This essay was originally published on Basic Income News in May 2011.


In March 2011, Brazilian Senator (and tireless campaigner for BIG), Eduardo Suplicy told me and other members of the USBIG and BIEN Committees that he would soon be meeting with President Barak Obama at a dinner during the President’s visit to Brazil. Suplicy asked me to draft a letter to President Obama on behalf of the two organizations. With a lot of help from the committee members and from Alfredo de Romaña and other volunteers, we completed the following letter (see below). Suplicy delivered it on March 19, 2011. According to Suplicy, “[Obama] said that I could be sure that he would read it.”

The full text of the letter to President Obama

Karl Widerquist, Georgetown University-Qatar
Co-Chair (along with Ingrid Van Niekerk), the Basic Income Earth Network
Newsletter editor, the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network

March 18, 2011

Barack Obama
President of the United States of America

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing you on the occasion of your visit to Brazil—the first country in the world to approve a law authorizing the phase-in of a full Unconditional Basic Income to the whole population. The law (n. 10,835/2004) was passed by consensus of all parties in the National Congress and sanctioned by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on January 8, 2004. According to the law, Basic Income will be introduced step-by-step, starting with those most in need, through the Bolsa Família Program.

Basic Income is the simple idea of a small, government-ensured income for all citizens. It exists today only in one place: the State of Alaska. For the last 28 years Alaska has distributed a dividend, financed out of oil revenues, to every man, woman, and child in the state. Alaska’s “Permanent Fund Dividend” usually varies between $1000 and $2000 per person per year. It has become one of the most popular state government programs in the United States. It has helped to give Alaska the highest economic equality and the lowest poverty rate of any state in the United States.

Many opportunities exist to introduce a similar program at the federal level. The Cap-and-Dividend and Tax-and-Dividend approaches to global warming include a small Basic Income. The inclusion of this dividend can help counter the argument (used against the Cap-and-Trade approach) that taxes on carbon emissions will hurt average American families.

While in Brazil, you will have the opportunity to exchange ideas about Basic Income with President Dilma Rousseff and the author of the law that created the Citizen’s Basic Income, Senator Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy. He can discuss how the Bolsa Família might be expanded into a true Basic Income and how it might help to attain the main aim of President Rousseff to eradicate absolute poverty and to promote more equality and justice.

I believe that you can improve on the success of the Bolsa Família and the Alaska Dividend by moving toward a Basic Income in the United States. The University of Alaska-Anchorage will hold a workshop entitled “Exporting the Alaska Model” on April 22, 2011. Several researchers will discuss how programs of this type can be introduced and improved. I invite you to send a member of your team to participate in that workshop.


Karl Widerquist

The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network Committee:

Michael Howard (chair), University of Maine; Eri Noguchi, Columbia University; Michael Lewis, Hunter College; Almaz Zelleke, New School; Steven Shafarman, Income Security Institute; Al Sheahen, Author; Fred Block, University of California-Davis; Dan O’Sullivan,; Karl Widerquist, Georgetown University-Qatar; Jason Burke Murphy, Elms College.

The Basic Income Earth Network Executive Committee:

Ingrid Van Niekerk (co-chair), Economic Policy Research Institute, South Africa; Karl Widerquist (co-chair) Georgetown University-Qatar; David Casassas, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain; Almaz Zelleke; The New School, USA; Yannick Vanderborght, Facultés universitaires Saint Louis in Brussels, Belgium; Louise Haagh, University of York, United Kingdom; James Mulvale, University of Regina, Canada; Dorothee Schulte-Basta, BIEN-Germany; Pablo Yanes, Secretary of Social Development, Mexico City, Mexico; Andrea Fumagalli, University of PaviaBIN-Italia, Italy. Honorary co-presidents: Eduardo Suplicy, the Brazilian Senate; Guy Standing, the University of Bath; Claus Offe, Hertie School of Governance, Germany. Chair of the International Advisory Board: Philippe Van Parijs, Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 983 articles.

Karl Widerquist is a Professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University-Qatar. He specializes 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 a member of the BIEN EC for 14 years. 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. He is a cofounder of the journal "Basic Income Studies." 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.” Most of Karl Widerquist's academic writing is available at his research website ( For more information about him, see his BIEN profile (