On 29th April 2021 the prestigious Oxford Union Society hosted a panel of students, activists, politicians and scholars to debate the motion ‘This House Would Introduce a Universal Basic Income’.
The debate began with the majority (68%) voting in favour of introducing a Universal Basic Income (UBI) and the remaining 32% voting against it. After hearing a total of 8 panelists’ arguments for and against the motion, the majority shifted in the closing poll to a marginal victory for the opposition, with 54% voting against introducing a UBI and 46% voting for it.
The full debate can be watched on the Oxford Union’s YouTube channel here, with a programme of the speakers and summary of their key arguments provided below.
00:33 – Opening up the case for the proposition, Classical Archaeological and Ancient History student Ambika Sehgal drew on anecdotal evidence from victims of flaws in the DWP’s (Department for Work and Pensions) systems, experiences from the Covid-19 pandemic, and accounts of early forms of UBI in Ancient Greek societies to make three arguments for the motion:
To lift people out of poverty and provide a basic standard of living to everybody “without fear or favour”.
To increase the wealth of the entire population by giving everybody the freedom to upskill, reeducate, take on more prosperous jobs, or start their own business.
To prevent the inevitable economic catastrophe that we are approaching as a result of the automation of skilled industries.
10:52 – Rebutting with the opening case for the opposition, Eliza Dean, first year Classics and French student and Member of the Union’s Secretaries Committee, denounced UBI as the solution to our current economic and political struggles, arguing instead for better funding of existing state welfare systems and a return to greater recognition of the value of labour in society.
20:58 – Professor Guy Standing, Professorial Research Associate at SOAS University of London and founding member of BIEN, outlined the fundamental ethical – as opposed to instrumental – rationale for introducing a UBI, arguing that we have an ethical justification to introduce UBI to resolve the unequal distribution of wealth created by rentier capitalism.
Rounding off his argument for the proposition, Professor Standing drew on his extensive experience working on over 50 pilots to outline some of the key findings of research on UBI:
It improves individual mental and physical health.
It reduces people’s stress.
It leads to better school attendance.
It increases work and its productivity, leading people to be more innovative and altruistic in their work because people feel more able to act in such a way.
It helps to reduce debt.
It leads to a greater sense of social solidarity.
36:34Marco Annunziata, former Chief Economist and Head of Business Innovation Strategy at General Electric, invoked suggestions for the necessary rise in taxes, the case to offer the same amount to the rich and poor, and the disincentives to work as evidence that a UBI is both unaffordable, unjust and riddled with unintended consequences.
48:53 Drawing on simulations run by the RSA (Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) Anthony Painter, Chief Research & Impact Officer, made the economic case for UBI, citing its ability to make up for inadequacies in existing social support systems by offering a hardwired economic platform for all in society.
59:50 Regarding UBI a ‘recurring revenant’ throughout his career, Professor Hilmar Schneider, Director of the Institute of Labour Economics in Bonn, cited the experience of the German pension system and his own research conducting funding and behavioral responses simulation models to argue against the motion. Pointing to the fact that most UBI pilots rely on external funding sources, Professor Schneider argued that the strongest argument against a UBI lies in its unaffordability, as it would ultimately result in more people losing money than gaining money.
01:10:34William Greve, first year Philosophy, Politics and Economics student and Sponsorship Officer at the Oxford Union,consolidated the arguments made by the panelists to round off the underlying economic and liberal arguments for a UBI:
That is the most effective way to counter the wealth inequality and unjust returns to capital observed in the modern economy that leave labour so unjustly rewarded.
That it is reasonable to demand that all individuals in a society be entitled to a share of the total wealth of society a basic level of economic security.
That it would fundamentally change our relationship with employment for the better.
Drawing on Professor Schneider’s earlier remarks on the case against higher income taxes (owing to the fact that the majority of wealth that exists in the modern economy is not received as an income in the traditional sense), William also argued that a wealth tax, not an income tax, is the most just and feasible way to fund UBI.
01:21:30 Rt Hon Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham and Former Coordinator for the Labour Party, rounded off the case for the opposition by arguing that those advocating for UBI should remain cautious when their political opponents also support the scheme for radically different outcomes. Noting the many cross-spectrum and cross-ideological arguments for and against the motion, he also pointed to the more ‘mundane and practical’ issues with introducing UBI, such as financial feasibility, its efficacy compared to its alternatives, and what accompanying policies are required to ensure desired outcomes.
Concluding the case against UBI, Rt Hon Cruddas hammered home his argument for the dignity of labour and questioned the role that UBI would play in creating decent work. All but entirely dismissing concerns around automation and the future availability of work, he argued that we should instead be organizing for collective rights, strong unions, income guarantees and above all, dignified labour. He argued that there is a strong case against UBI if you consider that the nature of work thesis is flawed, and that the debate around the future of work is an inherently political one. UBI, he suggested, could transform citizens into ‘passengers of capitalism’, robbing them of meaning and dignity, and leaving them more isolated, vulnerable, angry and humiliated, and society itself less fraternal and solidaristic.
From the 24th May to the 24th August 2021 four Chinese students undertook internships with BIEN. They attended a five day introductory course about Basic Income and the global Basic Income debate, translated pages and posts on the BIEN website into Chinese, summarised in English relevant documents in Chinese, constructed individual Basic Income schemes for China and worked together to create a joint Basic Income scheme, completed individual projects that connected what they had learnt about Basic Income with the subjects of their degrees, and attended the BIEN congress. it was a pleasure to be able to work with such intelligent and motivated students.
The translations of pages and posts on the BIEN website into Chinese can be found here;
summaries in English of relevant documents in Chinese here;
and the Basic Income scheme for China that the students created together is here.
The students’ final individual projects are listed here:
Our thanks to Amanda, Sherry, Qihao and Joey for working with BIEN; to Dr. Furui Cheng, Tyler Prochazka, Li-Hsin Leen, Dr. Leah Hamilton, and other members of the Executive Committee, for assistance with the introductory course and other aspects of the internship programme; and to the Global Cultural Adventurers organisation for finding such intelligent and committed students for us to work with.
The Alaska Permanent Fund was started in 1982 to make sure Alaskans directly benefit from its resources in the wake of its oil boom in the 1970s. Part of the proceeds from investments of the principle, which is held in trust for the state and invested by an independent board, is shared yearly with all Alaskan citizens as the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). This is as close to a basic income by BIEN’s definition as has been achieved world-wide. It is paid equally to each individual regardless of age or financial status, without means tests or other conditions and regularly every year, although the amount differs depending on how the APF’s investments do over a five year period. It has inspired campaigns in many other countries, including Mongolia, South Africa and Goa, to share the profits from resource use as a basic income or dividend to all citizens. The PDF is under particular threat at the moment as a result of recent deficits in the State’s budget, which some legislators want to plug by taking the dividend payments away entirely.
BIEN News interviewed a board member from the Permanent Fund Defenders about the situation. Joe Geldhoff, a lawyer in Juneau, the capital of Alaska, said that “while it is in our constitution that Alaskan citizens should benefit from the state’s resources, the dividend itself is only in legislation.” The PFD allocation for Alaskan citizens needs to be approved by the state legislature every year. For the first thirty years it was paid equally from a fixed 25% share of the fund’s average profits over five years. In the past six years state politicians have whittled down the amount of dividend paid, “despite big promises at election time, which are often unrealistic.” There are worries that there might be no dividend paid out this year, despite the Fund making a profit of some $18.6 million, and large Federal subsidies to the state, especially since the Covid crisis. The PFD competes with state services and projects for priority, since the state government levies neither income nor sales taxes to cover its own spending, which also comes from Permanent Fund proceeds. “This should be a lesson for people advocating basic income schemes all over the world,” Mr Geldhoff said.
The Defenders want the eariler formula from Permanent Fund investments restored to the dividend, and enshrined in the State constitution to protect it from other budget demands and political maneuvering. Mr Geldhoff said that the current special session will be deciding this year’s dividend allocation, and may not pay it at all. The legislature may also consider a constitutional amendment to protect it and restore the original formula which, if approved, would then go out to be voted on by all state citizens. He expressed the worry, however, that there “aren’t enough adults” amongst state politicians, and that they could be too divided to see the latter option through.
“Young people have become very cynical about the political process,” Mr Geldhoff said, so the Defenders are working to educate all Alaskans about the role the dividend has played in “lifting people out of poverty, supporting private enterprise and combatting income inequality” and how they can get involved with saving it. He said that while those with higher salaries in the state’s large public sector have tended to save their dividend to send their children to university, the dividend has enabled people in rural areas with little cash to maintain and buy equipment for subsistence farming, hunting and fishing. Women in particular have used their dividend to get away from relationships which have gone bad, and to train for better jobs. “It’s really about whether you trust citizens to spend the money well or the politicians who tend to give contracts to their cronies,” he said. “This is our common wealth from which we all should have a direct share.”
A recording of our interview with Joe Geldhoff will be available soon. In the meantime people can support the all-volunteer Permanent Fund Defenders in getting their message out to Alaskans on their GoFundMe page. More information about their campaign and the history of the PFD can be found on their website, and the latest news can be followed on their Facebook page.
With the theme, ‘From the COVID-19 Disaster to New Great Transition, Basic Income!’ the 3rd annual Basic Income International Conference was held in Gyeonggi Provence, South Korea, 28-29 April 2021. Hosted by the Gyeonggi Provincial Government, and organised by Gyeonggi Research Institute (GRI), Gyeonggi-do Market Revitalization Agency (GMRA), KINTEX, and the Basic Income Korean Network (BIKN), it featured panel talks and discussion by many researchers from BIEN, including Chair Sarath Davala, Hyosang Ahn, Philippe Van Parijs, Guy Standing, Annie Miller, Troy Henderson, Louise Haagh, Almaz Zelleke, Julio Linares, Roberto Merrill among others. Economist Joseph Stiglitz gave a keynote speech on the second day.
From the website: The PhD project is part of the larger Basic Income research project that studies how basic income is potentially linked with nature protection and tackling climate change, and how these possible linkages can be addressed in an embedded social-ecological context that is highly relevant for climate stabilization and reversing biodiversity loss at planetary scale and, at the same time, enhancing human well-being. A context that is well-represented in jurisdictions that are rich in forest ecosystem and biodiversity yet with poor population as observed in the provinces in Indonesia where tropical rainforests remain intact such as those in Papua.
In the long-term, part of the project aims to explore a multi-year basic income scheme for nature and climate and undertake necessary trial in a pilot jurisdiction at appropriate scale. Rigorous scientific monitoring and evaluation should be in place for this to assess social and ecological impacts and derive lessons for potential upscaling in other jurisdictions. A policy dialogue (at sub-national, national, and international levels) about the scientific results from the intended study on basic income for nature and climate is to be initiated to prepare the grounds to achieve the purpose. Together with the team at FRIBIS, the PhD position is expected to contribute to providing science-informed insights related to a basic income for nature and climate in the target jurisdiction. Under a joint research initiative, the PhD candidate will be supervised by Professor Dr.rer.oec. Bernhard Neumärker at the University of Freiburg and Dr.rer.pol. Sonny Mumbunan at the University of Indonesia and in close collaboration with teams and members at FRIBIS, and at GIZ.
The ancient Greeks had three Gods of Time, and on the auspicious occasion of the 80th birthday of one of our most loyal and outstanding BIEN members, it is a delight to be able to congratulate Eduardo Suplicy, and to say that he defies one of those Gods, Chronos, while being a poster child for the other two, Aion, who represents time as eternity, and Kairos, personified in the ability to take advantage of moments of opportunity.
Following his long, dignified and impeccably moral period as Senator for Sao Paulo, in which millions of people voted for him with smiles on their faces, knowing that he was a good man, many still refer to him as ‘Senador’. But we in BIEN love him for his eternal commitment to basic income, and his constant willingness to seek out any and every moment to promote the values that motivate most of us to want basic income as part of the future.
There is a story of Eduardo flying from Mexico via Miami to New York. A lady sitting next to him asked him about his politics, after which he spoke to her on and off (probably rather more on than off) all the way to New York. When they prepared to leave the plane, she said to him, no doubt with a slightly jet-lagged smile, ‘I don’t know what the questions are, but I do know now that the answer is basic income.’
Eduardo is a living example for all of us, having passion for a cause tempered by a sense of patience, of being on a hard journey. Few great changes come easily. But Eduardo knows we are much closer to where we want to be than when he joined BIEN in the late 1980s. Although this writer is a stripling by comparison, I still recall those early discussions late into the evenings. There is not a single sinew of cynicism in Eduardo. He constantly reminds us that moments when the God Kairos stirs can come anytime and anywhere. The day will surely come when the song he so loves to sing will have a mighty resonance in reality.
Eduardo, on behalf of every BIEN member, we wish you well for the journey ahead.
BIEN’s 2021 annual congress took place from the 18th to the 21st August 2021. The website for this online congress, containing the agenda, attendees, questions and answers, and much more, is still available: click here.
BIEN’s 2022 Congress will be held in Brisbane, Australia, from Monday 26th to Wednesday 28th September 2022. This will be a hybrid face to face and online event. Further details will appear here as soon as they are known.
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more