A Four-Sentence Argument for Basic Income

My main perspective is an argument with four premises:
1. It’s wrong for anyone to come between anyone else and the resources they need to survive in almost all circumstances.
2. Freedom is the power to say no.
3. A private property economy (or a socialist economy) without basic income interferes with people as they try to use resources to survive.
4. By doing 3, economic rules take people’s freedom away.
5. (Conclusion): private property or socialist economies require a basic income large enough to meet people’s basic needs.
I’ve written a lot justifying each of these premises, explaining & exploring what they mean, justifying the connection between these premises and the conclusion, replying to potential objections, making addition arguments for basic income, and exploring other conclusions that follow from my basic moral perspective, but–near as I can tell–this is the heart of my political theory.
Manufactured desperation (Mandatory Participation on Trial, Part 18)

Manufactured desperation (Mandatory Participation on Trial, Part 18)

The last post in my 18-part blog series, “Mandatory Participation on Trial,” is now online. Here is the lead paragraph:

According to Henry David Thoreau, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I think it’s more accurate to say the mass of people lead lives of manufactured desperation. We, as a people, are not in a desperate struggle to produce enough food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities of life for everyone. We can do that with ease. We worked our way out of that struggle long ago, if it was ever real at all. We are instead in a challenging struggle to provide more luxuries and leisure without destroying the environment that sustains us. Yet, the mass of people as individuals still often find themselves in a desperate struggle to maintain access to food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities of life. 

Read the full text here.

Mandatory Participation on Trial

Mandatory Participation on Trial

I’ve started a new 17-part series, called Mandatory Participation on Trial, on my blog. Part 1 just came out April 13. Sixteen more will come out once per week for the next 16 weeks. It counterattacks critics of UBI by grouping all systems without any form of guaranteed income into a mandatory-participation model, and by criticizing that model.  I think you’ll be interested and so will most people who visit this site.

Polls Indicate Support For Basic Income Increased From 8-to-1 Against to 3-to-1 in Favor Between 2011 to 2021

Polls Indicate Support For Basic Income Increased From 8-to-1 Against to 3-to-1 in Favor Between 2011 to 2021

Two polls conducted in 2021 both found that a substantial majority of Americans now support Universal Basic Income (UBI) or some form of Guaranteed Income. One survey, conducted by Data for Progress, found that 55% of Americans support UBI while 39% oppose it. Another survey, by Skynova, found 67% of Americans support UBI while 20% oppose it.

Compare these findings to a poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports back in 2011. Rasmussen found that only 11% of Americans supported a Basic Income and 82% opposed it.

If we take these polls at face-value, they indicate support for UBI has increased by 6 times, and opposition to it has declined by 3/4ths. If so, the ratio has risen from 8-to-1 against to 3-to-1 in favor.

But of course, no one takes polls at face-value. The headline phrase, “polls indicate” (which I used in the headline), is a bit of an exaggeration, because it assumes a very simplistic, face-value reading of the two most extreme polls. Not even pollsters take poll results at face-value. Polling is a highly imperfect attempt to find out what people think. A good deal of the misunderstanding about polls comes not from the pollsters trying to get people to believe their findings, but from readers wanting to believe polls are more reliable than they are.

Given recent changes in the political dialogue in the United States and the world, it is unsurprising that U.S. support for UBI has increased, but to go from more than 8-to-1 opposed to as much as 3-to-1 is probably an exaggeration.

Some of the difference between polls can be attributed to differences in how the questions are worded.

The 2011 Rasmussen Report poll asked, “Another proposal has been made for the federal government to provide every single American with a basic income grant. The idea would be to provide enough money for everyone to enjoy a modest living regardless of whether or not they choose to work. Do you favor or oppose having the federal government provide every single American with a basic income grant?”

The 2021 Data for Progress poll asked “A guaranteed income is a policy that would provide monthly payments of around $500-$1,000 to individuals, regardless of their employment status and with no strings attached. Would you support or oppose implementing a guaranteed income in the U.S.?”

The 2021 Skynova poll report does not include the exact wording of the question. Their report simply reads, “Respondent Support of Universal Basic Income.”

The Rasmussen survey was worded more negatively than the Data for Progress survey. It didn’t mention a specific amount, and implied it would be rather high. The Data for Progress survey mentioned a specific—and rather modest—amount. Although all three polls seem to focus on a genuine UBI (rather than some other form of guaranteed income), they use three different names for it, “Basic Income Grant,” “Guaranteed Income,” and “Universal Basic Income.” How this wording might affect the results is hard to guess.

Other reasons poll results differ include the methods they use to contact a representative sample of people and the biases of the people conducting the survey alsot. Right-of-center pollsters tend to find results a little closer to what right-of-center people want to be true, and left-of-center pollsters tend to find results a little closer to what left-of-center people want to be true. Rasmussen tends to be right-leaning. Data for Progress and Skynova are more left leading.

Yet, it’s hard to imagine that the differences between the various pollsters’ techniques could account for the stark change from 2011 to 2021. Even though they are highly imperfect, it is likely that the difference between 2011 and 2021 reflects a major shift in U.S. public opinion. In 2011, UBI and other forms of Guaranteed Income had been absent from mainstream political discussion for 30 years. Today, UBI is increasingly a part of mainstream discussion as people with very different perspectives have come together in support of the idea.

The more modest of the two 2021 surveys (Data for Progress) still found substantial majority support for UBI: 55-39. Even if this finding is correct, it does not mean that UBI is on the verge of introduction. Majority opinion fluctuates widely, and the U.S. system has many barriers to enacting the majority’s will. The laws are more closely correlated to opinions of the donor class than to the opinion of voters. Although many mayors across the country have endorsed UBI, only a few members of Congress have gone on record for it so far. UBI still faces an uphill struggle.

Yet, UBI is on the table. People are taking the idea seriously. Support is growing. There is no telling how far that will go.

-Karl Widerquist, first draft Dallas Airport October 2021, final draft Anis Café, Doha, Qatar, October 26, 2021

Further info:

My blog post about the 2021 survey:

The Rasmussen Report survey from 2011:

The two surveys from this year:


如果关于普遍基本收入(UBI)的公开辩论要从世界各地发生的许多UBI实验中受益,那么参与辩论的记者、决策者和公民需要了解UBI实验可以做什么,更重要的是,它们不能做什么。UBI的实验可以让我们对UBI的一些影响增加了解,但它们似乎并不能达到许多记者、公民和决策者所期望的效果。2016年12月份, 麻省理工科技评论完美地解释了普遍的对UBI的过分期望,标题刊登为:“2017年,我们将明确基本收入是否有意义”。尽管我们想通过UBI试验明确测试出其功效,但试验并不能得出某种决定性的信息,来影响绝大多数人支持或反对UBI的决策。







RCT 可以回答对照组是否比实验组工作时间更长的问题,但他们无法回答雇主是否会通过提供更好的工资和工作条件来响应全国 UBI,以及这些工作场所的改善是否会部分扭转最初的在劳动时间方面的下降趋势。像一个明灯,UBI 实验将把每个人的注意力——即使是最理性、最有见识的研究人员——吸引到通过对照组和实验组之间的比较产生的可量化数字上,远离更重要但难以回答的问题。

出现这样的情况,部分是因为 UBI 影响的复杂性,部分是因为伦理上的分歧,UBI 不适合用类似于疫苗是否安全有效的简单的底线问题去决策。在医学意义上,UBI既安全又有效。 UBI 将提高净受益人的收入,而无需让他们承担任何工作义务或证明他们有需要,并且不会使他们患上荨麻疹或出现任何其他医疗并发症。关于 UBI 的主要分歧不在于未知数,而在于其众所周知的影响的伦理价值:无论低收入人群是否工作,政府提高低收入人群收入的政策是对还是错?人们根据他们对这个道德问题的回答,以一种或另一种方式下定决心(做决策)都是合理的。

UBI 是否可以显著提高净受益人的收入(无论他们是否工作)这一问题几乎没有任何实证调查,因为有压倒性的证据证明其能,且几乎没有异议;分歧在于是否应该这样做。对 UBI 影响的实证研究几乎无法解决基本的道德分歧。我们可以问一个问题,X 美元的 UBI 是否可持续,但对于 X 的大多数相关水平,这个问题是毫无疑问的,并且答案只会对支持 X 美元 UBI 的人群具有决定性。 UBI 的反对者和怀疑者基本上并不是因为认为提议的水平是不可持续的,否则政治辩论中的人都会是UBI的支持者,只是对金额的高低有分歧而已。


既然如此,为什么人们还要进行 UBI 实验呢?人们进行 UBI 实验的部分原因是出于战略政治原因,因为即使存在所有这些困难,更多的知识总比更少的好。并不是每个人都对 UBI 有强烈的看法,而有强烈看法的理性人仍然愿意根据新知识改变他们对 UBI 或某些方面的看法。


这就是随机控制实验,这是一个对照组;这是一个实验组;这些是控制组和实验组之间的测量差异。研究人员添加一堆关于这种比较的有限相关性的警告会令外行呆住。随着警告越来越长,记者、政策制定者和公民更有可能直接跳到数字上。对这些警告的充分理解可能会让人们对实验结果表明完全实施的长期全国性UBI 计划的实际市场影响如此之少感到失望。

研究人员可以将他们的实验结果与其他来源的证据结合起来,并使用模拟模型等工具将对照组和实验组之间的差异转化为对实际市场结果的估计。他们可以将这些结果与更多数据和模型结合起来,将市场结果的估计与具有不同道德立场的人关切的各种底线问题的估计答案联系起来。但这将涉及在 UBI 实验之外进行更多的非实验性研究。他们的结果将更多地由这些模型的假设和其他证据来源驱动,而不是由他们正在报告的实验的实际发现驱动。

我最近的书《研究人员、政策制定者和公民基本收入实验的批判性分析》探讨了进行和报告 UBI 实验结果的难度,以通过UBI实验帮助研究人员、政策制定者和公民尽可能多地获得有用的知识。 [3] 本文试图总结该书中的一些最重要的论点。





任何人在决定进行UBI实验之前都应该意识到事物的内在复杂性以及相关人员背景知识的差异。 因此,他们也应该意识到,实验结果容易被误解和误用,他们需要制定战略,尽可能增加理解,减少误用。












[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,基本收入实验的批判性分析

[4] 威德奎斯特,⟪关于基本收入实验的批判性分析⟫ 第 19-42页.

[5] 卡尔 威德奎斯特,2005.“沟通的失败:我们能从负所得税实验中学到什么(如果有的话)“《社会经济学杂志》34(1):49–81;威德奎斯特,《基本收入实验的批判性分析》, 第43-56页.


[7] 同上。 第77-92页.

[8] 同上。 第71-76页.

[9] 同上。 第11页.











Thank you to Chunzhuo Zhang (Joey), Fang Yuan (Sherry), Xianwen Huang (Amanda) and Qihao Liang (Qihao) for this translation into Chinese.

The original article in English can be found here.