Think the Impossible: Pieter Kooistra documentary

by Brigitta Scheepsma

Pieter Kooistra, born in Leeuwarden, was not only an artist, but also a world improver. He founded the Kunstuitleen and advocated basic income. With the Fryslân DOK “Think the impossible”, documentary maker Anne van Slageren ( sketches a portrait of Pieter Kooistra. The ideas he developed at the end of the last century are also topical today.

“Be realistic. Think the impossible. ” These are the words of artist Pieter Kooistra (1922-1998). He wanted to stop the unequal distribution of wealth in the world and the destruction of the planet. “He was a visionary,” says Annemieke Roobeek, professor at Nyenrode Business University. After seeing images of starving children in India, Pieter Kooistra understood that art, which he describes as “the spiritual”, could not do without “the material”. He went on a journey and came up with a plan for a basic world income. Economist Annemieke Roobeek now predicts: “A basic income for everyone will one day belong to our time and the world.” She even sees a role for the European Central Bank in this.

In the Fryslân DOK “Think the impossible”, Brigitta Scheepsma, party leader of GroenLinks in the municipality of Tytsjerksteradiel, goes in search of man Pieter Kooistra and his ideas. In the Veerhuis aan de Waal in Varik, where Kooistra worked, she meets Henry Mentink, who wants to keep Pieter Kooistra’s ideas alive. She visits Terschelling, where Pieter Kooistra set up an alternative holiday colony. Former partner Trees Niekus says about this passionate man: “He was unstoppable.”

This documentary was broadcast in October the 17th and 18th 2020 on Dutch Television.

For more information about Pieter Kooistra, please contact Henry Mentink of the Veerhuis in Varik, /

For more information about the documentary and copyright, please contact Omroep Friesland ( or the director (

BIEN Stories: Louise Haagh

BIEN Stories: Louise Haagh

Louise Haagh (BIEN Co-Chair)

I first came across basic income in summer of 2001 when instructed about it by Workers’ Party Senator Eduardo Suplicy, at his home in São Paulo. I was doing research on workers’ rights, at the same time undertaking a survey of economic security among residents in poor and middle-income districts (published in World Development, 2011a). Eduardo famously played a key role in the drive to legalise a basic income as a policy goal in Brazil, and in presenting the extension of targeted cash grants as a step towards it (Suplicy, 2002). Eduardo was insistent that I do not go home that evening till I mastered all there was to know about reasons for basic income and how the path towards it was being paved in Brazil. Night fell. I remember enjoying more than a few helpings of food and tea, before Eduardo was satisfied I understood, after which – the gentleman that he is – he accompanied me to somewhere I could hail a cab, making sure to have a long friendly chat with the driver before we were sent off into the night.

The basic income appealed to me then primarily as a necessary foundation for consolidating workers’ rights – and in many ways that is still how I see it, but in a broader context of rights to human development. I had been working on workers’ rights and issues of economic citizenship since the early 1990s, during my PhD on Chile and later work on South Korea, both places I spent a lot of time and in which I did surveys of workers’ condition of precarity and their institutional sources of power. Against this background I was struck by the sanity – the immediately obvious justification for basic income. It seemed to me evident that the most important justification was a basic humanist and democratic one – and I still think that today.

Coming to the BI proposal from the perspective of workers’ movements, and in general the problem of the democratisation of everyday institutions, gives a different perspective on the political character of a BI reform. Above all, it makes it evident that BI intersects with other institutional and political challenges. This is something I am very conscious of when thinking about the question of how a BI might extend the social bases of freedom.

The sense in which I first found BI intuitively important was in relation to occupational freedom. I had been studying the economic liberalisation and institutional restructuring of the Chilean economy during the years of Pinochet and found that the precariousness among workers it generated, both economically and institutionally, had become embedded in a way that the new democratic regime of 1990 could not overturn (Haagh 2002a, 1999). The result, I argued (Haagh, 2002b), was that Chile deepened political rights without this leading to the expected deepening of social rights, given the absence of economic rights. This marked an evident contrast to the formation of welfare states in Europe in the 20th century, as discussed in T.H. Marshall (1949). Before I knew about basic income – during the mid-1990s – I had been working on a concept of ‘occupational citizenship’ – first in my PhD and then during a later British Academy post-doctoral fellowship at Oxford University. Essentially, what sparked my enquiry was the contradiction within liberal economic theory – so manifest in the labour market outcomes I studied in Chile – between the expectation of worker mobility– and the lack of underlying forms of economic security – in the forms both of money and services – that would make this sustainable.

I argued the atomised labour market regime not only predictably led to weak investment in skills, and thus a low-wage, low–skill equilibrium economy (Haagh 1999). In addition, it undermined workers’ freedom in a way that denied them effective citizenship within the polity at large (Haagh 2002a,b).

Having theorised a ‘gap’ in terms of absence of occupational citizenship (Haagh 1999, 2002a), it seemed obvious to me that basic income (BI) would be a necessary but not sufficient element in improving persons’ control of their lives.

There are important lessons from Latin America about the political conditions for a BI reform that are important to consider as the debate on BI is gaining force in Europe today. These are of both a practical and analytical kind. Like the case of Chile’s in part stunted democratization, the story of BI in Latin America is not a straightforward one of cash grants turning into rights (Lo Vuolo 2013). Similarly, one cannot be sure prospective transitions into partial forms of basic income through experimentation in Europe will turn into secure bastions of freedom, given the overall context of austerity and preceding roll-back of public sector protections (Haagh 2015).

It is ironic to think that Friedman – who advocated a form of constant basic security in the shape of the Negative Income Tax essentially on freedom grounds as rooted in an idea of independence – also indirectly was architect of Chile’s economic experiment.[1] The irony lies in the fact that that experiment was not complemented with a set of basic rights outside the market. On the contrary, deregulation of unions’ functions – detailed in Haagh (2002a,b) – along with other mechanisms of economic security, was paralleled with the implementation a state organised system of individual insurance, too weakly subsidized to afford real protection (Haagh 2002a, 2006). Given the underlying precarity of workers’ income streams, the individual insurance model was unable to offer effective cover.

The case of Chile shows why basic income has moral appeal, yet the basis of that appeal that lie in destabilisation, precarity, inequality, and loss of workers’ democratic rights may not be a likely political basis for a sustainable BI reform. Moreover, time has shown that in conditions of high inequality and weaker public finances, such as in Latin America, political preferences are likely to continue to be for targeted and conditional benefits (Lo Vuolo 2013, Haagh 2007, 2011a, 2013, Haagh and Helgø 2002).

The practical contradiction – as demonstrated in Chile – between the two seemingly symbiotic elements of Friedman’s advocacy, for economic liberalisation, and for basic security, is then not that surprising from a political and institutional perspective.

This is because the destabilisation of institutions that the first project entails destroys the basis for everyday cooperation within society that gives legitimacy to the second project to extend universal rights. Although Friedman did not see the Negative Income Tax as a welfare right, but as a kind of money mechanism to promote agency and ensure against basic risk, even something ostensibly simple like the NIT, depends on quite complex institutional development and political agreements. The fact that Friedman did not like the welfare state does not mean it did and does not exist in the United States. It is its more hierarchical – interclass-distributive- form that makes it more incoherent and punitive (Haagh 2012, 2015).

In short, the conditions of precarity in Latin America – now more common in the developed world – showed me why basic income is morally necessary for the market economy (as Friedman knew), but not itself sufficient for freedom in a democratic polity.

The Chilean case also showed me that the moral appeal of basic income is not the same as a political foundation for basic income reform. The two may even be contradictory if moral appeal is linked with conditions of crisis and compensation, as distinct from equality as equal standing in a more complex sense, which gives to BI a key but partial role in democratising institutions’ form.

For me it is very important to stress the compatibility of basic income and the interests of workers’ movements. The demands made by workers’ organisations historically can be argued to have played a transitional role in a process of democratisation to consolidate more universal rights. At the same time, the interests they channel in terms of institutions’ stability and democratic form represents something constant and deeper. This is important to remember today when – in a context of growing precarity in the developed world – there is a risk that the defence of basic income comes to be thought about as compensation for loss of – or an exchange for – other rights.

Coming back to that evening in 2001, it was not at all a surprise to me then that it was a Senator of a Workers’ Party advocating for basic income who was trying to convince me of the. To me, it was intuitive that workers’ movements should and would embrace the idea – at least in the context of a family of rights-based institutional changes. Having come to BI via work on unions, I was therefore quite surprised when – after going to the BIEN Congress in Geneva in 2002 – I became aware of the polemical nature of the BI debate concerning the relationship of that proposal and the established welfare state – hereunder social democracy and the union movement. Although it is painful to acknowledge, I think an important basis for that real life tension lies in the academic basis of the BI proposal as couched in fairly abstract and idealistic terms (Haagh 2011b).

In short, coming from the comparative institutional tradition of historical enquiry it seems evident to me that basic income is an element in a wider process of democratisation of institutions in society. The success, substance, form, and stability of that proposal is likely to stand or fall with the level of democratisation of society as a whole.

That is why we should not be surprised that BI experiments and debates are happening today in some of the most institutionally developed welfare states in Europe. It is far from given however how they will turn out.


[1] Explaining the purpose of the Negative Income Tax that closely resembles a basic income, Friedman (1979, 120) argued that the ‘basic amount’  (or ’personal allowance’) would “..provide an assured minimum to all persons in need regardless of the reasons for their need, while doing as little harm as possible to their character, their independence, or their incentive to better their own condition” (italics added) 120 He further (ibid. 121) noted, “[t]he negative income tax would allow for fluctuating income… but that is not its main purpose. Its main purpose is rather to provide a straightforward means of assuring every family a minimum amount…”


Friedman, M., 1990[1979/1980], Free to Choose, San Diego: Harvest.

Haagh, L. (2015) Alternative Social States and the Basic Income Debate: Institutions, Inequality and Human Development,’ in Basic Income Studies, Special Issue on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, August, ISSN (Online) 1932-0183, ISSN (Print) 2194-6094, DOI: 10.1515/bis-2015-0002, August 2015,

Haagh, L. (2013) ‘The Citizens’ Income and Democratization in Latin America – A Multi-Institutional Perspective‘ in Rubén Lo Vuolo (Ed.) Citizen’s Income and Welfare Regimes in Latin America. From Cash Transfers to Rights, Exploring the Basic Income Guarantee Series, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Haagh, L. (2012) ‘Democracy, Public Finance, and Property Rights in Economic Stability: How More Horizontal Capitalism Upscales Freedom for All’ in Polity, October, Volume 44, No. 4. pp.542-587.

Haagh, L. (2011a) ‘Working Life, Well-Being and Welfare Reform: Motivation and Institutions Revisited’, World Development, March, Vol. 39, No.3.  pp.450-573. Also available Basic Income, Social Democracy and Control over Time at:

Haagh, L. (2011b) , Policy and Politics, January, Vol. 39, No.1, pp. 41-64.

Haagh, L. (2007) ‘Basic Income, Occupational Freedom and Anti-Poverty Policy’ in Basic Income Studies, Vol. 2, Issue, 1, June.

Haagh, L. (2006) ‘Equality and Income Security in Market Economies: What’s Wrong with Insurance?’’ in Social Policy and Administration, Vol. 40:4, 385-424.

Haagh, L. (2002a) Citizenship, Labour Markets and Democratization – Chile and the Modern Sequence, Basingstoke: Palgrave, St. Antony’s Series.

Haagh, L. and Camilla Helgø (2002) (Eds), Social Policy Reform and Market Governance in Latin America, Basingstoke: Palgrave. St. Antony’s Series.

Haagh, L. (2002b)  ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes: Labor Reform and Social Democratization in Chile’, Studies in Comparative International Development, Vol. 37, No.1, Spring, pp. 86-115.

Haagh L (1999) ‘Training Policy and the Property Rights of Labour in Chile (1990-1997): Social Citizenship in the Atomised Market Regime, Journal of Latin American Studies, Cambridge University Press, 31, 429-472.

Lo Vuolo, R. (Ed.)Citizen’s Income and Welfare Regimes in Latin America. From Cash Transfers to Rights, Exploring the Basic Income Guarantee Series, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Marshall, Thomas, H., 1949, Citizenship and Social Class, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Suplicy, E. (2002), Renda de Cidadania – A Saída é Pela Porta, Cortez Editora


Photo credit: Enno Schmidt

At the end of 2016, the year in which BIEN celebrated the 30th anniversary of its birth, all Life Members were invited to reflect on their own personal journeys with the organization. See other contributions to the feature edition here.

BIEN Stories: Karl Widerquist

BIEN Stories: Karl Widerquist

(photo credit: Enno Schmidt)


Karl Widerquist (Co-Chair)

When I first attended a BIEN Congress in 1998, I’d already been a Basic Income supporter for 18 years, but it was exhilarating for me just to find out that there were enough dedicated Basic Income supporters to fill an auditorium. I was a young researcher looking to get noticed. I sent my proposal in months before the deadline. The leaders of BIEN, especially Robert van der Veen, made me feel that my work was notable. I’ve been involved ever since, and I’ve watched the Basic Income movement growth, slowly, barely noticeably until about 2010 or 2011, but very quickly since then. I don’t think BIEN should try to grab credit for the takeoff. We should all just be happy it’s happening and do what we can to build on it.

It’s exciting to see BIEN growing along with the movement. We now have affiliates all around the world, some of which have been instrumental in activism and research about Basic Income. Our news service has grown from a quarterly snail mail newsletter with a few dozen subscribers to a daily updated news website and an email newsletter with over 4,000 subscribers. We have moved from conferences every two-years to conferences every year. Our membership and interest just continues to grow.

At the end of 2016, the year in which BIEN celebrated the 30th anniversary of its birth, all Life Members were invited to reflect on their own personal journeys with the organization. See other contributions to the feature edition here.

Feature coordinator: Kate McFarland.

BIEN Stories: Jenna van Draanen

BIEN Stories: Jenna van Draanen

Jenna van Draanen (News Editor and Outreach Coordinator)

Working with BIEN has been a wonderful experience for me. Not only are there extremely dedicated people here, but they are also talented and kind. With BIEN, I get to talk to people all over the world who are working on basic income in their respective countries and policy contexts – and learn from what they are doing.

This year, we started a new Outreach Task Force. The goal of the Outreach Task Force, which is evolving, is broadly to have more connections between affiliates and more communication between BIEN and the affiliates. We plan to organize a session at the next BIEN congress, where all of the affiliates can meet each other and update each other on activities and strategies in their countries. As a group, we will also develop some shared projects to work on this year.

I am personally excited about the energy already forming with this task force of people. It is neat to have so much participation from groups around the world.

Jenna van Draanen is a PhD student at University of California – Los Angeles. She has been writing for Basic Income News for over five years, and is now a member of the Executive Committee and Outreach Coordinator. 

At the end of 2016, the year in which BIEN celebrated the 30th anniversary of its birth, all Life Members were invited to reflect on their own personal journeys with the organization. See other contributions to the feature edition here.

Feature coordinator: Kate McFarland.

BIEN Stories: André Coelho

BIEN Stories: André Coelho

André Coelho (News Editor-in-Chief)

For me to contribute to BIEN, particularly to Basic Income News, was kind of a natural progression in my personal activism, after the Zeitgeist Movement. I naturally accepted the basic income concept, after defending a resource based economy, as the former can be seen as an intermediate step towards the latter. BIEN is indeed a “house”, a place where one can feel at home, made up of people who truly believe in the betterment of society, through basic income. I owe very much, and still do, to people like Karl Widerquist, Louise Haagh, BIEN’s co-chairs, and to a whole team of volunteers. This team includes people like Toru Yamamori, Jenna van Draanen, Amanda Wray, Kate McFarland and Tyler Prochazka, amongst many others who dedicate their time and talents to maintain and develop Basic Income News.

I believe that any process of true change comes from a combination of hard work, inspiration and luck, and I think we, at BIEN, are contributing to that change. A desperately necessary process of societal change, for the better, for which we play a small but important part. We help spreading the news about basic income developments throughout the world – benefiting from a truly international affiliate network, sweeping all continents – valuing accuracy and coverage of a wide range of information. There is also a tremendous effort going on to outreach onto BIEN affiliates, in an attempt to straighten bonds, exchange information and widen Basic Income News coverage.

The basic income global movement is set in motion, it is growing, and BIEN is and will continue to be an important part of it. Being able to contribute my small share to this global revolution is both a challenge and a gift.

At the end of 2016, the year in which BIEN celebrated the 30th anniversary of its birth, all Life Members were invited to reflect on their own personal journeys with the organization. See other contributions to the feature edition here.

BIEN Stories: Jan Otto Andersson

BIEN Stories: Jan Otto Andersson

Jan Otto Andersson (Åbo Akademi University)

Several texts were momentous at the start of my BI journey, even though they did not always fit a strict definition of an unconditional basic income.

The first text was a pamphlet written by my acquaintance Gunnar Adler-Karlsson. In Danish it was called “No to Full Employment”, but it was not published in Swedish until renamed as “Thoughts on Full Employment”. Adler-Karlsson set out a vision of a three-layered society: the necessity economy, the capitalistic economy and the free economy. The vision included a “life income” or “citizen’s wage”, but everybody was supposed to take part in the necessity economy. The year was 1977.

Another text was a visionary collective work “Norden år 2030” (Nordic 2030). The booklet was illustrated with futuristic graphics and fictional interviews with people who had experienced revolutionary changes and now inhabited a United Nordic region. In one interview, “samlön” and “samtjänst” are introduced. The terms are difficult to translate, but maybe “co-wage” and “co-service” would do. The co-wage is a minimum given to all, but all have to take part in the service production. The booklet was the work of a designer and a photographer.

I already was an admirer of André Gorz, when the book “The Roads to Paradise” appeared in 1983. Gorz discussed heteronomous and autonomous work, and how society should be transformed from being dominated by capitalist wage-labour towards more real freedom. One important means was to introduce a BI called “social wage”, “social dividend” or “social income”.

In 1986 I took part in the international congress on Basic Income in Louvain-la-Neuve. My contribution was called “Basic Income in Three Social Visions”: a Red-Blue mixed society, a Blue-Green dual society and a Red-Green combined society. I concluded that a BI could hardly be included in a Red-Blue fordist version; that it could be part of a blue-green anarcho-capitalist, rather dystopian project; but would be a central feature of a Red-Green vision.

At the conference I got acquainted with a piece by Philippe Van Parijs and Robert van der Veen that enthralled me: “A Capitalist Road to Communism”. Back in Finland I told a “night tale” at one of the last party assemblies of the Finnish Communist Party. In the story, two wise men visited Finland. They pondered our problems and persuaded us to introduce a basic income. The eventual consequences were astounding. People gradually found that they were living in a new society. To find a fitting term for it they consulted old books, and the best they could find was “communism”.

In a book “Vänsterframtid. Nationalekonomiska studier av fordismnes kris och morgondagens alternative” (“Left Future: Economic studies of the fordist crisis and alternatives for tomorrow”), I deepened my thoughts on how a Citizen’s Income could be a crucial step towards a red-green society in the Nordic context.

The Left Alliance, a new party encompassing the old radical left fractions, was founded in 1990. The programme of the party included a “Citizen’s Income”. The CI was seen as a central feature of the “Third Left”. The Third Left would combine the best elements from the First republican/liberal Left and the Second social democratic/communist Left.

The Green Party had been established in 1987 in Finland and from the start it supported a basic income. Interest for the idea was also expressed by people in other parties, and a dozen activists from several parties joined to discuss how to advance Basic Income in Finland. The result was a booklet “Perustulo, kansalaisen palkka” (“Basic Income, the citizen’s wage”). It appeared in 1992, but so did the great “lama”, the worst economic crisis in an OECD-country since the war. There was little room for bold new ideas in a country beset with acute financial and social problems.

I attended the BIEN congresses in Antwerp 1988 and Florence 1990. During my stay in London as guest professor in 1989-1990, I became involved with the Citizen’s Income group. I received the TaxMod micro-simulation model developed by Hermione Parker, visited Anne Miller in Edinburgh, and befriended Tony Walter, whom I later invited to my university (Åbo Akademi) to give a course on basic income.

At BIEN’s 1998 congress in Amsterdam, I presented a paper called “The History of an Idea: Why did Basic Income Thrill the Finns, but not the Swedes?” It was published in the book Basic Income on the Agenda.

Olli Kangas and I made an opinion poll of whether and why people in Sweden and Finland supported a BI or not. We found astonishingly more support in Finland. Even the Finnish conservatives were more in favour of the different BI ideas we asked about than the Swedish greens! In the Geneva congress in 2002, I presented our article “Popular support for basic income in Sweden and Finland”.

Since I had become active as an ecological economist, and developed what I have called my “Global ethical trilemma” between affluence, global justice and ecological sustainability, I became absorbed with the relation between ecological limits and BI. In BIEN’s 2012 congress in Munich, I presented the paper “Degrowth with basic income – the radical combination”. A related article “Basic Income from an ecological perspective” was published in Basic Income Studies.

Andersson at 2016 BIEN Congress (source:

Gradually the interest for basic income has been revived in Finland. A Finnish branch of BIEN has been formed. Olli Kangas has been assigned the delicate task to conduct the pilot study ordered by the government. The task has been made almost impossible for different reasons, but at least basic income is now on the political agenda. Even the Social Democrats are forced to reconsider it seriously.

I was invited as a key speaker to the 2016 BIEN congress in Seoul on the theme “Does Basic Income fit the Nordic Welfare State?” I also acted as a commentator on the planned Youth Dividend experiment in the city of Seongnam.

Andersson (in white) in Seongnam

In Seoul it was decided that the BIEN 2018 congress will be held in Tampere, Finland. I wish you all welcome!

At the end of 2016, the year in which BIEN celebrated the 30th anniversary of its birth, all Life Members were invited to reflect on their own personal journeys with the organization. See other contributions to the feature edition here.