Opinion; The Independentarian

The Devil’s in the Caveats: A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments for Researchers, Policymakers, and Citizens

     My new short book, The Devil’s in the Caveats: A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments for Researchers, Policymakers, and Citizens, will be out early in 2019. I’ve posted an early version of it on my Selected Works website. Here’s a summary:
     “The devil’s in the details” is a common saying about policy proposals. Perhaps we need a similar saying for policy research, something like “the devil’s in the caveats.” I say this both because nonspecialists (the citizens and policymakers who are ultimately responsible for evaluating policy in any democracy) have great difficulty understanding what research implies about policy and because specialists often have difficulty understanding what citizens and policymakers most hope to learn from policy research.
     This problem creates great difficulty for Universal Basic Income (UBI) experiments which are now getting underway in several countries. These experiments can add a small part to the existing body of evidence people need to fully evaluate UBI as a policy proposal. Specialists can provide caveats about the limits of what research implies, but nonspecialists are often unable to translate caveats into a firm grasp of what that research does and does not imply about the policy at issue. Therefore, even the best scientific policy research can leave nonspecialists with an oversimplified, or simply wrong, impression of its implications for policy.
     This short book discusses the difficulty of conducting UBI experiments and communicating their results to nonspecialists given both the inherent limits of experimental techniques, the complexity of the public discussion of UBI, and the many barriers that make it difficult for specialists and nonspecialists to understand each other. This book is an effort to help bridge those gaps in understanding with suggestions in an effort to help researchers conduct better experiments and communicate their results in ways more likely to improve public understanding of the possible effects of UBI.

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 944 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

  • Bernard Kirkham

    Roll on publication.
    The main problem with all these experiments, so-called, is that in common with all of social “science” experiments are carried out with very little control of the variables, and a better description would be social investigation.
    A thought: in theory, mediaeval society was an example of basic income. The lord owed subsistence and protection to the vassal in return for service.

    • S. Cobbler

      Your example of the “medieval enclosure system” could not be more inaccurate. Before the rich seized the lands from the commoners, people worked and shared that land. Protection, or just the mere idea of it, hardly serves as a vehicle that provides food and shelter in measure that equates to a dignified life. Rather, basic income would have given a monetary stipend to every commoner living in the lands seized by the rich to ensure the subjects had access to the means to live comfortably. The problem with Basic Income is not the idea itself – it is the political stonewalling and stagnating debates about the program that either leads to a stalled roll-out or a premature cancellation like what we saw in Ontario. Since we all live in an enclosure run by commercial endeavors, financial security IS a basic need and a Universal Basic Income would directly address that need.

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