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
‘Liberate our imagination’: Taiwan holds first basic income march

‘Liberate our imagination’: Taiwan holds first basic income march

Taiwan held its first-ever basic income march on Sunday, attracting over 100 participants to rally in front of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan. Current and former legislators joined the march led by UBI Taiwan, calling for greater discussion of a youth dividend and guaranteeing the right to a basic livelihood for all Taiwanese.

A prominent national legislator in Taiwan People’s Party, Tsai Pi-ru, gave a speech at the opening of the march in front of the Legislative Yuan. She said she attended because she wanted to show her support for Taiwan’s young people who are “bravely” speaking out. Tsai discussed the possibility of using a carbon tax and dividend as a step toward basic income.

“While participating in the basic income parade today, I saw young friends stand up. They are courageous to stand up for a new idea that is easily misunderstood,” she said.

National legislator from Taiwan People’s Party Tsai Pi-ru addresses the rally outside of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: Lin Yen Ting / UBI Taiwan 攝影:林彥廷 / 台灣無條件基本收入協會

UBI Taiwan informally began in 2016 and was formally established in 2018. In that time, the group has held three international conferences and produced multiple white papers analyzing methods for implementing basic income. Most recently, UBI Taiwan released a white paper advocating for an emergency basic income, meeting with legislators in early 2020 to discuss the possibility of including cash transfers in Taiwan’s stimulus measures.

The organizers said there were three main demands of the march: guarantee the right to basic subsistence, protect a sense of economic security, and prevent working families from being trapped in low-paying jobs. 

As the global pandemic continues to rage on, Taiwan has not experienced a local transmission for over 200 days which allowed the rally to take place without restrictions. Nonetheless, march organizers said the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic created a new urgency for the basic income discussion in Taiwan. Despite expecting modest growth overall this year, Taiwan has experienced uneven effects from the global downturn which disproportionately harmed low-income families. 

Marchers walk near Taipei Main Station in Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: Lin Yen Ting / UBI Taiwan 攝影:林彥廷 / 台灣無條件基本收入協會

Former national legislator and magistrate of Tainan county Su Huan-chih said at the march that promoting the basic income system will help young people increase their flexibility and opportunities in choosing jobs, and will also help the unemployed maintain their dignity.

The General-Secretary of Taiwan’s Green Party Rita Jhang said basic income “provides universal protection for every person, alleviating the plight of exploitation and overwork.” Jhang said Taiwan’s current social welfare system with strict conditions and qualifications is not well suited for the rapidly changing modern era.

“When people no longer have to worry about their basic necessities, they can make longer-term plans for their lives and they can engage in more creative and public welfare work,” Jhang said.

According to Tsai, many of the criticisms against basic income were made 30 years ago when Taiwan began implementing its early social welfare system. At the time, she said many were worried social welfare would bankrupt the government. But welfare is not the area where Taiwan’s government is wasting money, she said.

“The biggest problem is that the government wastes money to build a lot of large and improper construction projects and unused government buildings. These wasteful projects create debt and harm the natural environment,” Tsai said.

To help educate the public on the issues facing Taiwan, the rally included booths to educate the public on basic income, share real stories related to basic income and the global basic income movement, as well as an open space for the public to discuss questions about basic income and the future tech-driven economy.

Prior to the march, prominent basic income scholars from around the world sent their advice and well wishes to Taiwan including Sarath Davala, the chairman of Basic Income Earth Network. Davala said that he hopes the basic income march in Taiwan becomes an “example” for other countries in the region.

“The march that is being organized in Taiwan is a sign of how strong the UBI Taiwan movement has come to and it has the capacity to provide and influence the government to adopt this innovative system,” Davala said.

University of London Professor Guy Standing said in his video address to Taiwan’s march that the pandemic has shown “the resilience of society and the resilience of all of us as individuals will depend on the resilience of the weakest members of society.” 

“Now is the moment for a basic income movement and a basic income system. Brave politicians must take this opportunity and usher in a better society,” Standing said.

A rally outside the Legislative Yuan kicked off Taiwan’s basic income march. Photo: Lin Yen Ting / UBI Taiwan 攝影:林彥廷 / 台灣無條件基本收入協會

For Tsai, Taiwan’s first basic income march was a starting point for a larger conversation about how to reimagine Taiwan’s society for the future. She discussed how basic income could help address the problems of Taipei’s high housing prices and the displacement caused by Artificial Intelligence, while encouraging greater risk-taking and entrepreneurship. 

“The great changes in the world start from small places. The world is always changing, and our imagination needs to be liberated,” Tsai said.

UBI Taiwan Chairman Tyler Prochazka took the stage to discuss why he has advocated for basic income in Taiwan. Prochazka moved from the United States to Taiwan in 2016 under a Fulbright proposal of studying the feasibility of basic income in Taiwan.

“I truly believe there is a real possibility to implement basic income in Taiwan and open up the unrealized potential among Taiwan’s young people,” Prochazka said.

Central American States can and should move towards the implementation of a Universal Basic Income

Central American States can and should move towards the implementation of a Universal Basic Income

By: Carlos Alvarado Mendoza y Jonathan Menkos Zeissig
Translation: Julio Linares
The Spanish version of the article can be found here.

Recently, the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies (Icefi) proposed for Central America the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI), seeking that the States of the isthmus have a minimum guarantee of social protection, while contributing to counteract the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. A UBI, accompanied by other public, social and economic investments, would accelerate the fulfillment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and, by proposing a change structural in the welfare and economic growth model, could be the basis for the discussion of new social, political, economic and prosecutors in Central America.

Central American governments have implemented actions in order to contain the spread of the virus and reduce the impacts on people’s health and economic activity. However, these states have faced a complex scenario, although to varying degrees in each country, as the pandemic has exacerbated structural problems mainly related to the lack of equity in access and care of public health systems, the weak health care system and social protection and the low capacity to generate formal employment and productive transformation, which has as a consequence lead to high levels of inequality and poverty. Indeed, prior to the crisis, 45 out of every 100 Central Americans (about 22.5 million people) lives in conditions of poverty; furthermore, 82 out of every 100 poor Central Americans lives in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

According to estimates by the Institute, the current crisis could cause the loss of up to 1.9 million jobs, and induce a significant increase in general and extreme poverty. Especially in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, the current crisis could add at least 4.9 million people to poverty, according to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), which would further erode the weak social fabric of these countries of the region (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 2020, “Latin America and the Caribbean in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic: economic and social effects”, Special Report COVID-19 No. 3). Among the main measures that have been implemented by most Central American governments to limit the impact on the population, in terms of ensuring income, food security and basic services, particularly for vulnerable groups, are: food delivery; the creation of new monetary transfers; suspension of payment for basic services (particularly water, power and telephone); and, the increase in the amount of previously existing monetary transfers. Likewise, different types of protection programs have been put in place for workers in the formal sector, among which are teleworking, paid absence from work, unemployment insurance, reduction of working hours, among others. Additionally, additional direct support has been provided to individuals and families, consisting of credit payment facilities, support for workers in the informal sector, among others.

Although the measures adopted by the governments of the region are limited and of a temporary nature, they indicate the urgent need to implement permanent actions, from a long-term perspective, that make it possible to guarantee the gradual reduction of poverty in the countries of the region until they are eliminated and the rights of the people by strengthening States through the universal provision of social protection that allows rebuilding the social fabric of those countries.


Faced with the above, the Icefi has urged the Central American States expand and strengthen their social protection systems in a way that protect the population, prioritizing traditionally excluded groups
and the most vulnerable, the economic and financial damages derived the crisis and accelerate the process of economic recovery. To achieve these objectives quickly and effectively, the Institute proposes the implementation launch of a universal basic income (UBI) that eliminates extreme poverty and significantly reduces general poverty. In its III Report Central American fiscal policy ―whose first chapters were published in July―, the Institute has calculated the costs and effects of the application of a universal basic income.

For the implementation of a UBI, the Icefi proposes to assign a sum monetary to each member of society, equivalent to the amount associated with the international threshold of extreme poverty (USD 1.90 per day in parity of 2011 purchasing power). From that account, you would also be paying the achievement of the 2030 Agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 10, 12, and 16. The application of a UBI has an operational simplicity that pays to its rapid execution, avoiding creating more bureaucracy, opening paths to corruption and keeping beneficiaries in the trap of poverty. By being assigned unconditionally, it would allow not only to eradicate extreme poverty, decrease overall poverty, reduce inequality in income distribution, increase levels of economic activity and create the conditions for new jobs, but also the measure should provoke the modernization of fiscal policy and rebalancing necessary of responsibilities between citizens, companies and the government. From that account, when proposing a structural change in the welfare and economic growth model, UBI could be the basis for discussion of new social, political, economic and fiscal pacts in Central America.


The initial estimates made by the Institute suggest that the annual investment required for the implementation of a UBI ranges from 1.2% and 7.5% of GDP for the six countries of the region, Honduras being the country that would require more investment due to the size of its GDP and the
number of inhabitants of the country. Similarly, Nicaragua would require an investment of approximately
5.8% of GDP; while in Guatemala and El Salvador, investment necessary would reach between 5.0% and 5.3% of GDP, respectively. In contrast, the countries that would face the least fiscal pressure to implement this policy are Costa Rica and Panama, whose investment would be around 2.2% and 1.2% of GDP, respectively.


Figure 1: Central America: necessary increase in public spending by the central administration to implement a UBI from threshold poverty level (2020-2030, figures as percentages of GDP).

At the Institute’s discretion, the implementation of a UBI could be carried out
gradually, as shown in Figure 1 ―in a maximum period of ten years and serving the population in the territories with the highest poverty and less development, consistent with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and with the necessary institutional, fiscal and economic restructuring that guarantees the effectiveness and sustainability of this policy over time. This way of gradually achieving the universality of basic income would allow States to advance comprehensively in the universalization of other public goods and services related to education, health, water and environmental sanitation, housing, among others.

According to estimates by the Institute, among the greatest impacts of executing this agenda, in addition to the elimination of extreme poverty, is the generation of 2.0 million direct jobs; the increase average of 20% in the rhythm of economic activity, mainly driven by domestic production; as well as improvements in the indicators of social welfare and equality. For the general fulfillment of the SDG2030 Agenda in the Central American region, the Institute has identified various probable sources of financing, among which the increase in tax collection stands out. As a result of the reduction of illicit capital flows, smuggling, evasion of taxes and fiscal privileges; as well as by the increase of some taxes that, additionally, could improve the
global progressiveness of the tax system. In some states, indebtedness can also be considered as a financing mechanism. Additionally, the Institute reiterates that, on the side of public spending, it is possible to generate spaces additional prosecutors through two channels: by eliminating the items that are not oriented towards development goals, so that resources can be reallocated to programs that have such an orientation; as well as by improving efficiency of those that can generate better results in economic and social terms.

Table 1: Fiscal Space on the Taxation Side

The gradual implementation of a universal basic income, together with the advancement of public investments that guarantee the fulfillment of development goals, and a comprehensive fiscal reform ―more income, public spending based on results, greater transparency and an effective fight against corruption – are the elements that will allow Central Americans to successfully face this health and economic crisis, expanding rights and rebalancing social responsibilities. For this reason, the Institute urges all of society – peasant movements and promoters of individual human rights, workers, businessmen, academia, political parties and governments in office – to promote an open and sensible national dialogue, with a vision of the future, that has as objective of transforming States through a social, economic and fiscal pact that changes current political and socioeconomic trends and sets Central America on the path of sustainable, inclusive and democratic development to which the great majority aspire.

In particular, the states of the countries of the region must advance in the strengthening of their social protection programs, a central element of policy that allows reducing existing inequalities, not only in terms of income, but also from an inclusive perspective in economic terms and social that promote social cohesion. Furthermore, for Icefi, reducing the exacerbation of the poverty conditions in which more than half of Central Americans live may be possible by universalizing access to social protection programs, since the current context has only accentuated the existing limitations in terms of of the economic and social model. A better Central America is possible to the extent that an inclusive development model is formulated and built in economic, social and environmental terms, so that a universal basic income ensures a minimum base of protection that is accompanied by policies that guarantee for all a quality education; access to timely, effective and efficient health services; have public services of economic and social infrastructure that favor social cohesion; and that all implemented policies are consistent with an environmentally friendly strategy.

Originally posted in Spanish in Sin Permiso here.

Pope Francis advocates basic income in new book

Pope Francis has advocated basic income in his new book, Let us Dream: The path to a better future, Simon and Schuster, 2020.

Pope Francis wrote this:
“Recognizing the value to society of the work of nonearners is a vital part of our rethinking in the post-Covid world. That’s why I believe it is time to explore concepts like the universal basic income (UBI), also known as ‘the negative income tax’: an unconditional flat payment to all citizens, which could be dispersed through the tax system.
The UBI could reshape relations in the labor market, guaranteeing people the dignity of refusing employment terms that trap them in poverty. It would give people the basic security they need, remove the stigma of welfarism, and make it easier to move between jobs as technology-driven labor patterns increasingly demand. Policies like the UBI can also help free people to combine earning wages with giving time to the community.” (pp. 131-132)

Our comment: Pope Francis, and his co-author Austen Ivereigh, show a good understanding of a Basic Income as an unconditional flat payment to all citizens.

(A negative income tax is different: That works like a means-tested benefit, and its administration would be a lot more complicated than that of a Basic Income. It is a negative income tax, and not a Basic Income, that would be administered through the tax system.)

Pope Francis and Austen Ivereigh also show a good grasp of some of the important effects of a Basic Income: that it would provide a secure financial platform on which to build; there would be no stigma attached to it; it would give to workers more power in the employment market; and it would enable people to make new decisions about paid employment, and to do vital work in their communities.

Pope Francis has made a most useful contribution to the Basic Income debate.