A three-year-long project documenting the impact of a small basic income trial in the United States is entering its final stages before release. Director Conrad Shaw said the goal of this project was not solely about what a permanent basic income system would look like, but more so a means to “explore what people do with extra unconditional cash.”
Aside from the financial struggles in the early stages, Shaw appreciates the series of events that occurred, which allowed the project to be illustrative of what a real basic income might look like in a crisis. Whether it be the hurricanes or the ongoing pandemic, a string of “scenarios” presented themselves and provided the perfect conditions to see where basic income can really make an impact during uncertain times.
“It’s just crazy how things lined up in the last several years, to give a lot of very poignant case studies,” he said.
The most dramatic changes Shaw’s team observed were the participant’s relationships and their psyche. Other than the day-to-day differences, the boost in self-confidence and change in their whole demeanor at the end of the trial held the most significance to Conrad.
“There’s an element of confidence that comes along with just being able to try what you want to try, to be able to take those shots,” Shaw said when asked to elaborate on the psychological effects the participants experienced. He said basic income allowed people to feel like they have always got a way to plan and move forward.
“People felt free to pursue the things that they wanted to for a very long time,” he said.
An important aspect of making the cash “unconditional” was to make sure the process was not something participants did not have to jump through hoops or constantly think about. They also wanted to make sure the recipients were not only using the money to pay for health care.
When asked about what he would do differently and what his future projects would be, Shaw said he wished there is more political movement on basic income going forward. He said he was disappointed that presidential candidate Andrew Yang was not able to take his basic income policy further in the Democratic primary.
While Shaw said the passage of basic income will be highly influenced by the political climate, he said he hopes that future work can evaluate the possible combined impact of universal health care and basic income when provided together.
Nonetheless, Shaw said he wanted to come at the project from a neutral academic view by choosing participants from a wide array of backgrounds across the United States. He said the project was a success in that it demonstrated the possibly life-changing effects of basic income for some recipients while leaving it up to the audience to interpret the results.
“The sort of the transition between before and during and after basic income was very dramatic; they were in a very different place after than when than one they started so you know, just objectively it seemed like a pretty significant potentially permanent sort of change,” Shaw said.
Rampant disparities within the capital/labor share, increased pressure on climatically vulnerable communities and mass international migration due to economic hardship or violence. All that without mentioning the ever-haunting specter of automation-induced unemployment and, finally, the outbreak of a world-reaching pandemic: these are some of the ongoing cataclysmic trends that are making an ever increasing number of academics, policymakers and multilateral organizations revisit the adoption of Universal Basic Income (UBI) models. The idea of furnishing guaranteed, unconditional and universal basic income for people within an assigned geographical locality – and potentially the entire globe – has ebbed and flown from the pages of authors of all walks of the political spectrum for over two centuries. It appears, though, that such an idea is regaining momentum at this point in history, a somewhat unexpected moment, given the worldwide rise of nationalistic and illiberalism worldviews. The ambition of this proposal is not to promote an exhaustive comparative assessment of competing proposals currently taking place – or being aspired at – around the world. Instead, this working paper stands as an introductory effort to be followed by a more robust case study of existing schemes, which should bind them under the theories of Multipolarity. This proposal launches the cornerstone of a debate assessing the concrete costs and political coordination challenges that are likely to arise in a scenario of massive and ideally genuine universal effort to start or scale-up existing UBI initiatives through the deployment of digital financing techniques, including its most disruptive variations such as cryptocurrencies.
McKinsey, the consultancy company, has published an article about the Finland Basic Income experiment.
The final results from Finland’s experiment are now in, and the findings are intriguing: the basic income in Finland led to a small increase in employment, significantly boosted multiple measures of the recipients’ well-being, and reinforced positive individual and societal feedback loops. …
As with any policy analysis, the results of this experiment remain subject to debate and can’t necessarily be generalized. As a result, the experiment does offer an object lesson in the complexity of designing and implementing a randomized control trial of basic income. Nevertheless, more research on basic income is required. We can hope that Finland’s example will inform and inspire others as they set up their own experiments.
Goa Foundation and the Goenchi Mati Movement advocate for a fair mining and intergenerational equity model defining it as commons, which you can read in this article and the other resources. They develop a vision of maintaining the wealth coming from selling inherited minerals to serve the broader community and not just the privileged few. One of their proposals is citizens’ dividend, which, they argue, will “create a strong bond between the citizen and their commons“. According to the calculation mentioned by the Research Director of Goa Foundation, Rahul Basu, every citizen in Goa would receive a commons dividend of thousand rupees a month if the fund were managed according to their proposals. I outline how this proposal may be enhanced by deepening the commons as a philosophy and governance model, which is already incorporated in their blueprint. Instead of focusing on just giving cash transfers, I would ask how the money can create sustainability. This is a big issue in the context of environmental disruption by short-term thinking. Wealth distribution can liberate from the incentives that poverty produces. You have the chance of posing and giving space to these important questions.
The answer may need a long time and a lot of expertise but the results may be not only aligned with but strengthen the basic tenets of intergenerational justice. This reflection is relevant to the broader debate on a UBI, citizen’s dividend, and accountability.
I develop in my writing a broader vision of UBI going beyond just cash transfers. I believe that the reform needs complementing measures to be added to create a real alternative to the current system. As part of this vision, I want to inspire creating organizational structures that will enable people to access high-quality basic services and be an alternative to the monopoly of the current market system which has many disruptive externalities. You can see examples of such an organization of work in my articles.
I propose to focus on building sustainability to maintain the health of the community and yield long term advantages for future generations.
Agriculture and correcting market food supply
It is difficult to free farmers from the vicious cycle of the past mistakes and the short-term planning that living in poverty imposes. Therefore, the best way to use resources is through giving subsidies and knowledge transfer to enable advanced low-tech agricultural methods such as permaculture, wild agriculture, or agro-forestry. The abundance in the food supply, which such a change of direction promises, can benefit various forms of organizing food distribution. This can have both forms of targeting farmers in particular as their practices pollute the environment around them as well as the broader community to enable the poor to produce their food in community gardens. One can think of a hybrid solution such as the one described in the case of a small farmer who invites consumers to participate in food production. Such methods require a long-term commitment and the resources to invest in developing soil but with time they will produce abundance that can be redistributed among citizens. It will also contribute to sustaining the natural resources in the region. With this kind of approach, you not only redistribute wealth (nutritional wealth) but multiply it.
The influences that have destroyed agriculture all over the world are taking a toll on India. A recent initiative by the government wants to foster organic agriculture but the project resembles the commercial, export-oriented type of intervention, which may not benefit the poor directly. How can you protect the soil from land grabbing and the interests of monopolies like fertilizer producers and other branches of the agricultural industry? The answer needs to mobilize various actors, also consumers.
While in India, I talked to a 19-year old woman who studies sociology and has all this critical thinking and discourse pouring out of her. At the same time, she eats at McDonald’s and thinks it is cool. Industrially processed food is particularly dangerous for India due to ineffective recycling and waste management. Cash transfers may add freedom but the one promised by the interests of the multinational companies at the cost of sustainable health and agriculture.
Collective rather than individual approach
While I understand the argument against taxing citizens by transferring real income from the Permanent Fund to the government instead of giving individual dividends, this type of redistribution may also be as short-sighted as the extractive industry is. We can imagine a different approach, which is neither former nor the latter option but something in between. Definitely, the government has shown limits in governing resources, which calls for other than tax solutions. By building up robust structures and practices that will sustain collaboration capacities of the population, you are enabling the population to multiply rather than only consume resources. And this is something that benefits the entire population so the dividend has a universal effect in the long run.
Nowadays, there are many instances of technologies that create abundance, for example, solar energy; think of community solar stove in neighborhoods. Think of all sorts of circular economies that could change the mindset about how resources are used and produced. There is this magic thing about nature that once you work with (and not against) nature, including human nature, you can create abundance.
Instead of atomizing the resources, I propose to give them at collective disposal so that people can make collective investments to share resources: building collective kitchens, gardens, and other commons. Giving money into collective hands as opposed to just individual transfers, which you don’t know how people will end up spending and whether their spending will actually be good for the community and for their health, will produce cumulative results.
The problem with cash transfers is that if you just give money but there is no consciousness, no awareness of how to spend money in a sustainable way then the money will be just spent on things that actually contribute to the damage of the region and the future generations. Cash transfers are intermediated by mentality and culture. Therefore, it is important to build this intermediating fabric in the community. For example, how could you enable creating public spaces where self-organization happens, where connection happens, where people are brought back to responsible and sustainable consumption?
Culture and community
Another building block of creating sustainability is preserving culture and community. It is important to ask what organizations, what projects, what knowledge could preserve the indigenous and original Indian culture to protect it from erosion? The dying out of traditional cultures will lead to spreading addiction and other social dysfunctions. The question is how to prevent Western style of capitalism and cultural and relational poverty from imbuing your region. Investing in protecting the community is a form of creating a commons, which foster public health outside of the pharmacological approach and dependency on extractive industries.
If we look at the intergenerational equity in structural and cultural context, giving out cash transfers appears as delivering the region to the tyranny of near-sighted vision and forgoing a deep social change. Cash may enable and encourage consumption that fits well into the interests of hegemonic actors and ideologies. Before enabling consumption, we need to transform the underpinning culture and underpinning patterns which brought obesity and other health problems in the West.
Rahul Basu’s comment
We wholeheartedly agree that fostering communities is necessary. Our structure has been designed to deal with the serious issues that arise from the misgovernance of mineral extraction. One aspect particularly important for India is the large number of power hierarchies – class, caste & gender being just a few – and which permeate even traditionally self-governing villages. This enables politicians to develop winning coalitions using a divide and conquer strategy. The Citizen’s Dividend is essential to connect people to their mineral inheritance and the equality of the dividend prevents the division of the people.
While it is desirable that this income be pooled in ways that foster communities, we believe that this should be left open to the recipients of the dividend. Indeed, in the SEWA pilot of UBI in India, one group pooled their dividends and jointly took up fish cultivation. If on the other hand, this money is mandated for community creation through the legally recognized legal structures like villages / cities, we will neither have a community nor will we have resolved the misgovernance of the mineral inheritance.
In the current turbulent times, there is a fierce debate emerging how cities should adjust to rapidly changing economic and technological trends. Smart City Education Inside invited two experts to discuss the prospect of cash transfers to enhance sustainability and provide equitable educational opportunities for students.
Smart City Online Education Inside is a joint project between the Digital Education Institute, III, and the Talent Circulation Alliance. Under the supervision of the Bureau of Industrial Development Taiwan, the project launched a series of panel and keynote speaking events for those interested in education technology, sustainable learning, and sustainable society.
On Tuesday (8/11), Mr. Ameya Pawar, who had served two terms on the Chicago City Council and was the first Asian and Indian American elected to major office in Illinois, shared his presentation “Dignity, Decency, and Agency: The Case for Universal Basic Income.” Income inequality, wealth inequality, and decades of policies favoring wealthy corporations and big banks over working people, drew him to the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI).
Pawar believes that every aspect of society is impacted by inattention to poverty, it is necessary to invest in mitigating it at both the national and local level.
“What leads us to believe that people will do something wrong or bad or do less if we help them a little bit?” Pawar asked. “To achieve sustainability, people need to have built-in resilience,” he said.
In response to the idea that giving cash may make people less willing to work, Pawar said that research has shown that is not the case. “Giving people money does not change the fact that people, as human beings, want to be productive; instead, it gives people more choices and breathing room in their lives,” he said.
On Thursday (8/13), we invited Mr. Sean Kline, who is the Systems Entrepreneur in Residence with RSA Future of Work Center, to share his presentation “Child Focused Development in the Digital Era.”
Kline believes, as services and technology become the dominant drivers of the economy, some segments of the population have been left behind. That’s why, a more modern and robust social safety net is needed to help transition and adapt to this rapid technological change is needed. While the government is putting tremendous conditions on how low-income families use public benefits, it is capable of giving people money in the form of large tax deductions. These unequal requirements demonstrate trust for one group and mistrust for the other. In fact, unconditional cash is administratively easier to deliver especially if it is provided universally.
With children being an important focus of Kline’s work, he suggests that lacking investment in children not only shapes their life’s trajectory, but shapes the trajectory of potential economic growth for society as a whole. Sharing examples of universal children’s saving accounts, baby bonds, and basic income and how they have benefited children, he believes that these are the primary methods to support children universally in the digital age.
Below is the a copyedited version of the speech I delivered at the Basic Income March, New York, October 26, 2019 in the Bronx, New York, October 26, 2019. Pierre Madden ranscribed and copyedited it, in Montreal, Quebec, September 2020. Then I copyedited it again, at St. Elizabeth’s, Napoleon Avenue, New Orleans, September 11-13, 2020
I march for UBI because it’s wrong to come between anybody and the resources they need to survive and that is exactly what we do in just about every country in the world today. Poverty doesn’t just happen. People don’t get themselves into poverty. Poverty is a lack of access to resources. The world is full of resources. The only reason you can lack access to the resources you need to survive is because somebody else controls them whether it’s an owner, whether it’s a politburo or whether it’s a bureaucracy. It doesn’t matter who controls them. If it’s not you and they say you can’t use them unless you do what we say, you are not free.
Freedom is independence. Freedom is the power to say no to anybody who wants to give you orders. But we’ve set up the world so it seems so natural that some people should just own the earth. And the rest of us, the 90%, the 99%, we all have to go to them to get our job or we have no resources to keep us alive. And we call that “work.” We act like there’s no other kind. As if the only thing work could possibly mean is going and taking orders from somebody who has more privileges than you do. Working for yourself has become impossible. It’s been impossible since we kicked the peasants off the land and enclosed the commons. Working for yourself has been impossible since we killed the buffalo. Working for yourself has been impossible since we abducted the slaves. And the freed slaves knew this at the end of the Civil War. That’s why they asked for 40 acres and a mule. Unfortunately, their masters knew it too: that’s why they didn’t get it.
There’s nothing wrong with a job. Jobs don’t make you unfree. What makes you unfree is when instead of saying I want you to work for me so I am going to pay you enough that you’ll want to work for me, they say I’m going to take everything starve you into submission. A small group of owners took all the resources. They didn’t invent these resources. These resources were here before all of us. And this group of people, this tiny little privileged group of people are going to take all the resources and they are not going to share with anybody until the people who have nothing provide services for the people who already own everything. That’s why when you control resources, you don’t get just the resources; you get to control other people.
The obligation should go in the other direction. Instead of the poor being obliged to work for the rich, the rich should be obliged to work for the poor. The only thing you could possibly do to justify owning resources, to own more resources than other people do, to have more access to resources, to have more control over resources, to use and use up more resources than other people do, is to provide some sort of service for them.
That’s why we need to tax the owners of property. All property is made out of resources. Every single piece of property, even on the internet. You need a place to stand when you make the internet. You need energy to make that internet work. All property is made out of resources.
They’ll tell you they’ve paid for those resources. No, they paid the last guy who owned them. They didn’t pay all of us who don’t own any resources. If you want to take a part of the earth that was here before you, you’ve got to pay back, provide a service for those who own nothing. That’s why you have to pay a tax on resources and the distribution of the revenue from that tax has to be unconditional.
But they’ll say, that’s something for nothing. No, that’s exactly backwards. The system we have now is something for nothing, where people who own the Earth don’t pay anything to those of us who therefore must do without. That’s something for nothing.
We pretend we’re free because we have a choice of which one of these property owners we can work for. A choice of masters is not freedom. Freedom is independence. Freedom is the power to say no to anyone who would want to be your master. When you establish that, everybody gets some of the value of the resources of this earth, enough to live in dignity, enough to survive, enough that you don’t have to work unless somebody makes it worth your while. Oh, but they will say: All those lazy workers won’t work if you do that.
Notice how it’s always lazy workers and never cheap employers. No, that’s never said. So what we’re really doing when we say this, is we’re taking sides in a dispute. When somebody offers a job and somebody else doesn’t want it, that’s a dispute about wages and working conditions. Everyone has their price, right? So, if there’s a good price, people will take it: Good wages, good working conditions. Someone will take that job. But if we say whatever the wage is, if you don’t take that job you’re a lazy worker. Never a cheap employer. It’s like we’re looking at a dispute and pretending it’s not even a dispute. We’re pretending that only this side counts. We’re taking sides in a dispute, and we’re siding with the most privileged person. We’re morally judging the weakest, the least powerful person, the most vulnerable person, and leaving the privileged people beyond reproach, as if they’re not even a party to a dispute.
That’s the way the system works today.
And that’s based on a ridiculous assumption that the privileged people of the world, whether they’re in government or whether they’re private resource owners, they get to judge everybody else. They get to judge the weak and the vulnerable. They say: you deserve to live; you don’t. You go be homeless, you go eat out of dumpsters or do whatever else you have to do to keep yourself alive. That is the ridiculous assumption that there is anyone who doesn’t deserve the basic resources that they need to survive. And they decide who’s deserving on the self-serving assumption that privileged people have the right to judge whether unprivileged people deserve to survive. Those assumptions are self-serving to begin with. And look how self-servingly they use that power! In practice, the number one thing that we ask of the poor is, “if you’re truly needy, are you willing to work for the rich?”
Are you willing to work for people who own property? That’s what you’ve got to do to prove that you’re worthy. That’s so self-serving on the part of the privileged. And for almost all of us, it’s self-defeating, because most of us don’t have enough property to work for ourselves. The vast majority of us have to work for someone who owns enough property to hire us. By creating the situation where the more privileged to get to block the less privileged from the resources they need to survive, we’ve created a situation where just about everybody has to work either directly or indirectly for the wealthiest of us.
And that creates this terrible work incentive problem. When they talk about incentives, they only talk about the incentives for those lazy workers to work. What about the incentive for those cheap employers to pay good wages? That incentive problem doesn’t just affect the people at the low end. 41 years ago, real per capita income was half of what it is now. That means we could all be working half as much and consuming the same or we could be working the same and consuming twice as much as we did 41 years ago. But most people are working just as much as their parents were 41 years ago and consuming little if any more than their parents did 41 years ago. We’ve had all this economic growth all this automation in the past 41 years and the benefits have all gone to the top 1%. Basic Income is not just for those other people at the low end, it’s for everybody who has no other choice but to work for a living.
We have owed each other a Basic Income since we enclosed the common lands, since we abducted the slaves, since we killed the buffalo not because some long-dead person stole something from some other long-dead person but because they created a system that privileges some, impoverishes others, and corrupts us all. We all owe each other a Basic Income now. That’s why I’m marching today and thank you for joining me. –Karl Widerquist, the Bronx, New York, October 26, 2019, final edits St. Elizabeth’s, Napoleon Avenue, New Orleans, September 13, 2020
All the images and videos above are by Ching Juhl of Juhl Media.
Pierre Madden, transcribed this text, did some of the copyedting.
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more
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BIEN Congresses in 2021 and 2022
BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
A series of conversations from around the world that explore the relationship between the Covid-19 pandemic and Basic Income. Read more