Universal basic income continues to grow in popularity among American politicians. Mike Broihier, running for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in Kentucky, announced via Medium that he will include a universal basic income as a part of his campaign’s goal to “equalize economic opportunity for all Kentuckians and Americans”.
A former Marine, current farmer, and substitute public teacher, Broihier decided to include UBI on his platform due to his son’s interest in the Yang campaign and in how a basic income could ensure economic fairness. As Broihier sought out more education on the arguments for and against basic income, he spoke to Scott Santens, a basic income advocate and former Yang campaign surrogate, who addressed his questions and ended up agreeing to serve as an advisor to Broihier’s Senate campaign.
With Santens onboard, the Broihier campaign will certainly try to generate the enthusiasm Yang harnessed for basic income to push them to the Senate nomination. Running for the right to face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Broihier faces competition from other Democratic candidates in what promises to be a contested primary process.
Asked to comment on joining Broihier’s team, Santens wrote: “I’m excited to join Mike’s team to help him defeat Mitch McConnell with a platform of UBI for economic and social justice. After pushing for UBI for years, I’m honored to get the opportunity to now help make the case to the people of Kentucky that UBI is about far more than robots. It’s about building a foundation underneath us all, upon which to build a future of universal opportunity. Our increasingly productive economy should work for each and every individual and community instead of slowly destroying them. Kentucky has powered this country with their natural wealth for 200 years. They deserve better than being abandoned as the country moves towards sustainable energy. Just like Alaskans, Kentuckians deserve their dividend share of their natural resources. It may be two centuries late, but the second best time is now, and I believe Mike is the guy to do it.”
Speaking to Basic Income News, Broihier doubled down on the connection between resources and a basic income, as he mentioned Alaska’s Permanent Fund and similar sovereign wealth fund models as convincing evidence of the need for a basic income. Citing Kentucky’s decades of an “extractive economy” focused on lumber and coal, Broihier argues that Kentuckians should share in the wealth generated by those resources. This thesis of sharing in the wealth generated by shared land is reminiscent of Thomas Paine’s argument for a basic income in Agrarian Justice.
Broihier’s support for basic income fits his larger vision to fundamentally shift the debate on key questions related to economic and social justice. For example, he told Basic Income News that we need to reframe the immigration debate to look through interventions in Central America over the past hundred years to acknowledge the role America played in generating the regional economic system and the migration we see today.
In his post on Medium, Broihier sums up his support for basic income nicely: “If we’re going to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, it seems to me the first thing we all need is the money to buy boots.”
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Mike Broihier campaign website and issues page that includes UBI.
Mike Broihier. “Why I believe Kentucky deserves a universal basic income”. Medium. 26 February 2020.
Three reporters from Bloomberg Businessweek included a question about Basic Income at their White House interview of President Obama yesterday. John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief for Bloomberg; Megan Murphy, Bloomberg News Washington bureau chief; and Editor-in-Chief Ellen Pollock, asked the president,
Some economists suggest that globalization is going to start targeting all those services jobs. If you want to keep up wages in that area, doesn’t it push us toward something like a universal basic income?
Obama answered, in full:
The way I describe it is that, because of automation, because of globalization, we’re going to have to examine the social compact, the same way we did early in the 19th century and then again during and after the Great Depression. The notion of a 40-hour workweek, a minimum wage, child labor laws, etc.—those will have to be updated for these new realities. But if we’re smart right now, then we build ourselves a runway to make that transition less abrupt, because we’re still growing, and we’re beating the competition around the world. Look, for example, at smart cars, where the technology basically exists now. The number of people who are currently employed driving vehicles of some sort is enormous. And some of those jobs are pretty good jobs. You know, people are worried about Uber, but the fear is actually driverless Uber, right? Or driverless buses or what have you.
Now, there are all kinds of reasons why society may be better off if smart cars are the norm. Significant drops in traffic fatalities, much more efficient use of the vehicle, so that we’re less likely to emit as much pollution and carbon that causes climate change. You know, drastically reduced traffic, which means we’re giving back hours to families that are currently taken up in road rage. All kinds of reasons why we may want to do that. But if we haven’t given any thought to where are the people who are currently making a living driving transferring into, then there’s going to be deep resistance.
So trying to separate out issues of efficiency and productivity from issues of distribution and how people experience their own lives and their ability to take care of their families, I think, is a bad recipe. It’s not an either/or situation. It’s a both/and situation.
Obama did not mention Basic Income in his answer, but he did talk about some concerns of the movement. Chris Weller, of Tech Insider, interpreted Obama’s remarks as a hint at support, and saying, “Now Obama seems to be leaning in the same direction.”
Karl Widerquist, Co-Chair of the Basic Income Earth Network was less certain that Obama wanted to communicate support:
Obama didn’t clearly answer the question, but there is a lot of good news in this interview. Just the fact that the question was asked shows the growth of the movement. These were three top-level reports at one of America’s top news publications. They had an audience with the President at the White House. They only asked 16 questions. And they devoted one of those questions to the subject of Basic Income. Without the worldwide movement that’s sprung up in the last few years this would not have happened. I doubt any reporter has bothered to ask the President any form of Basic Income Guarantee since the 1970s.
Obama’s answer doesn’t clearly say whether he is for or against Basic Income, but what he is trying to do is clear and obvious. He doesn’t want to endorse basic income, but he wants Basic Income supporters to support him. The last paragraph is masterfully unclear. He uses the phrase “bad recipe,” which implies that his answer is negative, but I read over that paragraph again and again, it’s increasingly unclear what the bad recipe is. The need he feels to obfuscate is progress: had he been asked this question in 2008, he might have clearly stated his opposition, as he clearly opposed same-sex marriage back then. I wonder if it’s an exaggeration to say he’s less willing to alienate Basic Income supporters in 2016 than he was to alienate same-sex marriage supporters in 2008?
Obama attempts to court Basic Income supporters by showing them that he understands two of their concerns (automation and climate change). Apparently he hopes this much will be enough to gain their support even though he doesn’t specifically support their proposed solution. He doesn’t mention the issues of poverty, inequality, and freedom that are so important to most Basic Income supporters, but the Basic Income movement has forced the President to take notice and think about some of the issues they have brought up. That’s not victory, but it marks the growth of the movement.
The full interview will appear as the cover story in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek, and it is already online:
John Micklethwait, Megan Murphy, and Ellen Pollock, “The ‘Anti-Business’ President Who’s Been Good for Business.” Bloomberg Businessweek, June 27-July 3, 2016
Chris Weller’s interpretation is online at:
Chris Weller. “President Obama hints at supporting unconditional free money because of a looming robot takeover,” Tech Insider, Jun 24, 2016
Jhabvala’s article is a great introduction to the basic income debate in India. The article walks through India’s basic income pilot projects as well as an examination of current government spending programs, concluding that more research should be done in order to slowly shift India to a basic income while protecting the most vulnerable citizens.
Renana Jhabvala, “India’s time for unconditional cash transfers“, The Financial Express, May 17 2016.
Tomlinson, a long-time member of BIEN, writes in this opinion piece that Australia should seriously entertain the idea of a basic income if their government is truly interested in cultivating an innovative society. Adopting a basic income would, according to Tomlinson, unleash individual creativity and would drive the economy to be truly innovative.
John Tomlinson, “Universal Basic Income is the policy that an innovative society needs“, On Line Opinion, 15 January 2016.
Hermann considers basic income from the perspective of justice and concludes that basic income is worth pursuing. She finds that basic income would be just due to its egalitarian nature of real equality, and it will ensure an income floor for everyone by decoupling work from income. Further, she believes that a basic income will lead to financial independence for all women, which can help push toward gender equality.
Julia Hermann, “Would an unconditional basic income be just?“, Justice Everywhere, 2 May 2016.