BIRAL Seminar: International Perspectives in Basic Income Messaging

BIRAL Seminar: International Perspectives in Basic Income Messaging

Please join us for the second BIRAL seminar: “International Perspectives in Basic Income Messaging,” hosted by the Jain Family Institute (JFI) on the 14th of June, 2021 at 12PM EST – New York, 1PM São Paulo, 5PM London, 6PM Berlin. 

The event features guaranteed income researchers and advocates from around the world to discuss lessons in messaging and framing to build support for guaranteed income or UBI in varying political and cultural contexts. Speakers include Anne Price, President of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development; Barb Jacobsen, Co-ordinator of Basic Income UK; Tatiana Roque, Professor at UFRJ and Brazilian Basic Income Network member; and Catherine Thomas, Stanford University PhD Candidate and Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow. They will be joined by experts from across the globe. 

The event is part of the Basic Income Earth Network’s new BIRAL series, a collaboration between the Basic Income Earth Network, FRIBIS (Freiburg Institute for Basic Income Studies), Gyeonggi Research Institute Basic Income Research Group, and the Jain Family Institute.

Register here:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. We welcome you to have your camera on as we hope to allow for discussion across many guaranteed income advocates and researchers in attendance. 

About the speakers:

Barb Jacobson

Barb Jacobson has experience on both sides of the welfare system, as a claimant and advisor, as well as working in a variety of other jobs. She has organised around women’s, health, welfare, and housing issues for over 30 years. Barb is Co-ordinator of Basic Income UK, and was the founding Chair of UBIE (Unconditional Basic Income Europe) from 2014 to 2017.


Tatiana Roque 

Tatiana Roque is a Professor of Mathematics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and a member of the Brazilian Basic Income Network. Her work examines traditional political movements and the ways in which new mobilization strategies may be employed at universities, unions, and wider political movements. She will speak about the movement for basic income in Brazil, and particularly surrounding the Maricá Basic Income.


Anne Price

Anne Price is the President of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. The Insight Center is a U.S. racial and economic justice organization working to ensure that all people become and remain economically secure. She also serves as a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, and was one of the first US thought leaders to examine and push for narrative change in addressing racial wealth inequality.


Catherine Thomas

Catherine Thomas is a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology and an Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow at Stanford University. Her research examines the integration of economic and social inclusion within cash-based policies, and in particular with regard to public opinion on cash policy in the U.S. as well as perspectives of cash-transfer recipients using varying narrative frames. Her research on cash-based policies includes work in East and West Africa with the nonprofit GiveDirectly, the World Bank, and the Government of Niger. She co-authored Stanford Basic Income Lab’s guide for cities conducting basic income pilots. 

Basic Income trial confirmed in Wales

Mark Drakeford, Wales’ new First Minister, announced soon after the Senedd elections in May that the government will launch a basic income trial in the country. As Basic Income News mentioned over a month ago, the support for trialing basic income in the country has greatly increased and Drakeford has confirmed that a pilot will be launched soon.

Jane Hutt, recently appointed as Minister for Social Justice, will be in charge of the supervision of the project. There is still no definitive information regarding the funding and date of implementation of the pilot, but the government’s commitment is firm. “A basic income pilot is one of the specific responsibilities of our new social justice minister. It will have to be carefully designed, it will draw on the experience of attempted pilots in Scotland, but I have a very long standing interest in basic income”, Drakeford said. “We’ll do it on a cross-party basis. There are 25 members of the Senedd in different parties who have expressed an interest in it,” he added.

The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howes, said that the launching of the pilot shows an “incredibly significant commitment by the First Minister to tackling Wales’ poverty and health inequalities,” and that this trial shows that small countries can lead big policy changes.

Jonathan Rhys Williams, from UBI Lab Wales, said that “this is a huge moment for the basic income movement in the UK and around the world.”

Wales to launch pilot universal basic income scheme. Steven Morris (The Guardian), 14 May 2021
Incredibly significant’: First minister commits to basic income pilot in Wales. Nation Cymru, 14 May 2021

Los Angeles is the latest city in the US to announce the launch of a guaranteed income program

A new guaranteed income program has just been announced in the US, this time in the country’s second largest city, Los Angeles. In his proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti included a $24-million guaranteed basic income project that would see 2,000 families in the city receive an unconditional $1,000 per month for one year. Dubbed “BIG: LEAP” (Basic Income Guaranteed: L.A. Economic Assistance Pilot), the program is one of the biggest of its kind in the US. The announcement was made at the end of April when the city budget proposed for the financial year starting 1 July 2021 was unveiled, the budget is usually approved by the beginning of June.

The details of the plan are being finalised, but the Mayor has confirmed that the payment would be truly unconditional with participants in the program able to use the money however they please. There will be eligibility criteria however such as being at or below the federal poverty line (annual income of $12,880 for a single individual / $17,420 for two persons) and, most likely, supporting a child under the age of 18 and demonstrating financial or medical hardship connected to COVID-19. Immigration status, on the other hand, will not constitute a selection criteria. It also seems that the income will go to households and not individuals.

If approved, BIG: LEAP will be the latest in a series of city-led guaranteed income programs in the country. Jackson, Mississippi in 2018 and Stockton, California in 2019 with the launch of “SEED” (Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration) paved the way and over the past two years, cities as diverse as Oakland (CA), Patterson (NJ), Denver (CO), Chicago (IL), Gary (IN) and many more across the country have announced or implemented some form of guaranteed income programs. 

And these efforts do not occur only at a city level. In Southern California alone, in addition to BIG: LEAP or the pilot implemented in Compton (Compton Pledge), the L.A. County Board of Supervisors has just passed two separate motions asking relevant staff in the administration to design a guaranteed income program for targeted county residents. These first designs are due within 60 days of the motions, i.e. by the third week of July (motion 1; motion 2). Within the city of Los Angeles there are also specific guaranteed income pilots in the South LA and Downtown districts.

Map: main city-led guaranteed income pilots in the US and network of “Mayors for a Guaranteed Income”

Note: programs vary from one city to the next (eligibility criteria, payment amount, duration). Some of the programs that have been announced are yet to be formally approved and started. The map also does not include other initiatives such as, for instance, the payment under the Alaska Permanent Fund which has sometimes been compared to a basic income.  (Map by the author, sources: and Mayors for a Guaranteed Income )

Eligibility criteria vary in each city as do the amount of the cash payment or the duration of the experiment but at any rate, the multiplication of the number of programs in progress is indicative of the growing interest for basic income in the US. The COVID crisis is certainly a factor behind this growing momentum. One of the potential eligibility criteria outlined by Mayor Garcetti in his proposal for the experiment in L.A. directly relates to the pandemic. San Francisco has designed a program targeted at artists hit by the crisis and other cities have referenced the impacts of COVID-19 on the economic situation as one of the factors behind their interest for basic income.

Many of these city-led efforts are being supported by Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (MGI), a nation-wide network of mayors founded by former Stockton Mayor and initiator of the SEED program, Michael D. Tubbs. It is supported by various foundations and non-profit organisations such as the Economic Security Project (involved in the Stockton experiment) or the Jain Family Institute (involved in Compton or in a proposed scheme in Newark, NJ). Indeed, whilst these various programs are first a way to alleviate poverty in specific communities and are only local in nature, they are also seen as experiments that will add to the debate around basic income at the federal level. 

A Pew survey conducted in August 2020 concluded that 54% of Americans oppose or strongly oppose a federal universal basic income.* Proponents of these programs are hoping that the experiments they are conducting will add to the growing body of evidence that unconditional cash transfers not only help to alleviate poverty, but also improve physical and mental wellbeing and, importantly, that they do not remove incentives for people to work. More generally they are hoping that they will contribute to changing the narrative around poverty and economic insecurity.

 *Online survey of 11,001 US adults conducted between July 27 and August 2, 2020, results vary across age groups, ethnicity, political affiliations, and income groups.

King’s College Workshop explored “The Ethics of Basic Income in a Changing Economy”

On 23 April 2021, Diana Popescu, Otto Lehto, and Emil Panzaru from Department of Political Economy, King’s College London – organized a full-day online academic workshop called “The Ethics of UBI in a Changing Economy” that tackles the normative justifications and practical feasibility of UBI.

The program and rough times:
00:00:00 Otto Lehto Opening words
00:08:45 Guy Standing (SOAS) Battling Eight Giants
00:56:10 Christian Schemmel (University of Manchester) Just Workplaces: Asset equality vs workplace democracy?
01:32:46 – Martin Sticker (Bristol) Is a merely national “Universal” Basic Income just?
02:05:34 – Otto Lehto (King’s College London) UBI as a Discovery Procedure
02:41:23 – Deryn Thomas (St Andrew’s) Basic Income and the Collective Good of Work
03:18:47 – Nika Soon-Shiong (Oxford) Cash, Citizenship, and the Contemporary Politics of Belonging in India 03:44:48 – Jim Pugh (Universal Income Project) and Jamie Morgan (Brandeis) Accelerating Equity and Justice: Cash transfers and generational wealth
04:17:30 – Diana Popescu (KCL) How much Dignity is enough: Appearing in public without shame and UBI 05:07:30 – Bernhard Neumärker (Freiburg) UBI in Times of Crisis (Note: Due to technical difficulties, Prof. Neumärker’s presentation is missing the first few minutes. The presentation finishes in Part 2.)

‘The Tyranny of Merit’ by Michael J. Sandel

Book Review by Dr. Jan Stroeken

Michael j. Sandel has written a book about the deep causes of the inequality that is a key driving force behind the populist backlash of recent years. His analysis serves as a basis for justification of the introduction of a universal basic income. For the complete review, see:

And in Dutch:

Here you will find a short summary, being the last part of the review:

Public Debate and Basic Income
Sandel’s analysis is razor sharp. What he brings to the fore more than anything is how present-day populism is only indirectly fuelled by the unequal distribution of income and essentially dominated by an ethical and cultural component. A growing section of the population feels underrated. This has everything to do with the tyranny of merit driven by the meritocratic ethos that, over the past decades, has led to meritocratic hubris. This hubris is reflected in the winners’ tendency to let their success go to their heads, forgetting about all the luck and good fortune that helped them along the way. Those who make it to the top believe with self-satisfied conviction that they deserve their fate and that those who end up at the bottom do too. This leaves little room for the kind of solidarity that could arise if we were to realise just how haphazardly talent is distributed and how randomly fate can either be kind or cruel. Merit-based pay is, according to Sandel, thus a form of tyranny – an oppressive regime.

And so, Sandel launches into a plea for a sweeping public debate on how to move from today’s individualisation to a greater sense of solidarity and more self-determination for all. What is essential in this respect is his conclusion that for many to be successful in life, all forms of education and work would have to be taken equally seriously. Without explicitly mentioning it, he points to the core of what the implementation of a universal basic income is all about: more equal recognition of current paid and unpaid work, as well as a stimulus to go to school. In an interview with Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (20 September 2020), Sandel describes this when he speaks about ‘that which contributes to the community’ as a key alternative criterion to purely performance/merit-based recognition:

 ‘It is, in any case, a more democratic method that allows us to recognise contributions that are currently ignored or undervalued. I mean contributions such as the unpaid work that is done within households, for example, such as raising children and caring for relatives. Or all the work that, due to the COVID-19 crisis, has turned out to be much more important than society gave it credit for: nursing care, cleaning work, waste collection, and logistics. Setting aside the matter of usefulness, the fact that there is equal dignity in every human being should also reverberate in the dignity of everyone’s work.’

Regrettably, Sandel hardly gets around to formulating specific solutions in his book. Nevertheless, his most concrete suggestion with respect to the revaluation of work is to improve wages at the bottom of the labour market, such as through wage supplementation schemes and by shifting the tax burden away from labour and onto consumption, speculation, and capital. While the latter suggestion is an excellent one, it would be even better if it were substantiated further to ensure that those who do unpaid work also benefit. 

This further substantiation also takes us to a second key argument for downgrading the role of merit-based pay, which is that the link between current wages on the one hand and individual work performance on the other is loosening. Pay is increasingly less personal. Our current level of prosperity, as initially reflected in people’s primary income, is the result of many years of productivity growth to which many generations have contributed. Our high income levels can, therefore, not be put down only to the labour performed and capital invested in companies at this point in time. In this context, distributing primary income only to those directly involved in the production process seems to be increasingly less of a given and implementing a universal basic income for all is an obvious alternative, i.e. regardless of someone’s position in the productivity-driven labour process. The state collecting taxes directly at the source, i.e. at the level of companies’ production, would then be the obvious choice. This would also automatically shift the tax burden to sources other than labour, which is merely one production factor.

The figures provided in the book demonstrate that there is growing support among the general public for the idea of universal basic income. Even so, there is a hard core of people who are against it and keep using counter-arguments that they cannot back up with facts, such as a universal basic income having adverse effects on the labour market and being too costly. Their rejection might very well have little to do with those counter-arguments and rather be driven by a strong meritocratic bias. There is a clear relation between implementation of universal basic income and the public debate that Sandel wants to initiate.

Finally, the results of the most recent parliamentary elections in the Netherlands can be explained based on Sandel’s The Tyranny of Merit. On the one hand, right-wing populist parties are on the rise. One in five Dutch people voted for populist right-wing parties that have become increasingly extreme since the days of Pim Fortuyn’s first populist revolt in the early 2000s: full of mistrust and bitterness directed at everything and everyone and not shy about avowing discrimination. Even in the knowledge that these parties will not be part of a coalition government and play no role in the actual governance of the country, people still vote for them. And people vote for these parties even though their election programmes are, at least in a socioeconomic sense, more likely to be prejudiced than to favour them. On the other hand, the two winners of the elections are supreme exponents of meritocracy, namely the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD, the party for the successful) and Democrats 66 (D66, the party for the highly educated). What we need to do over the coming years, therefore, is to assemble a left-wing populist programme that addresses three pressing issues:

  • How to achieve a sustainable world as soon as possible;
  • How to reach a post-capitalist state by shifting the balance of power;
  • How to accomplish lasting labour market change in line with the foregoing through a national debate as proposed by Sandel.

Some possible solutions include a large-scale shift from taxation of labour to direct taxation of companies’ production as well as implementation of universal basic income.

The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?‘ is available from Penguin Random House, published September 2020

Basic Income in Canada: Endorsement by Liberal Party signals growing momentum

Pic for BI news article .jpg

In Canada, basic income has become a central issue in the debate on a post-pandemic recovery. Recent steps taken by the governing Liberal Party to endorse the policy has begged the question whether this might represent a serious step towards a permanent national basic income.

In their annual convention in mid-April, Liberal Party grassroots, MPs and delegates voted overwhelmingly in favour of making universal basic income a top policy priority for the party going forward. The policy earned a second place out of 26 policy resolutions to come out of the convention. Although the vote is not binding and does not guarantee that the party will go further with the policy resolution, and further, does not detail what such as Canadian basic income might look like, the move adds to growing momentum surrounding basic income in the national debate.

While the idea has garnered significant national attention previously in Canada, particularly surrounding the recent pilot project in the province of Ontario that was prematurely cancelled, the pandemic has accelerated that debate. At the onset of the country’s first national lock-down in March of last year, there was a significant push for the government to implement an emergency basic income by various advocacy groups such as Basic Income Canada Network, its provincial affiliates as well as by individual long-time basic income proponents. It also garnered significant media attention, with the debate often being centered on the ways in which the current income support system in Canada was inadequate to address the situation.

Many argued that the current employment insurance scheme and the social assistance system were out-dated models not equipped to deal with a changed, and changing, workforce. The New Democratic Party to the left of the Liberal party, which has not traditionally supported basic income but rather a strengthening of the employment insurance system, came out in favor of a universal guaranteed income as a pandemic measure and joined the push for the government to adopt such a policy.

At the time, however, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the idea of implementing a universal basic income and opted instead for a more targeted approach. This gave rise to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which was meant for those who did not qualify for existing support programs. The benefit provided individuals who had lost all or part of their income due to the Pandemic with a direct deposit of $2000CAD per month for up to six months. Among the five eligibility criteria for the program, an individual had to have earned minimum $5000CAD in employment income in the previous year, and, as such, it still to some degree tied eligibility to formal employment status.  

There was both approval and criticism of the program from all sides of the political spectrum. The Conservative Party argued that the policy was too costly, enabled people to cheat and would prove a disincentive for people to look for and find new work, while the New Democratic Party criticised the policy for being too heavily conditional, not sufficient and not accessible to all who need it.  

The program was nonetheless seen by some as a precursor to a potential basic income and as an unintended national experiment with basic income. Amid positive stories published in media on how the CERB had helped people get by, there were further calls to turn the program into a basic income – something that was again, however, rejected by the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, acknowledging that taking away this income support from people in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and new impending lock-downs, the program was replaced by a similar one called the Canada Recovery Benefit, set to end in September 2021.

Now, with the prospect of the pandemic coming to an end, the focus is on basic income as a part of the post-pandemic recovery. Further advocacy groups such as LeadNow and UBI Works have campaigned for the governing party to endorse the policy, and in February a Liberal member of parliament introduced a bill calling for national guaranteed basic income. A vote to determine whether the bill will be brought to committee is expected in coming weeks. If indeed based on the CERB, a hypothetical permanent Canadian basic income would likely not include the pandemic-specific work requirements, but further details as to what such a policy would look like are not provided in the motion. 

Additionally, a week before the Liberal convention, the parliamentary budget office issued a report on the cost and the impact on poverty of a national guaranteed basic income, which has significant differences to the “basic income” as defined by BiEN. The report estimates the costs of a model akin to the one that was tested in the pilot project in Ontario to be $87.6 billion in 2022-23. This amount does not take into consideration the potential cost savings of repealing social assistance programs it might replace, as well as the potential savings in terms of health care costs, reduction in crime and less pressure on other social support systems that such a policy might have – something which Evelyn Forget’s groundbreaking work on the Mincome Project in the 1970s in Manitoba shows to be the case. The report concludes that this kind of basic income model could reduce poverty rates by 49% and further estimates that the effect on labour supply is a 1.3 percentage drop in hours worked per week on a national average. Both the cost of a national basic income and the effects on behaviour relating to work have been central concerns in the debate.  

There was much anticipation leading up to the convention, and the vote to endorse basic income as a top policy priority signals a shift in the party’s stance on the policy, even though it is not binding. And while basic income was not a part of the Liberal’s federal budget for 2021-22, which was unveiled following the convention, the endorsement comes in an election year, which could make it a key election issue.