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Universal Basic Income and the Philosophy of Freedom

The following is an extended excerpt from, “The Future of Work: Universal Basic Income and the Philosophy of Freedom,” by Romany Williams, SSENSE.

The rhetoric that increased entrepreneurship equals a utopian society is one-sided. What about equality as a means for liberation from these systemic ideals?


“UBI is voluntary participation capitalism. What we have now is mandatory participation capitalism. I believe this model of mandatory participation capitalism is an affront to a free society,” says Karl Widerquist, Associate Professor of political philosophy at SFS-Qatar at Georgetown University and author of Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No. “Capitalism is based on people who own all the resources, and other people who can only use those resources if they take a subordinate position. Most of us will have no choice but to participate in the capitalist system, not as a capitalist, but as a worker for years. Basic income gives you the power to say no to that. To say, ‘I work because I want to, not because you threaten me with homelessness and starvation.’”


“The potential for robotics to give us more leisure is incredible if we’re allowed to take it. But most of us can’t demand that. If we don’t work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, we don’t have any income,” says Widerquist. “We should all receive some of the benefits of automation. If you’ve had a job anytime in the last 40 years, you’ve done something to further the great economic growth we’ve had.”


Chronic economic insecurity is toxic and a sense of freedom doesn’t come from an Instagram feed filled with pictures of nature. Nor does it come from endlessly climbing the corporate ladder. The scarcity mindset that is perpetuated by the lack of proper compensation and workers’ rights only worsens mental health issues, making for an increasingly volatile social and political climate. History proves that the only way to change things is to mobilize. “Remember the 1% is only 1% of the people,” says Widerquist. “We have the other 99%.”

The author of the article excerpted here is Romany Williams, a stylist and associate editor at the fashion magazine, SSENSE, (pronounced “S-sense” or “essence”). I never expected to be interviewed for a fashion magazine, but he did an amazing job giving my ideas context and letting me speak for myself—for good or bad. I’d edit it slightly if I could.

The full text of the article is online: “The Future of Work: Universal Basic Income and the Philosophy of Freedom,” by Romany Williams, SSENSE

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 981 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 ( 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.

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