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Erik Olin Wright, influential sociologist and long-term Basic Income advocate, announces he has only weeks to live (Update: Wright passed away on January 23)

Erik Olin Wright

Erik Olin Wright, a long-term advocate of Universal Basic Income and one of the most influential sociologists today, recently announced that his doctors have advised him that he has only a few weeks left to live. (Update: he passed away on January 23.) He is best know for his work on social stratification, egalitarian alternative futures to capitalism, deep democracy, and interstitial revolution.
But he has also had an important influence over the Basic Income movement. He was the first to describe basic income as “a permanent strike fund for all.” He wrote about it and provided platforms, such as the Real Utopias project that allowed other people to write about it when few people thought it had any chance.

Wright announced his diagnosis in a very brave and optimistic statement:

strange state of existence
Journal entry by Erik Olin Wright — Jan 5, 2019

I have roughly three weeks left of existence. Three weeks. Let’s call that January, 2019. January 2019: my month, my last month. There can be surprises — both ways of course. My liver is the main source of leukemia’s havoc. It is greatly enlarged now, filled with AML. This is why I need transfusions of platelets and red blood cells every day. The graft did not survive the return of AML so it produces no products, and the AML-clogged liver seems to be filtering out some of the transfusions so I am not getting full benefit from those. The result is that my platelets remain extremely low even after a platelet transfusion and my hemoglobin remains very low even after a hemoglobin transfusion. So, eventually these become too low to sustain life, or an opportunistic infection does me in. The doctors say “a few weeks” — a nice surprise would be to slide into February; my birthday is February 9. We’ll see what happens.

This is all hard to take in fully. I am not in great turmoil over dying. I am sad about many things, desperately sad about those connected to my family. But I’m not afraid. I wrote about this early on; my feelings haven’t changed: I am stardust that randomly ended up in this marvelous corner of the milky way where some stardust ended up in conditions where it became complexly organized in a way we term “alive.” And then even more complexly— conscious stardust that is fully aware that it is conscious:   amazing — stardust, inanimate products of exploding supernova, organized in such a complex way that it is conscious of its own aliveness and consciousness — the greatest privilege in the whole, immense universe. It may be for a limited time — this complex organization ends and the stardust that is me will dissipate back to the more ordinary state of matter. Nothing to do about that. As creative fanciful minds, we humans are good at inventing ways for our existence as conscious beings to continue after the stardust dissipates. It would be nice. I don’t believe in that sort of thing, but I’ll find out  by some time in February.

Some of his works on basic income include:

I am one of the many people who have been influenced by his work, and his talents affected me personally. He was the editor of my first published academic article, “A Reciprocity Argument for the Guaranteed Income,” in 1999 (before the name Basic Income became standard). His ability to see my intuitive leaps and to explain how to fill them in was amazing. That kind of ability ability takes not only strong intellect, but strong empathy. A combination that even many great academics lack. It’s the mark of an exceptional person.
–Karl Widerquist, Doha, Qatar, January 9, 2019; revised Cambridge, UK, January 12, 2009

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 949 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.

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.

3 comments

  • MICHAEL HOWARD

    On a personal note, I can remember the moment when it dawned on me how important and potentially system transforming a basic income could be–while reading Erik’s edited collection, The Debate on Classes. He was a keynote speaker at a couple of NABIG congresses. I remember vividly how he stayed and participated in discussions throughout the congress, a truly collaborative intellectual, without a trace of ego, despite his remarkable body of work and wide influence.

  • A real solution to the problem of inequality is The Second Income Plan, suggested by the late Louis Kelso, inventor of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan – ESOP – used by 11,000 companies.

    It does not depend upon jobs or savings. Universal Basic Incomes can be a transition device. Note: There is no net cost to the Treasury.

    Kelso saw automation coming. He believed it could liberate humans from toil, work we do not choose to do. He thought that by age 50, almost everyone could receive about 50% of their income from diversified investments. Imagine the implications!

    This is the key to reversing the dangerous growth of inequality and loss of purchasing power.

    Taxing wealth makes sense as well, as does the Estate Tax.

    If we intend to dramatically reduce inequality, citizens of the USA will convince Congress to pass the necessary legislation to establish a SECOND INCOME ACT. It can help unite our divided nation.

    A Universal Basic Income by itself has zero chance of Congressional approval. In order to provide immediate economic assistance, combine SECOND INCOMES with a transitional Universal Basic Income. These interim funds would gradually be displaced – as growing earnings are realized by individuals from SECOND INCOMES. See that heading under MORE at aesopinstitute.org

    To end stock market concern, 85-90% of an individual’s funds should be invested in Treasury Bills. The remainder invested in a number of high risk opportunities. This is a brilliant prescription by Nassim Taleb

  • Louise Haagh

    I never got to know Erik well on a personal level, but I was struck by the lucidity of his intellect, as demonstrated in his many works and recently at the 30th anniversary of the founding of BIEN, at Louvain le Neuve in October 2016. Erik gave a short, succinct and brilliant overview of the alternative ways a basic income could facilitate different social transitions through capitalism. Intellects like Erik’s are rare. He did not tell us how to think, but he gave us tools to order our thinking. He was truly inspirational.

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