Launch of the BIEN Conversations – why critical debate is more important than ever
In April BIEN’s Executive Committee agreed some plans to feature the growing public attention around basic income as a response to the Coronavirus crisis, in an informative and critical way. We launched the new BIEN Bulletin, which is up and running. We also agreed a BIEN zoom-cast to be anchored by Louise Haagh, Sarath Davala and Jamie Cook. Finally, BIEN’s academic blog the Navigator, will feature the Covid-crisis in its first edition, to be launched this Autumn.
We are pleased today to publish the first episode of the BIEN Conversations Zoom Cast, in which some of the general themes we envisage will run through the series of dialogues are sketched.
To watch the video, click here.
The Zoom Cast does not aim to generate BIEN positions, and does not reflect BIEN positions. The opinions of the anchors and guests are their own.
The aim of the Zoom cast is to fill a gap in the coverage of Covid and basic income, by reflecting critically on both the opportunities and risks which this new context for the discussion about basic income creates.
What is the relationship of a prospective basic income with other economic security schemes, such as Furlough in Britain? How does the existing labour market affect the need for cash grants and the government response? What can we learn from cases such as the US, where the government has extended what looks like a rich-tested temporary UBI, in the form of flat income grants to individuals of 1200$ (for anyone earning less than 125K$)? To what extent it this response a feature of the US labour market context, including the spectre of huge job losses? In India and parts of Eastern Europe, with large labour migrant populations being either stuck or forced to return to their home country without income security, the role of a potential temporary unconditional cash grant scheme addresses deeper problems of labour migration.
What about the preparedness for Covid in different countries? Are there lessons for basic income from the differences in state capacity and social organisation which country responses to Covid reveal? For example, countries which have been able to track and reduce instances of Covid have needed less extensive lock-down restrictions and in turn the economic outlook may be better. Contrasting examples show vividly how the need for and capacity to support basic income-like schemes and transitions may be at odds: greater need often comes with less capacity. What implications can we draw of relevance for the wider debate from this sort of scenario?
Other issues the Zoom cast series hopes to cover include the relationship of basic income debate, rationale, and prospects with larger questions affecting the conditions in which basic income be can be realised and be effective. Relevant background factors include post-covid servicing and potential restructuring or relief of public debt, and government-led choices about austerity versus social investment. Debates which pit basic income against other public policy measures will be more likely where short-term debt servicing trumps long-term social investment and planning. Some say that short-term recovery measures can be turned into a permanent basic income scheme. But is it that simple? How do administrative, political and funding logics intersect? What is already clear is that in the post-covid context the debates about what motivates basic income, and if choices need to be made, which features of a UBI matters most in a transitional context, will only become more urgent. Perhaps we need to accept these choices and their answers will look different in different places. A theme that has always motivated me however is the importance in general of emphasizing basic income as an institutional innovation, which is linked not only with unconditionality but also with the scheme’s permanency.
Permanency is key to a UBI’s impact on health and motivation, and thus the sense of freedom, and to the potential to support other public policies. Without permanency, the fit of basic income to other economic institutions and to development transitions such as towards a green economy, are harder to envisage.
Permanency of basic income is accepted as an inbuilt feature of UBI by most experts, but it is lost sight of in public debates in favour of short-term needs – understandably, and this tendency becomes naturally more prominent in crisis conditions. However, being able to maintain a long-term perspective, with an eye on the advantages of permanence can also be argued to be even more important at critical junctures such as these, including to avoid an impression that basic income is essentially a crisis or anti-poverty measure.
All these considerations, and many others, are harder to balance in moments of, respectively, opportunity and crisis.
In the Bien Conversations series, we hope to raise some of these and other issues through a dialogue that engages events, and their regional dimensions, whilst also brining the long-standing debates to bear on our reflections.
The format of the Conversations series will be a discussion of the news and events, combined with a focus on regional experiences and on topical issues, led by the anchors and with the presence of guests from around the world.
feature the growing public attention around basic income as a response to the Coronavirus crisis.
Louise Haagh, BIEN Chair
To watch the video, click here.