world will not be solved

9. Interests

  • Trade unions lose their position of power and are therefore against the policy
  • Employment at social security agencies is at stake
  • Basic income means a radical change in our common live as a society, which is of no interest for the ruling elite
  • Most people don’t like the idea of an unconditional basic income

10. Procedures and institutions

  • It is not in our hands, it is up to other people to decide on basic income
  • The policy is too big for us to handle, we only have four years as a government
  • Firstly, we have to do this and then that …, there are so many urgent problems that need to be addressed. The basic income case removes more important reforms from the political agenda
  • The design of existing experiments is too small, they can’t tell anything about the real effects of a basic income
  • When an UBI is implemented, and it fails to succeed, we can’t get rid of it anymore
  • Anyway, introduction of the policy in our country is impossible

11. Amendment and modification

  • Political decision making always leads to watery compromises that make our lives worse, not better
  • Under the flag of a universal basic income, we introduce a very different policy
  • People who really need a basic income will not benefit, others will benefit from it, rather than those for whom it is intended

12. Implementation

  • We should not start with the policy, the introduction of a basic income is far too complex
  • A basic income can’t be properly phased in, because if we do, we will have two concurrent welfare systems, which might lead to a lot of nasty implications
  • We start enthusiastically with the introduction of the policy, but ignore all warnings pertaining to possible implementation problems
  • We cannot oversee the long-term effects of a UBI

The reader will notice that some objections are in conflict with each other. For instance, some people may view an unconditional basic income as a ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’ idea, while at the other end of the political spectrum, it is considered as ‘neoliberal’ policy. The idea is rejected for all of these reasons. After all, opposition to the basic income comes from different angles. The same is true for immigration. One person might say that a basic income promotes immigration, whereas another thinks that it inhibits the influx of immigrants.

About Florie Barnhoorn

Florie Barnhoorn has written 11 articles.