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Obama speaks favorably about UBI but stops short of endorsing it (for the second time)

Barack Obama, for the second time, has favorably discussed basic income. In his Mandela Lecture, which included some hard-hitting remarks about the rise of strongman politics, Obama discussed the rise of automation and the difficulties it causes for workers. He finished that section of his speech with the following statement:

“It’s not just money that a job provides; it provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose. (Applause.) And so we’re going to have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, like a universal income, review of our workweek, how we retrain our young people, how we make everybody an entrepreneur at some level. But we’re going to have to worry about economics if we want to get democracy back on track.”

This speech comes two years after an interview in which Obama said, “[W]hether a universal income is the right model—is it gonna be accepted by a broad base of people?—that’s a debate that we’ll be having over the next 10 or 20 years.”

Neither of these statements is an outright endorsement of UBI, and his most recent statement, talking about how jobs provide “dignity,” “structure,” uses language that opponents tend to use when they want to say that UBI isn’t good enough because it’s “just money.”

But yet, he brought up UBI on his own accord without any direct criticism of it. While the earlier statement says we “will” be talking about it for some time; the later statement says we “should consider” it. So, one can see some movement toward the idea. If nothing else, this statement is a strong reflection of the extent to which UBI has penetrated mainstream political thinking.

Former President Barack Obama just endorsed the idea of providing a universal basic income. #BasicIncome

Posted by Basic Income Quotes on Saturday, July 21, 2018

Karl Widerquist

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 936 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.

2 comments

  • Thank you Karl, that you adjust the euphoric messages. What becomes clear, however, is that the media are interested in immediately reporting a success for UBI.

  • I approve of Obama’s progress towards the Basic Income, but my original proposal to the newly launched PEOPLE, which became the UK Green Party, was for a reason which seems to have been forgotten: the need to give everyone security so that we (that’s global) can contemplate restricting economic activity to ecological limits.
    The climate change which has just started happening in the whole northern hemisphere should make all other reasons in favour of the UBI pale into insignificance.

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