National Assembly in France decides to explore ‘Socle Citoyen’

Editor’s note: The use of the term ‘basic income’ or ‘universal income’ here does not correspond to BIEN’s definition of basic income, since the payments each month will fluctuate with income. ‘Socle citoyen’ corresponds more closely to a Negative Income Tax, adjusted on a monthly basis.

Interview with Marc de Basquiat, originally appeared on Atlantico.fr

On November 26 2020, the National Assembly voted on the resolution tabled by the group Agir Ensemble launching a public debate on the creation of a universal income called “Socle citoyen.” Why do you welcome this vote?

Marc de Basquiat: This vote is historic for three reasons. First of all, it was very broad, bringing together the votes of deputies belonging to five political groups close to the centre of the political spectrum: LREM, Agir Ensemble, MoDem, Libertés et Territoires, Socialists and related parties. Credit for this result goes to Valérie Petit, a northern representative, who launched and led an informal working group on the Socle citoyen project based on the platform we published in the Observateur on May 4 with the support of 80 co-signatories, including 50 parliamentarians. In-depth work was carried out, with a series of remote (because of Covid) meetings. The 48 deputies who tabled the resolution voted on November 26th really know the stakes and the key principles of the technical solution that we propose to study.

The second reason to applaud is the strong support of the La République En Marche deputies. Seventy of them voted in favour of the Agir Ensemble group’s resolution. At a time when many people have doubts about representative democracy, we can salute here the joint search for consensual solutions for our country by representatives from diverse groups, including the governing party. Let us recall that at its creation in 1988 the Revenu Minimum d’Insertion in 1988 received the deputies almost unanimous support. Yes, a reform as ambitious as the one proposed by this resolution aims to achieve consensus from all parties of the National Assembly. This is the process that Brigitte Bourguignon, Minister Delegate for Autonomy, supported with her speech.

The third reason to celebrate this advance is the fiscal nature of the Socle citoyen proposal that it is to be studied. Let us quote from the enacted text:

“The Socle citoyen is unprecedented in that it combines tax reform and improvements in social benefits. First of all, we propose to establish the universality of income tax: every French person, from the first euro of income, is taxed proportionally. This very fact constitutes being a part of and being responsible to the national community. It links one to the collective destiny and at the same time ensures assistance and solidarity.

With the mechanism of the Socle citoyen, the universal income becomes an individual tax credit, negative or positive. Thanks to tax withholding at the source, calculation and payment are now possible in almost real time. This is one of the great social benefits of this major tax reform: it makes it possible to calculate and automatically pay out the Socle citoyen, based on the universal tax, at the same time the reform achieves universality.

The fact that universal income is approached from a tax perspective revolutionizes the question of its economic feasibility. It is not a question of creating an nth social benefit that is painfully financed, but, first of all, of ensuring that all citizens are involved, in their own way, in the financing of public services. The same “right for all” is possible because, beforehand, we ensure the same “fiscal duty for all.”

Is this a sign that something is changing, at the parliamentary level and elsewhere, with regard to universal basic income?

Despite the trauma of the 2017 presidential campaign and the failure of Benoît Hamon’s project for a Universal Existence Income, many—of all political stripes, I can attest to that—grasped the importance of a transfer mechanism that would automatically guarantee a minimum of resources to everyone, regardless of the vagaries of life. But until recently, we hesitated to talk about it for fear of being suspected of providing a caution for the Hamonist party, Generation-S.

I believe that with the Covid-19 crisis, we all understand that the issues we are facing go far beyond political posturing and partisan arrangements. I am happy that the only Hamonist deputy in the Assembly, Régis Juanico, has lent his voice to the resolution drafted by Liberal deputy Valérie Petit. It is by working together that our elected officials will be able to re-inspire politics!

On the other hand, I am disappointed that no Les Républicains representatives dared to break with a conservative voting directive. The speech of LR deputy Stéphane Viry started well, but its conclusion is saddening:

“The group Les Républicains salutes the willingness of the National Assembly, the most essential forum for public debate, to address this major issue, since it touches on the fight against poverty, for work, and social cohesion. These are all foundations on which to build a social project, national cohesion, dynamism for our country. As part of our efforts, we must constantly, all together, open up new horizons. (…) You are right to put this debate on the table, and our group is very much in favour of a frank reflection on work, on activity for all, on social protection, on the fight against poverty. However, as it stands, as formulated, we will not follow your proposal.”

In 2016, the Senate had carried out a mission of information on basic income, in which all the political movements, from the right to the communists, took part, leading to the formulation of a consensual report that illuminated the way forward. Let us hope that the 11 deputies who voted against the resolution on November 26 will discover, moving forward, that the Socle citoyen has no other ambition than to strengthen cohesion, economic dynamism and fraternity in our country.

What are the liberal arguments to defend the proposal of a universal basic income and what form does it take in this framework?

What seems to me to be common to all liberals—whether one feels on the right or on the left for that matter—is the importance one places on individual choice. A Socle citoyen can be formulated as follows: everyone pools the same share of their income (around 30%) and benefits from the same individual transfer (around 500 euros per month). With this single rule, which is easy to implement using the mechanism of withholding tax, everyone is in the same boat and knows exactly how the income tax they pay or the assistance they receive will evolve according to the events in their lives: change of job or loss of work, marriage or divorce, etc. the impact is always easy to calculate.

Such a proposal is not really a revolution. In fact, for tax households that are subject to the 30% marginal rate, my proposal is just a reformulation of the current tax calculation, with an identical result. For 2020 income, taxpayers in this bracket pay a tax whose monthly calculation is 30% of the taxable income of the previous month, minus €498.52 per tax share (let’s say €500 for a single person and €1,000 for a couple). This would not change much.

The Socle citoyen amounts to applying the tax calculation formula for wealthy taxpayers to everyone! A single person without income who currently lives with an RSA of €497.01 plus a housing allowance would receive €500 and still receive the same housing allowance. No change in his or her case. On the other hand, all other cases of poor and low-income households would be winners, to what extent, depending on what they have today.

You have been defending universal basic income for several years, as president of the Association pour l’Instauration d’un Revenu d’Existence (AIRE) and as a Free Generation expert. Do you think that the coronavirus crisis can bring about a change in opinion?

In March, with the crisis, millions of people discovered unemployment. In restaurants, transport, household services, construction, shops… All these jobs where you work hard, where you get up early. The State has multiplied measures, first by taking over from employers to pay more than half of the wages! We can see that a hazard can bring the bravest of workers to their knees, making them dependent on the community to ensure their subsistence.

This invites everyone to question the solidity of their inclusion in society. Am I in this position only because I deserve it? Do I owe nothing to anyone? How could the country have endured a “laissez-faire” logic, where everyone was left to fend for themselves in order to make a living despite the fear of catching a virus—whose danger was not really understood at the time?

Today, everyone knows they are vulnerable. Everyone has also experienced their own docility! During the first confinement, we were happy to cheer from the windows, it gave us a recreation and a semblance of social interaction. But deep down, we really understood that we are vulnerable and that we have a vital need of others. This is why the ” Socle citoyen ” project speaks to everyone: we contribute as citizens—through taxes—to ensuring a vital base for everyone. In these circumstances, no one is spreading foolish rhetoric about handouts?

Is the Socle citoyen universel an effective response to the economic crisis that is looming with the coronavirus?

No one knows how the crisis will evolve. In the second quarter of 2020, China is the only G20 country whose GDP has grown. Germany posted -12%, France -18%, India -24%. The second wave caused us to fall back, less sharply, but global economic balances will take time to readjust. Public debt is exploding. Even if it is relatively painless in the short term, no one can predict what interest rates will be in 10 years. Our accumulated debts may weigh very heavily, preventing governments from playing their role as buffers against social shocks. At that time, we will be happy to have established a Socle citoyen, the universal distribution of part of the income among all, so that no one will be in total destitution.

We can also venture the hypothesis that our country will regain the growth necessary to adapt and face the planetary challenges. Here again, the egalitarian sharing of a portion of the fruits of growth will be a tremendous driving force for national unity, a multiplier of energies.

Translation from the original French: Pierre Madden

Reprinted with the kind permission of Atlantico.fr

More information on the Socle citoyen can be found here

Applications invited for doctoral study opportunities in Freiburg

Applications invited for doctoral study opportunities in Freiburg

The Freiburg Institute for Basic Income Studies (FRIBIS) is offering six positions for doctoral study.

The closing date is the 28th February.

FRIBIS is an interdisciplinary institute that aims to combine scientific research with political and civil debates as well as political consultation relating to the Universal Basic Income. FRIBIS supports a worldwide network of scientists, political decision-makers and societal actors who have the joint goal of providing answers to the global challenges of our time by means of a Universal Basic Income. Accordingly, all members of the Junior Scientific Group are expected to work through interdisciplinary cooperation.
We are specifically looking for applicants from the following disciplines:

• Education
• Social Anthropology
• Computer Science
• Psychology
• Theology, especially Caritas Science and the Economics of Carework
• Economics

We also encourage the application of people from related disciplines

Further details of the positions can be found here.

Europeans get it: Basic Income strengthens resilience

Advocates for basic income have long argued that it is much more than just a poverty relief measure. It is a matter of common justice that would enhance freedom and provide basic security for all. A new survey across six major European countries shows that people understand its potential to improve their lives. Not only do large majorities in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain favour basic income pilots and basic income as a permanent policy. The survey also reveals the advantages people believe a basic income would bring for themselves.

The poll, conducted independently by YouGov, found that two-thirds or more of respondents in the six countries were in favour of pilots and a national basic income system. Excluding the few ‘don’t knows’, support ranged from 65% in France to 87% in Portugal. Women were generally more supportive, particularly in Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

Even before the pandemic, European citizens were suffering from insecurity, stress and precarity, linked to rising inequalities. The pandemic has made things worse. In an era of shocks, policies to strengthen individual and societal resilience are vital. Instead, governments have resorted to measures aimed chiefly at propping up businesses, including furlough schemes, that have worsened inequalities and eroded resilience.

Resilience means being able to handle and recover from shocks. It is about feeling in control, able to handle setbacks because we can envisage a better future. But it cannot be provided by today’s labour market, increasingly characterised by flexible labour relations, insecure jobs and fluctuating wages, or by existing welfare systems, or by better public services alone, even though those are needed.

The survey provides cogent support for arguments in favour of basic income. High proportions of respondents said a basic income would reduce anxiety – over half in Poland and Portugal, and more than 40% overall, especially among women and youth. It is now well established that chronic anxiety increases the risk of mental and physical illness. A basic income offers the prospect of reducing ill-health and demands on health services. It might almost pay for itself.

Respondents also believed a basic income would open up opportunities for a better way of living and working. A high proportion of youths and women said it would give them more financial independence – 50% of young Italians and 41% of young Germans, for instance. This would reduce their sense of precarity, the feeling of being a supplicant reliant on others for discretionary help.

One horror of the pandemic has been the surge in domestic violence. Experiments have shown that, once women have basic income security, domestic tensions decline and women are more likely to walk away from abusive relationships.

Many youths said a basic income would enable them to pursue further education or training, including 49% in Portugal, 53% in Spain and 27% in Germany. This reflects the current inability of the precariat to develop their capabilities in the way they choose, because they must take whatever job they can get and put in as many hours of labour as possible. Basic security is conducive to the development of skills and a more educated society.

A basic income would also improve the quality of living. Young people, in particular, said it would enable them to take part in leisure activities that they cannot afford to do now – about a third in Portugal and Spain, for example.

And a basic income would foster work beyond ‘jobs’. Men as well as women, among all age groups, said a basic income would enable them to devote more time to their family. This was the case for one in five in Germany and more than a quarter of both men and women in Poland. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the extent to which society suffers from a ‘care deficit’. And pilots have shown that a basic income encourages men to do more care work, helping to weaken the gender dualism that feminists rightly condemn.

Basic income would also foster a more entrepreneurial attitude. A significant proportion of respondents said it would encourage them to launch a small-scale business – 8% in Italy, 10% in France, 13% in Germany and 19% in Portugal. Entrepreneurial enthusiasm was even greater among youths – 14% in Italy, for instance. Many youths also said a basic income would enable them to devote more time to volunteering or social activism, including over a quarter of youths in Germany and 13% in France. Society surely wants more socially engaged and active youth.

One lesson surely learned during the pandemic is that most of us are vulnerable, not just to illness but also to shocks to our finances, relationships and lifestyles. In what was a cross-section of people in six relatively rich countries, only small minorities said a basic income would make little difference to their lives – 11% in Italy and 6% in Portugal, for example. Long-term basic security is still something most of us value.

We should implore European policymakers to launch basic income pilots in communities around Europe. Ideally, some courageous governments would move in the direction of a national system. But failing that, surely it is time for pilots to explore the transformative potential of basic income. According to this survey, over 70% of Europeans want them.

Guy Standing is Professorial Research Associate, SOAS University of London, and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network.

Editor: You can support basic income in Europe by adding your name to the European Citizen’s Initiative for Unconditional Basic Income and WeMove/UBIE’s petitions for pilots of basic income and for the EU to enable member states to implement an Emergency Basic Income during the crisis.

BIEN 2021 Congress: Call for papers

The local organising committee for the 2021 Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Congress in Glasgow are very excited to announce our call for papers for this virtual, online event.

We are inviting you to submit papers and pitches for talks, workshops and other activities that should be represented online at the 22nd BIEN Congress. To submit yours please follow this link.

The theme for the Congress is ‘Idea to Reality’. We want to consider how we take basic income from a big idea for big change to a reality.

The Congress will be hosted digitally only from Thursday 18th – Saturday 21st August 2021. Exact details are to be confirmed but this will be a programme packed with perspectives on basic income in Scotland, the wider UK and around the world.

We will present insights into the status of basic income in Scotland, including: the feasibility study into a Scottish BI experiment, political attitudes and work on basic income, civil society perspectives, creative and cultural demonstrations that represent the Scottish debate.

We welcome your contribution to the Congress. To submit your proposal for consideration please complete this proposal form before the deadline Friday 12 March 2021.

We will be encouraging presenters to submit their papers before the Congress so that they are available for all participants, as attendance will be online only. The changed circumstances of this Congress mean that access to papers and presentations in advance will be more important and inclusive for all. Having these available online will also facilitate feedback and review by a wider range of participants and so improve the potential submission to Basic Income Studies and other outlets. We would welcome the presentations by 6th August 2021.

Publication opportunities:
Papers presented at the BIEN congress will go into the pool of papers to be submitted for the Basic Income Studies prize winning essay of 2021, if submitted by October 1st – the annual deadline for the BIS Prize entry.

To be considered for the BIS prize, papers would have to be of the standard scholarly format and length of academic paper journal submissions. The editors of Basic Income Studies also encourage submissions of congress papers of a suitable format to the regular review process. Papers entered this way will also be considered for the prize’.

The prize is normally judged by a committee of the editors and two additional appointed judges. For the detail of the prize, please see: https://www.degruyter.com/view/journals/bis/bis-overview.xml

(From Mike Danson, Chair BIEN 2021 Congress Organising Committee)

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