Paul Basken, “Universal Basic Income: An Idea Whose Scholarly Time Has Come?”

Paul Basken, “Universal Basic Income: An Idea Whose Scholarly Time Has Come?”

Paul Basken has written an article about scholarly research on basic income for The Chronicle of Higher Education, a US-based news service aimed toward individuals engaged with higher education.

Despite concerns about job loss due to automation, and despite an increase in the popularity of basic income as a potential countermeasure, it is rare that university researchers in the United States seek (let alone obtain) funding for research projects on basic income. As Basken’s article points out, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the main federal agency sponsoring academic research, has not received a “surge in proposals for research on basic income” — nor has it made any strides to encourage such topics.

However, as Basken also notes, many scholars are themselves not sure what research could reveal about the implementation and effects of basic income, given the inherent limitations of experiments and simulations and the complexities of implementing the policy in practice.

Basken’s article features commentary from three scholars who have researched and written upon basic income: Michael C. Munger (Political Science, Duke University), Michael A. Lewis (Social Work, Hunter College), and Matt Zwolinski (Philosophy, University of San Diego).

Read the full article:

Paul Basken, “Universal Basic Income: An Idea Whose Scholarly Time Has Come?The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 9, 2017.

Reviewed by Robert Gordon

Photo CC BY 2.0 Stewart Butterfield

BELGIUM: Six in ten Flemish people in favour of basic income

BELGIUM: Six in ten Flemish people in favour of basic income

According to a recent survey, 61% of Flemings agree that “everyone should have the right to a guaranteed basic income”. About a quarter say that, if guaranteed this right, they would start their own business, and women in particular would be more entrepreneurial.

The questions about a basic income guarantee formed part of a larger survey on the economy, conducted by Trendhuis (“Trend House”), a research group that has been following trends in public opinion in Belgium since 2005. For its survey on the economy, which was released in January 2017, it polled 1,028 members of the Flemish population (Dutch-speaking Belgians) over the age of 18.

In the web-based survey, Trendhuis asked respondents whether they support a basic income, defined as a fixed (monthly) income provided by the government to all citizens, without means test or work requirement. As seen in the table below, a majority in each demographic group analyzed — young and old, male and female, “short-” and “long-” educated — supported the idea. The greatest support came from the 51-65 age group, in which 67% of respondents favored basic income.

These results are roughly consistent with those found in Dalia Research’s EU-wide study of attitudes about basic income, conducted in April 2016.


Bruges, West Flanders, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Daniel Mennerich

More Entrepreneurship

Survey subjects were further asked about entrepreneurial activity. Overall, 20% of the respondents indicated that they would set up their own company in the future even without a basic income, while 25% would do so if they were provided with a basic income.

The difference was more pronounced for women: 14% said that they would start their own business in the future without a basic income; this proportion jumped to 23% with a basic income.


Changing Behavior

One of the big questions of the basic income debate is whether people will still be motivated to work with a guaranteed basic income. In the Trendhuis study, 6% of the Flemings surveyed indicated that they would completely give up their jobs. More than one in three said that they would consider working less (for example, part-time or four-fifths)–with women (40%) more inclined to do so than men (31%).

Almost half of those surveyed said that they would find work better suited to their abilities (47%) and commit more time to volunteering (45%). Additionally, four in ten respondents said that they would study. More than half of the women expressed an intention to commit to voluntary work (54%), versus 39% of men.




“I think that everyone should have a right to a guaranteed basic income”

(Percentages = ‘agree’ + ‘strongly agree’)

Overall 61,06%
Men 59,46%
Women 62,70%
20-35 y.o. 58,00%
36-50 y.o. 56,07%
51-65 y.o. 67,22%
Short Educated 63,29%
Long Educated 60,28%


“If I had a right to a guaranteed basic income, I would…”

(Percentages = ‘agree’ + ‘strongly agree’)

Overall Men Women 20-35 36-50 51-65 Short Ed. Long Ed.
Start own business 24,90% 26,39% 23,34% 37,05% 28,28% 11,98% 19,12% 26,91%
Volunteer more. 46,09% 38,96% 53,95% 49,87% 46,17% 43,80% 38,80% 48,62%
Work less. 35,23% 31,11% 39,79% 37,00% 37,17% 35,37% 31,87% 36,39%
Stop to work. 5,85% 5,07% 6,71% 2,73% 3,79% 10,83% 7,76% 5,18%
Find work that better fits my talents. 46,65% 46,47% 46,95% 51,30% 43,24% 45,83% 51,17% 45,07%
Return to school. 42,50% 42,49% 42,62% 52,81% 40,71% 33,99% 38,42% 43,92%
Negotiate for better work conditions. 24,06% 26,86% 21,08% 28,10% 24,65% 20,15% 26,07% 23,37%
“I see myself starting up a company in the future”

(Percentages = ‘agree’ + ‘strongly agree’)

“If I had a guaranteed basic income right then I would set up a private enterprise” (Percentages = ‘agree’ + ‘strongly agree’) Difference in percentage points
Overall 19,48% 24,90% + 5,42
Men 24,27% 26,39% + 2,12
Women 14,41% 23,34% + 8,93
20-35 y.o. 33,22% 37,05% + 3,83
36-50 y.o. 21,53% 28,28% + 6,75
51-65 y.o. 7,26% 11,98% + 4,72
Short Educated 13,46% 19,12% + 5,66
Long Educated 21,58% 26,91% + 5,33


Edited by Kate McFarland; reviewed by Genevieve Shanahan.

Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Daniel Mennerich

UK: One thousand people hear demand for West Midlands Basic Income pilot

UK: One thousand people hear demand for West Midlands Basic Income pilot

Photo: Crowd of over 950 people at the West Midlands Citizens Assembly (credit: Ravi Subramanian).


Mayoral candidates in the West Midlands have been challenged to take a position on running a pilot study of basic income in the region.

On Wednesday, March 29, the two mayoral candidate frontrunners, Andy Street (Conservative) and Sion Simon (Labour), were asked at a Citizens UK Assembly of 1,000 people from across the region about a range of proposals to make families better off. A basic income pilot was one of these ideas.

The candidates and the audience heard testimony from Shantella Pinnock, a nursery manager who said that basic income would have helped her team to feed their families while they were in dispute over unpaid wages. Sara Monaghan, caseworker for the UNISON West Midlands Community branch, said that this was not an isolated incident but in fact something she has dealt with repeatedly.

Pinnock and Monaghan give testimony in favour of a Basic Income pilot in the West Midlands region. (Photo credit: Becca Kirkpatrick)

Simon agreed to all of the proposals put to him by Citizens UK, including the basic income pilot, which also features in his manifesto. Street did not make a commitment to the basic income pilot proposal, but did say, “I’m fascinated, interested in this, I want keep my mind open to it. Let’s see the research from elsewhere and then let’s work towards it.”

A pilot of basic income has already made it into the West Midlands People’s Plan, a local manifesto for the future mayor, which was developed from a series of listening workshops last summer. UNISON West Midlands region also included it in their 20-point manifesto for the mayor.

James Burn, the Green Party candidate, has made clear his support for a basic income pilot in the local media. Basic income has been a Green Party policy for over 30 years.

Elsewhere in the UK, the councils of Fife and Glasgow are currently exploring the feasibility of running basic income pilots.

Citizens UK is a non-partisan civil society alliance of faith, education, trade unions and community groups.

Reviewed by Kate McFarland and Russell Ingram

AUDIO: “Radical economics, rethought” with Martin Sandbu

AUDIO: “Radical economics, rethought” with Martin Sandbu

Cardiff Garcia, a writer for the UK-based Financial Times, interviewed Martin Sandbu, a philosopher and economist who writes Free Lunch, a daily newsletter on global economic policy. As he describes in the interview, Sandbu believes that a background in philosophical logic enables one to identify and question assumptions that are inherent within normative economic policy. His own philosophically informed analyses of economic policy have led him to support the idea of basic income —  another topic discussed at length in the interview.

Sandbu discusses basic income in the historical and current context of American political, social, cultural and economic challenges. Among potential outcomes of basic income, Sandbu highlights positive ones that include risk encouragement, higher bargaining power for rural people, and decreased resentment within low and middle-income groups.

Listen to the podcast episode here: Alphachat

Photo CC BY 2.0 Zhou Tong

PALM BEACH, FLORIDA: Basic Income advocate Scott Santens to speak at $1750-per-ticket conference

PALM BEACH, FLORIDA: Basic Income advocate Scott Santens to speak at $1750-per-ticket conference

This year’s Managing the Disruption, an annual conference organized by the billionaire real estate entrepreneur Jeff Greene, will include a talk by basic income advocate and writer Scott Santens. The two-day conference will focus on themes related to ways in which our social institutions can and should adapt to technological and cultural change — including, in particular, the threat of technological unemployment. Santens will speak on the question “Universal Basic Income: Possibility or a Dream?”

The conference will take place April 2-3, 2017, in Palm Beach, Florida, with Santens’s 10-minute talk to be held at 11:35am on April 3.

Other speakers include former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and, immediately following Santens, former US Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers, among many others. The event is registration only, with ticket prices beginning at $1,750 for general admission.

Reviewed by Russell Ingram and Robert Gordon

Photo CC BY-NC 2.0 Richard Tanton

UNITED STATES: Basic Income opponents “win” in televised debate

UNITED STATES: Basic Income opponents “win” in televised debate

On March 22, 2017, the popular debate program Intelligence Squared U.S. (IQ2US), hosted and moderated by ABC News correspondent John Donvan, held a debate on the question “Is the universal basic income the safety net of the future?” Specifically, the panelists debated the proposal of a $12,000 per year UBI for Americans.

On the “yes” side, Andrew Stern, former President of the Service Employees International Union and author of Raising the Floor, partnered with libertarian author and scholar Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute. Their opponents were two leading economists of the Obama administration: Jason Furman (Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors to President Barack Obama) and Jared Bernstein (Chief Economist to Vice President Joe Biden).  

Prior to the debate, members of the live audience were asked whether they were “for the motion”, “against the motion”, or undecided.

During the first round of the debate, each debater was given time to make opening speeches delineating their positions. Initiating the round, Stern argued that current welfare programs are insufficient, leaving millions of Americans in poverty, and that impending job disruption due to automation will make the economic situation even more dire. Opening for the “against” side, Furman maintained that the threat from automation has been overblown, that UBI is not financially viable–at least without removing benefits from those who need them–and that there are better policy options, such as programs designed to help individuals obtain jobs.

Next, Murray argued that a basic income would open more options to individuals, remove the need for the poor to supplicate themselves to government bureaucrats to receive benefits, and restore more responsibility to family and friends in supporting one another’s needs. Finally, Bernstein laid out a case that basic income would waste resources on those who don’t need them, eliminating funds from programs that could do much more to help poor and middle-class Americans, ultimately to the detriment of those who need help the most.

The opening statements were followed by an interactive debate moderated by Donvan. This second round began with the question of the extent to which technological unemployment is a real threat. While Furman emphasized that earlier fears of mass job loss to automation turned out to be unfounded, Stern and Murray contended that the threat is indeed significantly greater now. Meanwhile, Bernstein stressed that there is still plenty of work that needs to be done today.

Redirecting discussion from the impasse over the magnitude of the automation threat, Bernstein stressed that the most important point of the “against” side is not that automation is not a major concern, but that UBI wastes money on those who don’t need it, rather than investing that money in programs targeted at the most vulnerable. In response to assertions by Stern that the poor are obviously better off under a UBI, given that they have an additional $12,000 per year, Furman challenged the arithmetic of the “for” side–challenging Stern and Murray to explain how their UBI can be financed.

Near the end of the round, the debate shifted to the more “ephemeral” parts of the pro-UBI argument, focusing on the potential impact of UBI on civil society.

After the second round of the debate, members of the studio audience were invited to ask brief questions, and, finally, each of the four panelists summarized their key points in two-minute closing statements.

At the end of the debate, the audience members were against asked to vote “for”, “against”, or “undecided” on the motion that UBI is the safety net of the future.

In the end, the “against” side clearly dominated the contest. While only 20% of attendees were opposed the motion prior to the debate (with 45% undecided), fully 61% were afterwards. Meanwhile, the proportion in favor dropped from 35% to 31%.

The “against” side also won in a poll of the online viewing audience, although less starkly. At the beginning of the debate, 49% of online viewers expressed support for the motion–rising to 53% by the end. The percentage against, in contrast, started (and ended) smaller, but saw a much larger increase–from 19% to 42%.

It is important to keep in mind that these results reflect the views only of a small self-selected group of individuals, and thus neither the “before” or “after” votes should not be taken as representative of Americans’ views on UBI.


Watch the Debate



The Universal Basic Income is the Safety Net of the Future” at Intelligence Squared Debates.  

Reviewed by Cameron McLeod.