Possibilities and Pitfalls of Basic Income Experiments

This article briefly discusses the findings of my book
A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments for Researchers, Policymakers, and Citizens
Published by Palgrave Macmillan 2018[1]

UBI Experiment, Namibia, 2009

            If the public debate over Universal Basic Income (UBI) is going to benefit from the many UBI experiments happening around the world, the journalists, policymakers, and citizens involved in the debate need to understand what UBI experiments can and—more importantly—what they cannot do. UBI experiments can increase our knowledge of some of UBI’s effects, but they cannot do what many journalists, citizens, and policymakers seem to expect them to. In December 2016, MIT Technology Review perfectly illustrated the common overblown expectations of UBI experiments when the ran the headline: “In 2017, We Will Find Out If a Basic Income Makes Sense.”[2] As much as we might want UBI experiments to be definitive tests of UBI’s efficacy, there is no some crucial piece of information that experiments can find and that will make the difference in most people’s decision whether to support or oppose the introduction of UBI.

            Social science experiments are not like medical experiments. A vaccine trial, for example can directly address the bottom-line question of interest to just about everyone: is the vaccine is safe and effective? Researchers can conduct a random control trial (RCT) by selecting an “experimental group” of—say—1000 people who get the real vaccine and a “control group” of 1000 people who get a placebo. They observe both groups to see whether the experimental group is less likely to contract the disease and more likely to suffer medical complications. Vaccine trials are imperfect tests. RCTs might have difficulty determining whether the vaccine is truly safe and effective in the long run, among people of all ages, and for people with all possible complicating risk factors, but reporting differences between the control and experimental group in an RCT gives people useful and relatively straightforward information on the bottom-line question that interests them about vaccines. If comparison of the experimental and control groups indicates that a vaccine is both safe and effective, people should take it. If that comparison indicates it’s either unsafe or ineffective, people should not. If there is good reason to believe the test is inconclusive, researchers should conduct more tests.

            We can give a UBI to an experimental group for a while and compare their behavior and life outcomes to a control group but that comparison is not a test of UBI in the sense that a vaccine trial is a test of the vaccine. If a UBI experiment is not a test, what is it? It is an indirectly and often inconclusive method of increasing our knowledge of some but not other aspects of UBI. UBI experiments cannot be decisive tests in the way vaccine trials are because they say much less about the long-term effects of a fully implemented, national UBI program than vaccine trials do about the long-term effects of a fully implemented, national vaccine program, and because to the extent RCT findings do say something about a national program, ethical disagreement affects how we evaluate those effects.

            Unlike a vaccine, UBI has many effects that depend heavily on how people interact with each other in local and national markets and in nonmarket settings. The change in behavior of one randomly selected worker who receives UBI might be very different from the change in behavior of 100 million workers who all receive UBI. Employers’ reaction to the changes in behavior of one randomly selected worker with a UBI might be very different from their reaction to the changes in behavior of 100 million workers who all have UBI. The educational effects of experimental UBI on one randomly selected five-year-old child in a 3-year UBI might be very different from the educational effects on 5 million five-year-old children in a country that has a fully implemented UBI, which will be in place for their entire school career.

UBI Rally, New York, 2019

            The things we want to know about UBI are far more complex and difficult to observe than the things we want to know about vaccines. How much will UBI raise beneficiaries’ incomes once they and other people they interact with their behavior in reaction to UBI and to each other’s reactions? How much will that increased income raise beneficiaries’ welfare—according to what measures of welfare? Will beneficiaries react to UBI in ways that make it more expensive or in ways that policymakers believe are desirable or undesirable? What is the relative ethical importance of each of these factors in evaluating UBI?

            Ethical disagreement affects how we evaluate almost all of UBI’s effects. For example, if the experimental group works less than the control group is that a good thing because it empowers disadvantaged people to command better wages, to demand improved working conditions, to pursue more education, or to spend more time with their families? Or is it a bad thing because it allows them to violate some principle that non-wealthy people must work as much as possible? Empirical findings are vulnerable to spin and misuse if people use them not to help make up their minds but as ammunition to support their already considered beliefs on issues like these.

            UBI experiments will produce better or more quantifiable information about some effects than others. This innocuous fact makes the experiments vulnerable to the streetlight effect—drawing attention to questions that are easier-to-answer but less important at the expense of questions that are harder-to-answer but more important. For example, RCTs might be able to say something about the short-term effects of UBI on economic insecurity, but that information does not answer the questions we really want to ask about economic security, such as whether new born children whose families will never face food or housing insecurity because of a national UBI tend to grow into heathier, better educated, happier, more productive, and more pro-social adults than children who grow up with food, housing, and other economic insecurities.

            RCTs can answer the question of whether the control group works more hours than the experimental group, but they can’t answer whether employers will respond to a national UBI by offering better wages and working conditions and whether these workplace improvements will partially reverse the initial decline in labor hours. Like a bright light, UBI experiments will draw the attention of everyone—even the most rational, knowledgeable researchers—toward quantifiable numbers produced by the comparison between the control and experimental groups and away from the more important but hard-to-answer questions.

            Partly because of the complexity of UBI’s effects and partly because of ethical disagreement, UBI does not lend itself to a simple, bottom-line question analogous to the question of whether vaccines are safe and effective. In the medical sense, UBI is both safe and effective. UBI will raise the incomes of net beneficiaries without holding them to any obligation to work or prove they are needy, and it will not make them break out in hives or develop any other medical complication. The central disagreement about UBI is not over the unknowns but over the ethical value of its well-known effects: is it right or wrong for a government policy to raise the incomes of low-income people whether or not they work? It is reasonable for people to have made up their minds one way or the other based on their answer to this ethical question.

            Little if any empirical investigation addresses the question of whether UBI can significantly raise net-beneficiaries’ incomes whether or not they work, because there is overwhelming evidence and very little disagreement that it can; the disagreement is whether it should. Empirical investigation of the effects of UBI does little to settle that basic moral disagreement. We could ask the question, is a UBI of $X sustainable, but for most relevant levels of X, that question is in little doubt and the answer to it will only be decisive for the group of people who support a UBI of $X if it is sustainable. UBI opponents and skeptics are not by-and-large driven by the belief that proposed levels are unsustainable. If they were, the political debate would be made up of UBI supporters who disagree about how high it should be.

            The above issues make it impossible for researchers to formulate a bottom-line question analogous to whether a vaccine is safe and effective or to give a definitive answer to any of the bottom-line questions of interest to people with different ethical positions. The ethical evaluation of the many tradeoffs involved and even the question of whether some effects should be considered positive or negative are in the eyes of the beholders.

            That being the case, why do people conduct UBI experiments at all? People conduct UBI experiments partly for strategic political reasons and because even with all these difficulties, more knowledge is better than less. Not everyone has a strong opinion about UBI, and reasonable people who do have strong opinions remain open to changing their minds about it or about some aspect in light of new knowledge.

            But information is not knowledge. More information only produces better knowledge if people understand it and its relevance. The researchers who conduct experiments do not have the ability to clear up all the potential misunderstandings discussed above. Researchers are trained to conduct experiments and report their findings to other specialists. To the extent that researchers present their findings to nonspecialists, it is usually to help them understand the research on its own terms—e.g. this is what an RCT is; this is a control group; this is an experimental group; these are the measured differences between the control and the experimental group. If laypeople’s eyes haven’t already glazed over, they almost certainly will when researchers add a bunch of caveats about the limited relevance of that comparison. As caveats get longer, journalists, policymakers, and citizens become more likely to skip to the numbers. A full understanding of the caveats is likely to leave people disappointed at how little experimental findings indicate about the actual market effects of a fully implemented, long-term, national UBI program.

            Researchers could combine their experimental findings with evidence from other sources and use tools such as simulation models to translate differences between the control and experimental group into estimates of actual market outcomes. They could combine these results with yet more data and modeling to connect estimates of market outcomes to estimated answers to the various bottom-line questions relevant to people with differing ethical positions. But this would involve doing several more nonexperimental studies in addition to the UBI experiment. And their results would be driven more by the assumptions of those models and those other sources of evidence than by the actual findings of the experiment they are reporting on.

            My recent book, A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments for Researchers, Policymakers, and Citizens, examines the difficulty of conducting and reporting the results of UBI experiments in an effort to help researchers, policymakers, and citizens gain as much useful knowledge as they can from the information UBI experiments do provide.[3] This article is an attempt to summarize some of the most important arguments from that book.

            The book discusses several general problems that virtually any UBI experiment will have to deal with: community effects, long-term effects, observer effects, the streetlight effect, the difficulty of separating the effects of the size and type of program being studied, the practical impossibility of testing a genuine UBI under most circumstances, and the problems created by using a means-tested program as an experimental approximation of UBI.[4]

            Although the book does not take a position on whether people should or should not conduct UBI experiments, it discusses the scientific and strategic reasons for having or not having experiments and the record of past experiments in achieving their goals. Virtually all experiments have succeeded in gathering useful information. Not all have successfully led to a more-knowledgeable public debate over UBI. For example, experiments conducted in the 1970s were badly misunderstood, and their findings were often misused by people intentionally or unintentionally misleading the public.[5] From UBI supporters’ point of view, some experiments have been a strategic success in building the movement and others have not. Arguably, the 1970s experiments had a negative effect on the movement at the time but are having a positive effect on the movement today. Experiments conducted in Namibia and India about 10 years ago appear to have had a large positive effect in building the worldwide UBI movement. The effects of the more recent experiments remain to be seen.[6]

            The book’s goal is not to criticize contemporary experiments but to offer some useful analysis for the people commissioning, designing, conducting, reporting on, and reading about them. To get the most out of an experiment, all of those people need to know what questions about UBI’s effects are important to the debate in the relevant political context, what questions about UBI’s effects are answered by the experiments, and most importantly what the experiments findings do and to not indicate about the important issues in the UBI debate. Researchers and journalists conducting and writing about current and future experiments need to understand how their finding have been misunderstood and misused to make their findings relevant to the contemporary debate.[7]

           The book discusses the surprisingly complex political economy that has brought about UBI experiments as a response to a movement more interested in the immediate introduction of UBI than the experimentation with it. UBI experiments are a risky strategy for the UBI movement, but as long as UBI remains a political longshot, experiments present the possibility of shortening the odds.[8]

            Anyone deciding to go forward with a UBI experiment should be aware of the inherent complexity of the material and the differences in background knowledge of the people involved. They should, therefore, also be aware that the results are vulnerable to misunderstanding and misuse, and they need to come up with strategies to increase understanding and decrease misuse as much as possible.

            That’s a difficult task. The book can do no more than begin the attempt to come up with those strategies. The book recommends the following. Treat experiment(s) as a small part of the effort to answer the questions necessary to evaluate UBI as a policy proposal. It is not enough simply to explain the experiments on their own terms (what is an RCT; what is a control group; what is an experimental group, etc.) with a list of caveats on their limits. Experiments don’t have to be conducted in conjunction with other research efforts to answer all the questions about UBI, but experiments in isolation must not be presented as saying very much at all about UBI as a policy. The true value of an experiment is its small contribution to this larger effort. For nonspecialists to understand this, someone needs to help them understand the limits of experimental methods and the additional evidence that would be necessary to connect experiment findings to the things they actually want to know about a fully implemented UBI program.[9]

            In addition to many more specific suggestions, the book stresses four broad strategies to help experiments enlighten the discussion of UBI.

  1. Work backwards from the public discussion to the experiment and then forward again. Anyone commissioning, conducting, or writing about experiments should respect the national or regional discussion of UBI. Find out what people most want to know. Design a study oriented as much as possible toward the questions that are important to that discussion with careful attention to the extent to which experiments can and cannot contribute relevant evidence and the extent to which nonexperimental data and modeling can help.[10]
  2. Focus on the effects rather than the side effects of UBI. The streetlight effect has led past experiments to focused on quantifiable side-effects, such as labor effort and cost at the expense of more important but less quantifiable issues, such as whether UBI has the positive effects on people’s long-term wellbeing supporters predict.[11]
  3. Focus on the bottom line. Although the public discussion varies enormously over time and place, and not everyone agrees on any one bottom line, the desire for an answer to questions is ubiquitous. Therefore, experimental reports must address how people with different ethical positions can use the results toward making an overall evaluation of UBI as a long-term, national policy. Experiments alone cannot provide enough evidence to answer a bottom-line question, but researchers can relate all of their findings to it. Citizens and policymakers often need a great deal of help to understand that relationship meaningfully.[12]
  4. Address the ethical controversy. Researchers cannot resolve the controversy over the ethical evaluation of UBI, nor should they try. But they do the public a disservice by ignoring it. They can better head off spin by recognizing the controversy and explaining what the findings mean to people who hold different ethical positions that are common locally and internationally.[13]

            The overall cost-effectiveness of a fully implemented, national UBI is probably the closest thing to a bottom-line question relevant to people on all sides of the relevant ethical disagreements, but issue-specific bottom-line questions for any variable of interest are also relevant. [14] The book discusses claims made by supporters and opponents and tries to identify testable empirical questions about those claims. Several empirical claims that should not be ignored cannot be tested on an experimental scale. Evidence about these claims will have to come from other sources, which will have to be combined with experimental evidence to connect any experimental findings any relevant bottom-line question.[15]

            Although experiments alone cannot conclusively answer any questions about a national UBI, the book identifies many claims that UBI experiments can examine if only partially, indirectly, and/or inconclusively. It discusses the implications these limitations have for conducting a study and communicating its results.[16] The book does not take a position on the question of whether UBI experiments should or should not be undertaken. That answer depends on the particularities of the local political context. The question is not whether to have an experiment. Experiments are happening right now all over the world. The question is how to learn the most from them.[17]

            The book concludes with a discussion of how to work forward from the experimental results to the public discussion with the awareness of the role those claims play in the political economy of the UBI discussion so that they might be explained in ways that overcome communication barriers and reduce the problems associated with misunderstanding and misuse of experimental findings.[18]

            I wish I could say this strategy fully resolves the problem, but that isn’t possible. A social science experiment is a very limited tool, and its implications are inherently difficult to understand. The effort to treat experiments as a small and incomplete part of a wider effort to answer all the important empirical issues about UBI will help but won’t eliminate misunderstanding.[19]

            There will always be gaps in understanding between the people involved in the discussion of such a complex issue and such complex evidence. If a nonspecialist learns everything specialists know, they become a specialist. But experimentation and communication can always be improved. I hope this book, this summary article, and this special issue make a small contribution to that effort.

[1] This article summarizes and draws heavily on the book, A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments for Researchers, Policymakers, and Citizens, Karl Widerquist, Palgrave Macmillan 2018. I summarized that book very differently in the article, “The Devil’s in the Caveats: A Brief Discussion of the Difficulties of Basic Income Experiments,” Karl Widerquist, CESifo Forum 19 (3), September 2018, 30-35.

[2] Jamie Condliffe, “In 2017, We Will Find out If a Basic Income Makes Sense,” MIT Technology Review, December 19 2016.

[3] Widerquist, A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments.

[4] Widerquist, A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments pp. 19-42.

[5] Karl Widerquist, 2005. “A Failure to Communicate: What (if Anything) Can We Learn From the Negative Income Tax Experiments?the Journal of Socio-Economics 34 (1): 49–81; Widerquist, A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments, pp. 43-56.

[6] Widerquist, A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments, pp. 57-70.

[7] Ibid., pp. 77-92.

[8] Ibid., pp. 71-76.

[9] Ibid., pp. 11.

[10] Ibid., pp. 11.

[11] Ibid., pp. 12.

[12] Ibid., pp. 12.

[13] Ibid., pp. 12.

[14] Ibid., pp. 93-98.

[15] Ibid., pp. 99-114.

[16] Ibid., pp. 115-130.

[17] Ibid., pp. 141-144.

[18] Ibid., pp. 145-150.

[19] Ibid., pp. 12.

Basic Income March, New York, 2019

NAMIBIA: Wilfred Diergaardt Dies

Wilfred Diergaardt, a long-time leader of the Basic Income movement in Namibia, died of Covid-19 earlier this month. One December 22, Claudia and Dirk Haarmann, sent the following announcement of Dieragaardt’s death:

It is with a very sad heart that we have to share with you that this morning Rev. Wilfred Diergaardt passed on.

He has been a dear brother and comrade in the struggle for social justice in the Namibian Basic Income Grant campaign and in the fight against HIV-AIDS. His passing on leaves a devastating gap for his family, friends and society at large, which is currently beyond comprehension.

He was hospitalized with COVID-19 on the 8th of Dezember and was treated the last days in the ICU. His wife Cynthia informed us this morning and asked us to convey this sad news to you as colleagues and friends. Please keep her and the family in your prayers! 

You can reach her and the family at: blessingouma2014@gmail.com

Yours in Christ,

Claudia & Dirk

See also UEM mourns the death of Pastor Wilfred Diergaardt and Lutheran churches call for Basic Income Grant in Namibia.

Wilfred Diergaardt
BRAZIL: UBI Makes Progress

BRAZIL: UBI Makes Progress

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is making significant progress in Brazil, according to the following letter former Senator Eduardo Suplicy sent to leaders of BIEN. (See also: Maricá one step from Universal Basic Income):

my dear friends of BIEN:
Let me inform you what I consider another positive step in favor of the Citizen’s Basic Income, Universal and Unconditional. Yesterday we had municipal elections in all Brazilian cities.
As a candidate for being reelected citycouncilman I got 167.552 votes, the most voted candidate for a citycouncilman in the city of São Paulo or in any other city of Brazil.
It is also a very good news for the objectives of BIEN that the Mayor of Maricá, Fabiano Horta of the PT (Worker’s Party), who has started the institution of a Basic Income, has been reelected with 88% of the votes. Since December 2019, ¼ of the population of 162 thousand people, 42.500 inhabitants started to receive a Basic Income of 300 mumbucas per month, a social money (each mumbuca is equal to one real – each dollar is equal to R$ 5.42). By December 2020, ½ of the population will be receiving it and by 2024 the whole population of Maricá will be receiving the Citizen’s Basic Income.
I have already informed you that last July 21st, 220 federal deputies and senators formed the Parliamentary Front in Defense of the Basic Income. The President João Henrique Campos invited me to be the President of Honor due to the fact that I am the author of the Law 10.835/2004 that institutes, step by step, starting with those most in need, the Citizen’s Basic Income.
Therefore, Brazil is moving, step by step, towards  UBI.
My best regards, o abraço amigo,
Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy
Video, Photos, and Speeches From 2020’s Rain-Soaked UBI March in New Orleans

Video, Photos, and Speeches From 2020’s Rain-Soaked UBI March in New Orleans

On September 19, 2020, people marched for UBI all over the world even in New Orleans where a steady rain came down all day. This blog post has videos and pictures from the march. It was an honor for me to be asked to speak to this group of people who came out on the rain and stayed out for several hours even as the rain kept coming. It was great to think that we were one small part of a march that took place all over teh world–on all six of the inhabited continents. Next year: UBI march Antarctica! Meet me there.

First, 6 videos:

Video of the UBI march and some of the accompanying speeches, September 19, 2020
Jeremy Habegger’s speech recorded after the rain subsided
Karl Widerquist’s speech in the rain
Antoine Pierce speaking at the UBI march
Scott Santens speaking at the UBI March
Basic Income marchers join Black Lives Matter to kneel for police reform

Next, some still photographs:

Why I March for Basic Income

Why I March for Basic Income

Below is the a copyedited version of the speech I delivered at the Basic Income March, New York, October 26, 2019 in the Bronx, New York, October 26, 2019. Pierre Madden ranscribed and copyedited it, in Montreal, Quebec, September 2020. Then I copyedited it again, at St. Elizabeth’s, Napoleon Avenue, New Orleans, September 11-13, 2020

I march for UBI because it’s wrong to come between anybody and the resources they need to survive and that is exactly what we do in just about every country in the world today. Poverty doesn’t just happen. People don’t get themselves into poverty. Poverty is a lack of access to resources. The world is full of resources. The only reason you can lack access to the resources you need to survive is because somebody else controls them whether it’s an owner, whether it’s a politburo or whether it’s a bureaucracy. It doesn’t matter who controls them. If it’s not you and they say you can’t use them unless you do what we say, you are not free.

A video of the actual speech, October 26, 2019

Freedom is independence. Freedom is the power to say no to anybody who wants to give you orders. But we’ve set up the world so it seems so natural that some people should just own the earth. And the rest of us, the 90%, the 99%, we all have to go to them to get our job or we have no resources to keep us alive. And we call that “work.” We act like there’s no other kind. As if the only thing work could possibly mean is going and taking orders from somebody who has more privileges than you do. Working for yourself has become impossible. It’s been impossible since we kicked the peasants off the land and enclosed the commons. Working for yourself has been impossible since we killed the buffalo. Working for yourself has been impossible since we abducted the slaves. And the freed slaves knew this at the end of the Civil War. That’s why they asked for 40 acres and a mule. Unfortunately, their masters knew it too: that’s why they didn’t get it.

Marching from Harlem to the South Bronx
October 26, 2019

There’s nothing wrong with a job. Jobs don’t make you unfree. What makes you unfree is when instead of saying I want you to work for me so I am going to pay you enough that you’ll want to work for me, they say I’m going to take everything starve you into submission. A small group of owners took all the resources. They didn’t invent these resources. These resources were here before all of us. And this group of people, this tiny little privileged group of people are going to take all the resources and they are not going to share with anybody until the people who have nothing provide services for the people who already own everything. That’s why when you control resources, you don’t get just the resources; you get to control other people.

The obligation should go in the other direction. Instead of the poor being obliged to work for the rich, the rich should be obliged to work for the poor. The only thing you could possibly do to justify owning resources, to own more resources than other people do, to have more access to resources, to have more control over resources, to use and use up more resources than other people do, is to provide some sort of service for them.

The New York Basic Income March, October 16, 2019

That’s why we need to tax the owners of property. All property is made out of resources. Every single piece of property, even on the internet. You need a place to stand when you make the internet. You need energy to make that internet work. All property is made out of resources.

They’ll tell you they’ve paid for those resources. No, they paid the last guy who owned them. They didn’t pay all of us who don’t own any resources. If you want to take a part of the earth that was here before you, you’ve got to pay back, provide a service for those who own nothing. That’s why you have to pay a tax on resources and the distribution of the revenue from that tax has to be unconditional.

But they’ll say, that’s something for nothing. No, that’s exactly backwards. The system we have now is something for nothing, where people who own the Earth don’t pay anything to those of us who therefore must do without. That’s something for nothing.

The South Bronx, October 26, 2019

We pretend we’re free because we have a choice of which one of these property owners we can work for. A choice of masters is not freedom. Freedom is independence. Freedom is the power to say no to anyone who would want to be your master. When you establish that, everybody gets some of the value of the resources of this earth, enough to live in dignity, enough to survive, enough that you don’t have to work unless somebody makes it worth your while. Oh, but they will say: All those lazy workers won’t work if you do that.

Notice how it’s always lazy workers and never cheap employers. No, that’s never said. So what we’re really doing when we say this, is we’re taking sides in a dispute. When somebody offers a job and somebody else doesn’t want it, that’s a dispute about wages and working conditions. Everyone has their price, right? So, if there’s a good price, people will take it: Good wages, good working conditions. Someone will take that job. But if we say whatever the wage is, if you don’t take that job you’re a lazy worker. Never a cheap employer. It’s like we’re looking at a dispute and pretending it’s not even a dispute. We’re pretending that only this side counts. We’re taking sides in a dispute, and we’re siding with the most privileged person. We’re morally judging the weakest, the least powerful person, the most vulnerable person, and leaving the privileged people beyond reproach, as if they’re not even a party to a dispute.

A video documentary of the Basic Income March,
Harlem to the South Bronx, Ching Juhl,
October 26, 2019

That’s the way the system works today.

And that’s based on a ridiculous assumption that the privileged people of the world, whether they’re in government or whether they’re private resource owners, they get to judge everybody else. They get to judge the weak and the vulnerable. They say: you deserve to live; you don’t. You go be homeless, you go eat out of dumpsters or do whatever else you have to do to keep yourself alive. That is the ridiculous assumption that there is anyone who doesn’t deserve the basic resources that they need to survive. And they decide who’s deserving on the self-serving assumption that privileged people have the right to judge whether unprivileged people deserve to survive. Those assumptions are self-serving to begin with. And look how self-servingly they use that power! In practice, the number one thing that we ask of the poor is, “if you’re truly needy, are you willing to work for the rich?

Are you willing to work for people who own property? That’s what you’ve got to do to prove that you’re worthy. That’s so self-serving on the part of the privileged. And for almost all of us, it’s self-defeating, because most of us don’t have enough property to work for ourselves. The vast majority of us have to work for someone who owns enough property to hire us. By creating the situation where the more privileged to get to block the less privileged from the resources they need to survive, we’ve created a situation where just about everybody has to work either directly or indirectly for the wealthiest of us.

Marching from Harlem to the Bronx, October 26, 2020

And that creates this terrible work incentive problem. When they talk about incentives, they only talk about the incentives for those lazy workers to work. What about the incentive for those cheap employers to pay good wages? That incentive problem doesn’t just affect the people at the low end. 41 years ago, real per capita income was half of what it is now. That means we could all be working half as much and consuming the same or we could be working the same and consuming twice as much as we did 41 years ago. But most people are working just as much as their parents were 41 years ago and consuming little if any more than their parents did 41 years ago. We’ve had all this economic growth all this automation in the past 41 years and the benefits have all gone to the top 1%. Basic Income is not just for those other people at the low end, it’s for everybody who has no other choice but to work for a living.

We have owed each other a Basic Income since we enclosed the common lands, since we abducted the slaves, since we killed the buffalo not because some long-dead person stole something from some other long-dead person but because they created a system that privileges some, impoverishes others, and corrupts us all. We all owe each other a Basic Income now. That’s why I’m marching today and thank you for joining me.
Karl Widerquist, the Bronx, New York, October 26, 2019, final edits St. Elizabeth’s, Napoleon Avenue, New Orleans, September 13, 2020

A video interview of Karl Widerquist, by Ching Juhl, June 22, 2020


All the images and videos above are by Ching Juhl of Juhl Media.



Pierre Madden, transcribed this text, did some of the copyedting.