Basic Income March 2021: Taking Stock, Celebrating Our Progress, and Getting Inspired

Basic Income March 2021: Taking Stock, Celebrating Our Progress, and Getting Inspired

The Basic Income March serves as our movement’s annual reminder to pause, take stock and celebrate our progress. This year was full of things to celebrate: from the over 90 pilots taking place across the U.S. to the extended Child Tax Credit – the first national guaranteed basic income legislation for families. While our movement celebrated this momentum across 31 cities – national and local press took notice. Teen Vogue touted the movement as one that resonates with the youth and local outlets took note of local community celebrations of pilot demonstrations.

Basic income advocates organized a variety of different events across the country. While some put on traditional events like marches and rallies, others hosted open skates, enjoyed barbecues at the park, put on concerts, and tabled at art fairs. Organizers did an amazing job on-the-ground of bringing people together for these events safely, taking appropriate COVID precautions.

A new addition to this year’s events was the involvement of organizations leading pilots in their cities. The organizing of the Denver and Chicago events were based on deep partnerships between local volunteer organizers and staff and partners working on Pilots in those cities. This led to strong turnout, great programs, and deeper celebration of local and national progress made for basic income. These were such a success; we anticipate increasing the number of events in 2022 that are led by pilot organizations.

Organizers across the country hosted events that included activities encouraging deep engagement with the community around the idea of basic income. Some provided posters with different financial responsibilities like rent, student loans, childcare, savings, and participants placed stickers next to items they would use a basic income for.  Others had people write down a wish for their lives if they received basic income and added it to a collective art installation.

At the core of this celebration and the core of our movement is community engagement. Our design for this year led us to connect with volunteer organizers on a deeper level, the interactive activities during events allowed organizers to connect more deeply with their community and pilot supported events ensured larger turnouts bringing the movement to a wider audience. 

It has been a joy to bring together our friends and advocates, both established and new. Along with our partner organizations and organizers, we invite new faces and facets to build on the foundation of our movement. We begin 2022 with gratitude to work in such a dynamic and growing space.

Marc de Basquiat’s The Basic Income Engineer

Marc de Basquiat’s The Basic Income Engineer

In The Basic Income Engineer (not yet available in English, unfortunately), Marc de Basquiat invites us to embark upon a journey of discovery on the subject of Basic Income. Each chapter draws on a personal experience to illustrate his point and marks a milestone in his intellectual development. The author does not reveal much about his private life (we learn in passing that he has many children). However, this engineer by training and sensibility unabashedly shares the joys and frustrations that have punctuated his journey in search of solutions rather than truths.

He describes himself as a right-leaning by culture. His book reveals, on the contrary, a passionate person with a resolutely left-wing heart, underpinned by great scientific rigor. With his doctorate in economics acquired late in life, de Basquiat has been involved in all aspects of Basic Income research and advocacy: as a founder of the French Movement for a Basic Income (MFRB) and president of the Association pour l’Instauration d’un Revenu d’Existence (AIRE), he knows everyone.

Unlike most Basic Income theorists, who are little concerned with the practical side of things, de Basquiat distills the concept down to a simple formula and brings it to life by quantifying it: €500 per month minus 30% of income. It is this easy to understand and democratic (since it applies to everyone) formula that he successfully defends throughout his work.

The great strength of this book is that the reflection does not stop at the sole question of a Basic Income. Many other issues must be tackled simultaneously to ensure a better quality of life for all. De Basquiat is not a philosopher: so much the better! There are enough of them as it is who stir the economic pot without ever sitting down at the table!

For example, to ensure decent housing for all, he proposes a mechanism that would allow everyone to find housing in exchange for a quarter of their income. His best idea, in my opinion, is the proposal to levy a wealth tax of 0.1% per month (since life lasts about 1000 months) applied equally to the lords of the manor with assets worth 2 million € and to the owner of an old jalopy worth 1000 €. The first one pays 2000 € per month, the other just one euro. It’s an original and disarmingly simple concept that has enormous potential to transform mentalities and strengthen social solidarity. It is also a clever update of Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice, to which Basic Income supporters all claim allegiance, without taking full advantage of Paine’s message.

There are some proposals in the Universal Income Engineer that put me off. I can’t accept that an employer can purchase with his payroll contributions the right to direct his employees. A license to lead slaves cannot be bought. But de Basquiat is only describing how things are. Indeed, the power to manage employees is granted free of charge to anyone who sets himself up as a boss.

It is refreshing to see the socioeconomic problems of our time treated in a global and integrated way, with rigour and without any ideological bias. It’s an engineering tour de force. And all this while raising a big family!

Marc de Basquiat’s The Basic Income Engineer

Marc de Basquiat L’ingénieur du revenu universel

Dans L’ingénieur du revenu universel, c’est à un voyage de découverte que Marc de Basquiat nous convie sur le sujet du revenu de base. Chaque chapitre part d’une expérience personnelle pour illustrer son propos et marque un jalon dans son développement intellectuel. L’homme privé se livre peu (on apprend en passant qu’il a plusieurs enfants). Or cet ingénieur de formation et de sensibilité livre sans fard les joies et les frustrations qui ont parsemé son parcours à la recherche de solutions plutôt que de vérités.

Il se décrit lui-même comme culturellement plutôt à droite. Son livre révèle au contraire un passionné au cœur résolument à gauche, encadré par une grande rigueur scientifique. Avec son doctorat en économie acquis sur le tard, de Basquiat est de toutes les recherches sur le revenu de base et de tous les combats : un des fondateur du Mouvement français pour un revenu de base, président de l’Association pour l’Instauration d’un Revenu d’Existence (AIRE), il connaît tout le monde.

Contrairement à la plupart des théoriciens du revenu de base, peu préoccupé par l’aspect pratique de la chose, de Basquiat distille le concept à une formule simple et l’insuffle de vie en le chiffrant : 500 € par mois moins 30 % des revenus. C’est cette formule facile à comprendre et démocratique, puisqu’elle s’applique à tout le monde, qu’il défend efficacement tout au long de son ouvrage.

La grande richesse de ce livre, c’est que la réflexion ne s’arrête pas à la seule question du revenu de base. Plusieurs autres problèmes doivent être attaqués simultanément pour assurer une qualité de vie à tous. De Basquiat n’est pas un philosophe : tant mieux! Il y en a assez comme ça qui touillent la salade économique sans jamais se mettre à table!

Par exemple, pour assurer un logement décent à tous, il propose un mécanisme qui permettrait à chacun de se loger en échange du quart de son revenu. Sa meilleure trouvaille, selon moi, c’est la proposition d’une taxe sur le patrimoine de 0,1 % par mois (puisque la vie dure environ 1000 mois) appliquée autant au châtelain qui possède un patrimoine valant 2 millions € qu’ au propriétaire d’une vieille bagnole qui vaut 1000 €. Le 1er paye 2000 € par mois, l’autre un euro. C’est un concept original et d’une simplicité désarmante qui a un potentiel énorme de transformer les mentalités et renforcer la solidarité sociale. C’est aussi une mise à jour astucieuse d’Agrarian Justice de Thomas Paine dont les adeptes du revenu de base se réclament tous, sans tirer tout le profit du message de Paine.

Il y a bien certaines propositions dans l’ingénieur du revenu universel qui me rebutent. Je ne peux accepter qu’un employeur achète avec ses cotisations sociales le droit de diriger ses employés. Une licence pour mener des esclaves, ça ne s’achète pas! Or de Basquiat ne fait que rapporter la réalité. Dans les faits, le droit de gérance est accordé gratuitement à quiconque s’improvise patron.

C’est rafraîchissant de voir les problèmes socio-économiques de notre temps traités de façon globale et intégrée, avec rigueur et sans le moindre biais idéologique. C’est un tour de force d’ingénierie. Et tout ça en élevant une grosse famille!

Opinion: Time for a citizen dividend

Opinion: Time for a citizen dividend

Guaranteed income programs are popping up everywhere in the US. It is time to expand beyond local pilot programs and embrace a nationwide Citizen Dividend, an annual distribution of a share of business profits to every American, to beat back against rising economic inequality and hold true to our deepest American values.

Three years ago, perhaps the only widely known American guaranteed income program was the Alaska Permanent Fund which doles out annual payments to every Alaskan funded from state oil and gas revenue. In recent years, pilot programs giving $500 – $1,000 a month to low-income residents have been implemented or proposed in Stockton, California; Jackson, Mississippi; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; and Chicago.  

Perhaps the simplest, widest-reaching, and easiest to implement form of guaranteed income we could adopt would be the Citizen Dividend. The debate around guaranteed income often boils down to two fundamental questions: Who deserves the income and how can we pay for them?  With a national Citizen Dividend, we answer both of those questions clearly and compellingly. 

First, who deserves this income?  We all do. No business in this country turns a profit without using wealth we all own together – our natural resources; our societal resources like our roads, our public safety, and our education system; and our inherited systems like our Constitution and our courts. Every citizen has an equal ownership stake in these forms of collective wealth. Therefore, each American deserves some slice of the profits realized by their use. Sure, individual hard work, talent, and good strategy help bring about business success.  Imagine though trying to create value without energy, roads, courts, and an educated workforce. It would be downright impossible. 

Second, how do pay for this income? A Citizen Dividend is funded through one form of our collective prosperity – business profits. Businesses should retain 95% of their profits to invest in growth, return wealth to private shareholders, and pay the government for the services our society needs (e.g. taxes). But 5% of those profits should be returned to each American in recognition of the collective wealth that was used to create those profits.

Easy to understand and clear in its funding, a Citizen Dividend would have a meaningful positive impact on the lives of Americans and on the fabric of our economy. Using 2015 estimates on business net income, a Citizen Dividend could return $570 to each American every year – or over $2,200 for a family of four. This payment – which amounts to nearly two months of rent or food for the median American family – could stave off some of the harshest impacts of rising inequality.  But perhaps more importantly, it would challenge the false narrative that profit is created merely through individual action and that wealth should be hoarded by those who have the opportunity to do so. Instead, it would reinforce a deeper American story, that we are our best as a nation when we come together across all our differences to blaze a trail toward a common future. 

A Citizen Dividend breathes life into the spirit of our nation’s first motto – E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.  It is time we recognize what truly belongs to every American and be bold in our willingness to build an economy that reflects our best values. It is time for a Citizen Dividend.   

Brian C. Johnson is the CEO of Equality Illinois and the author of Our Fair Share: How One Small Change Can Create a More EquiBrian C. Johnson has served in education and advocacy, community organizing, and political activism at local and national levels for two decades, dedicated to the American promise of fairness for all. He’s been featured on CNN and in The Washington PostUSA Today, and The New York Times. Johnson currently serves as the CEO of Equality Illinois, one of the nation’s most successful LGBTQ civil rights organizations. He lives with his husband and their daughter in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois.

The Monetary Issues of a UBI: First annual FRIBIS conference 12 October

This year, the Freiburg Institute for Basic Income Studies (FRIBIS) will hold its first annual conference on Monday and Tuesday, 11-12 October 2021. It aims to shed light on an emerging topic in the economics of UBI: the monetary issues of a UBI. Monetary aspects are becoming more important due to an increasing economic interest in monetary innovations and major disruptions in central banking and finance. UBI research is being increasingly influenced by this development. The biggest UBI pilots use specifically minted currencies to ensure local spending, and new strands of transformative economics propose monetary financing or community currencies as financing mechanisms for a UBI. FRIBIS acknowledges this evolution by creating research teams in order to keep up-to-date with research in this field. At this year’s conference, FRIBIS will present this teams’ research, as well as other research activities. In addition, research collaborations will be presented and there will be keynotes and panel discussions with very honorable guests.

The conference provides the audience, in addition, with contributions of other FRIBIS teams in parallel sessions. FRIBIS teams integrate in a unique way the activities of civic society actors, activists, and scientists, so that civic society actors and activists can show their contributory potential.

The conference will be held online. It will be livestreamed over the FRIBIS YouTube channel. Guests are invited to ask questions in the YouTube Chat.

Programme and links to watch the sessions (free on YouTube) are on this webpage.