AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article is a draft of the first chapter of the book I’m working on: Universal Basic Income: Essential Knowledge. It can also be thought of as a reply to Bitch Bastardly’s guest article from last week. Comments welcome: Karl@widerquist.com.
Every minute of every day, you use something you don’t own to meet your needs without asking anyone’s permission and without paying anyone for the privilege. You do this every time you take a breath. You can’t do that without an atmosphere. You don’t own the atmosphere, but you’ve never had to get a job to earn the money to buy the right to use the atmosphere to keep yourself alive. You simply used it as if the free use of a common resource was the most natural thing in the world.
I bet you’d be pretty angry if the government made a new rule dividing atmosphere into private property without giving you a share large enough to meet your needs. I don’ think it would make you feel better if they gave you the opportunity to get a job to earn the money to buy the right to breathe in your area, and thereby keep yourself alive. I think you’d recognize that if you had that much need for a job, you’d be willing to accept very low wages. I don’t think it would make you feel much better if lifetime subscriptions to breathe were affordable, and if, after working for years, saving your money, investing it wisely, you have the chance to become one of the small portion of people who own piece of the atmosphere before retirement age or the even smaller portion of people who own enough of the atmosphere that other people will pay them to breathe.
If the government tried to privatize the atmosphere, I think you’d say something like this. My ancestors and I have used the atmosphere freely for millions of years. We’re evolved to depend on it. If you take away our independent access to it, you make us dependent on whatever group of people owns it. If there’s some benefit in dividing the atmosphere into private property, either everyone should get a share, or those who don’t get shares should be compensated unconditionally for their loss with an income, and that compensation should be at least large enough to buy a lifetime subscription to the right to breathe.
If you’d be that angry about needing some else’s permission to use the atmosphere to meet your need to breathe, why aren’t you angry that you need some else’s permission to use all the other resources you need to meet all your other needs?
I think you should be. Our ancestors used the land and other resources of the Earth freely for millions of years, just as you and I use the atmosphere now. Every one of us is evolved to depend on it. No group of people “naturally” owns it. A few generations ago, governments took away the independent access our ancestors enjoyed. They created a system in which the resources we all need are owned by a few without giving the rest of us any compensation. By doing that, they made us dependent on the people who own the Earth’s resources.
The vast majority of us who don’t own a large enough share of natural resources or of the stuff we make out of natural resources to keep ourselves alive and thriving. The vast majority of us aren’t allowed to use any resources but air without the permission of an owner. We can’t build a shelter, hunt, gather, fish, farm, start a cooperative, or start our own business. Except for the wealthy few, we get a job to earn the money to buy the right to do use the resources that were here before anyone and that we’re all evolved to depend on. Wages are such that, only the lucky few get to the point where we’re free to do something other than paid labor before we’re too told to work anyway.
The division of the Earth’s resource into private and public property has many benefits, but if some people get a share and others don’t, the private property system has many cruel side effects, among them poverty, homelessness, alienation, fear, and hopelessness. Because most of us have no alternative to paid labor, we are all willing to accept lower wages, longer work hours, and less appealing working conditions than we otherwise would. In some situations, people are forced to accept dangerous jobs, sexual harassment, and other forms of abuse from employers or spouses, because they need the job or a spouse with money to keep them alive. That need is artificial, created by the way our governments chose to divide the Earth’s resources.
Let’s consider a way to divide resources that isn’t so cruel.
Back in 1918, Bertrand Russell’s suggested “that a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries, should be secured to all, whether they work or not, and that a larger income … should be given to those who are willing to engage in some work which the community recognizes as useful. On this basis we may build further.”
Russell’s proposal is very much what we know today as Universal Basic Income (UBI). Later chapters define it in more detail, but his description gives you a very good idea what it is. UBI is not all there is to social justice, but it removes an exceedingly cruel feature built into our economic system. If we’re going to divide the resource of the Earth unequally, those who own more of the wealth we make out of resources have the responsibility to pay those who have to do with less access to resources.
Although there are many reasons to introduce UBI, I started with this one, not only because I think it’s one of the most important, but also because I think it brings up the central decision that people have to make if we’re going to introduce UBI. Should everyone get an income—even the people who could take jobs but chose not to? I think that question already divides most readers into two groups with pretty firm positions: Yes, because no one should live in poverty or homelessness. No, because every nonwealthy person who can work must work.
UBI, on its own, is a mild reform with far-reaching effects. Later chapters show that it isn’t terribly expensive. On its own, UBI creates a market economy where income doesn’t start at zero. People who don’t take jobs, get less than those who take jobs, but no one has to go without the money they need for food, shelter, or clothing in the same way that no one today has to go without the money they need to breathe.
By offering good salaries and good working conditions, we have enormous ability to give people an incentive to engage in work that the community recognizes as useful. And if we’re not willing to pay enough to get people to freely choose do some particular job, maybe that job doesn’t need to be done all. If we do it this way, we end poverty and homelessness. We end the cruel treatment people at the bottom and relieve the fear of the people in the middle. We invite everyone—rather than frighten everyone—into participating in our economic system. That mild and humane reform finds resistance from the belief that everyone—or more realistically, everyone who isn’t wealthy—must work, and so the issue of whether everyone including those who refuse to take jobs should get the income comes up again and again throughout this book.
The idea of UBI has inspired a growing worldwide movement. Although the concept of a UBI goes back at least as far as the 1790s, the movement for it is stronger as I write these words than it has ever been. The movement grows out of frustration with the ineffectiveness and political vulnerability of conventional approaches to poverty and inequality. The market system also needs many other reforms, but millions of people are coming to believe that one of the most important and fundamental reforms we need right now is UBI.
The central goal of this book is to explain the essentials of UBI: what it is, how it works, the most popular arguments for and against it, how much it costs, how it can be financed, its likely effects, its history, and its possible future. But as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I am a strong supporter of UBI. And so, this book’s secondary goal is to convince readers that UBI is a good, workable idea that should be enacted all around the world, but I will make this argument in a way that explains and addresses both sides of the debate over whether to introduce UBI. Whether you agree with my position on UBI or not, I think you can learn more from a passionate attempt to argue points for it and refute points against it than from a dispassionate list of points on either side.
With this in mind, the book begins with a more thorough explanation of what UBI is.
-Karl Widerquist, begun sometime ago, but completed in Aspen, Colorado, July 29, 2021
The ancient Greeks had three Gods of Time, and on the auspicious occasion of the 80th birthday of one of our most loyal and outstanding BIEN members, it is a delight to be able to congratulate Eduardo Suplicy, and to say that he defies one of those Gods, Chronos, while being a poster child for the other two, Aion, who represents time as eternity, and Kairos, personified in the ability to take advantage of moments of opportunity.
Following his long, dignified and impeccably moral period as Senator for Sao Paulo, in which millions of people voted for him with smiles on their faces, knowing that he was a good man, many still refer to him as ‘Senador’. But we in BIEN love him for his eternal commitment to basic income, and his constant willingness to seek out any and every moment to promote the values that motivate most of us to want basic income as part of the future.
There is a story of Eduardo flying from Mexico via Miami to New York. A lady sitting next to him asked him about his politics, after which he spoke to her on and off (probably rather more on than off) all the way to New York. When they prepared to leave the plane, she said to him, no doubt with a slightly jet-lagged smile, ‘I don’t know what the questions are, but I do know now that the answer is basic income.’
Eduardo is a living example for all of us, having passion for a cause tempered by a sense of patience, of being on a hard journey. Few great changes come easily. But Eduardo knows we are much closer to where we want to be than when he joined BIEN in the late 1980s. Although this writer is a stripling by comparison, I still recall those early discussions late into the evenings. There is not a single sinew of cynicism in Eduardo. He constantly reminds us that moments when the God Kairos stirs can come anytime and anywhere. The day will surely come when the song he so loves to sing will have a mighty resonance in reality.
Eduardo, on behalf of every BIEN member, we wish you well for the journey ahead.
Here you will find a short summary, being the last part of the review:
Public Debate and Basic Income Sandel’s analysis is razor sharp. What he brings to the fore more than anything is how present-day populism is only indirectly fuelled by the unequal distribution of income and essentially dominated by an ethical and cultural component. A growing section of the population feels underrated. This has everything to do with the tyranny of merit driven by the meritocratic ethos that, over the past decades, has led to meritocratic hubris. This hubris is reflected in the winners’ tendency to let their success go to their heads, forgetting about all the luck and good fortune that helped them along the way. Those who make it to the top believe with self-satisfied conviction that they deserve their fate and that those who end up at the bottom do too. This leaves little room for the kind of solidarity that could arise if we were to realise just how haphazardly talent is distributed and how randomly fate can either be kind or cruel. Merit-based pay is, according to Sandel, thus a form of tyranny – an oppressive regime.
And so, Sandel launches into a plea for a sweeping public debate on how to move from today’s individualisation to a greater sense of solidarity and more self-determination for all. What is essential in this respect is his conclusion that for many to be successful in life, all forms of education and work would have to be taken equally seriously. Without explicitly mentioning it, he points to the core of what the implementation of a universal basic income is all about: more equal recognition of current paid and unpaid work, as well as a stimulus to go to school. In an interview with Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (20 September 2020), Sandel describes this when he speaks about ‘that which contributes to the community’ as a key alternative criterion to purely performance/merit-based recognition:
‘It is, in any case, a more democratic method that allows us to recognise contributions that are currently ignored or undervalued. I mean contributions such as the unpaid work that is done within households, for example, such as raising children and caring for relatives. Or all the work that, due to the COVID-19 crisis, has turned out to be much more important than society gave it credit for: nursing care, cleaning work, waste collection, and logistics. Setting aside the matter of usefulness, the fact that there is equal dignity in every human being should also reverberate in the dignity of everyone’s work.’
Regrettably, Sandel hardly gets around to formulating specific solutions in his book. Nevertheless, his most concrete suggestion with respect to the revaluation of work is to improve wages at the bottom of the labour market, such as through wage supplementation schemes and by shifting the tax burden away from labour and onto consumption, speculation, and capital. While the latter suggestion is an excellent one, it would be even better if it were substantiated further to ensure that those who do unpaid work also benefit.
This further substantiation also takes us to a second key argument for downgrading the role of merit-based pay, which is that the link between current wages on the one hand and individual work performance on the other is loosening. Pay is increasingly less personal. Our current level of prosperity, as initially reflected in people’s primary income, is the result of many years of productivity growth to which many generations have contributed. Our high income levels can, therefore, not be put down only to the labour performed and capital invested in companies at this point in time. In this context, distributing primary income only to those directly involved in the production process seems to be increasingly less of a given and implementing a universal basic income for all is an obvious alternative, i.e. regardless of someone’s position in the productivity-driven labour process. The state collecting taxes directly at the source, i.e. at the level of companies’ production, would then be the obvious choice. This would also automatically shift the tax burden to sources other than labour, which is merely one production factor.
The figures provided in the book demonstrate that there is growing support among the general public for the idea of universal basic income. Even so, there is a hard core of people who are against it and keep using counter-arguments that they cannot back up with facts, such as a universal basic income having adverse effects on the labour market and being too costly. Their rejection might very well have little to do with those counter-arguments and rather be driven by a strong meritocratic bias. There is a clear relation between implementation of universal basic income and the public debate that Sandel wants to initiate.
Finally, the results of the most recent parliamentary elections in the Netherlands can be explained based on Sandel’s The Tyranny of Merit. On the one hand, right-wing populist parties are on the rise. One in five Dutch people voted for populist right-wing parties that have become increasingly extreme since the days of Pim Fortuyn’s first populist revolt in the early 2000s: full of mistrust and bitterness directed at everything and everyone and not shy about avowing discrimination. Even in the knowledge that these parties will not be part of a coalition government and play no role in the actual governance of the country, people still vote for them. And people vote for these parties even though their election programmes are, at least in a socioeconomic sense, more likely to be prejudiced than to favour them. On the other hand, the two winners of the elections are supreme exponents of meritocracy, namely the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD, the party for the successful) and Democrats 66 (D66, the party for the highly educated). What we need to do over the coming years, therefore, is to assemble a left-wing populist programme that addresses three pressing issues:
How to achieve a sustainable world as soon as possible;
How to reach a post-capitalist state by shifting the balance of power;
How to accomplish lasting labour market change in line with the foregoing through a national debate as proposed by Sandel.
Some possible solutions include a large-scale shift from taxation of labour to direct taxation of companies’ production as well as implementation of universal basic income.
‘The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?‘ is available from Penguin Random House, published September 2020
In 2009, a significant expansion took place. A call started from various initiatives, and finally 247 organizations and over 2,800 individuals participated. In Germany a website was developed to showcase the activity and creativity, with countless ideas, suggestions, and planned actions, under the editorial supervision of Martina Steinheuer.
The 4th International Basic Income Week was held 19 to 25 September 2011 with a focus on “Basic Income in Europe“. In Germany and Austria, there were about 100 events and activities: discussions, workshops, readings, theater and film screenings, exhibitions, etc. The fifth International Basic Income Week happened 17 to 23 September 2012 with the focus on “Ways to Basic Income”.
In 2013, the year of the European Citizens’ Initiative for Unconditional Basic Income, “Basic Income a Human Right“, a further internationalization of the 6th week of basic income took place. The Netherlands organized the “Week van het Basisinkomen” but not much action was involved, we were all too busy collecting signatures for the ECI.
In 2014 a Basic Income Week websitewas set up in English to further internationalize the event by Robin Ketelaars. Manja Taylor handled promotion and activities.
Unconditional Basic Income Europe (UBIE) adopted the 8th International Basic Income Week in 2015 as a key item to organize every year by all countries individually. Also at the 15th Annual North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress, International Basic Income Week was adopted as a way to publicise UBI.
That year, 19 countries participated with live events: Belgium, China, Danmark, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Malawi, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Sweden, Swiss, Zimbabwe, Spain, South Korea, Hungary, USA. A further eight countries participated on the internet: Australia, Brasil, Bulgaria, Finland, India, Italy, Mozambique, New Zealand, Zambia, South Africa.
9th international Basic Income Week had the motto “Basic income goes worldwide”. In 2016 Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) contributed to the week´s further globalization by starting a group on Slack for better collaboration. Jenna van Draalen from Canada and Christof Lammer from Austria were among the promoters of the IBIW along with many more UBI activists. Themes for other yearly events can be found on basicincomweek.org.
International Basic Income Week is a self-organised participatory week. A lot can be done, from spreading the news to friends to organising your own event with films, speakers or creative action. We can help with finding presenters and promoting your event with our shared Basic Income Week website. We welcome new participants who can share time, money or ideas! Get in touch with your regional group or the international coordination team, and let us know what you decide to do! This year there was the start of the Videothon Playlist.
From 2018 onwards there have been three synchronised events. 1) Make a photo and share it on social media with the hashtag #countonbasicincome on the Wednesday 2) Come and socialize, organize a #basicincomebeer on the Friday 3) Since 2019 the #basicincomemarch is part of the week on the Saturday
Basic Income Marches In April 2019, social worker and co-founder of Basic Income NYC Diane Pagen and 2020 candidate for U.S. Congress James Felton Keith came together to organize a public event in a show of force and inclusion for basic income.
2020 saw a huge growth in support for basic income in the United States. It was important to provide different ways for the community to celebrate. All sorts of events, live and online, from a film screening, panel discussions, to a Year of Basic Income Livestream event featuring commentary from Andrew Yang, Andy Stern, and over 10 Mayors from Mayors for a Guaranteed Income and more, marked the important progress made in 2020.
With COVID measures in place, city organizers got creative. From art installations, to bike and car parades, to street corner protests, Income Movement in the US built tools to make it easy for organizers to plan amazing, highly successful events while allowing for safe social distancing for community members. Many people who did not go on the streets posted a photo with the hashtag #talkonyourwalk and held Zoom sessions with shoes.
This year’s motto for International Basic Income Week is ‘Forward to a Better World!’
Future plans? Who knows? We hope that with BIEN’s support we can involve more countries in India, Africa, Asia and Latin America this year.
How can people contribute to or participate in IBIW this year? Organize events and spread the B-word! Social media activists wanted for @insta and other media outlets There is a Slack group where activities are discussed which you can join: the Basic Income Outreach Group. Please let us know if you want an invite via the contact form. We’re always on the lookout for more ideas!
*) Basic Income Day In 2014 a website promoting Basic Income Daywas started by Robin Ketelaars. “If everyone is his own king, nobody has to be the king of the other.” This sentence by Michael Sennhauser (Swiss Radio DRS) in the review of the film Kulturimpuls Grundeinkommen by Daniel Häni & Enno Schmidt and the film scene at Basel SBB train station inspired the crowning of the first 500 heads 1 May 2009 on the market square in Lörrach. Since then, we want to unite with everyone who burns for an unconditional basic income to trigger a wave of change.” The action was followed up in 2014 by Sylvia Mair and Oliver Der as a Basic Income Day on the 1st of May. This was supported by Scott Santens, a Basic Income activist from the United States, and other activists in Europe and the US. The websiteis in use for more “basic income days”. Human Rights Day is celebrated annually across the world on 10 December. In 2013 we participated by showing the world through our profile pic that an Unconditional Basic Income is a human right. The action this year will take place 4 to10 December. International Women’s Day on 8 March could also become a “Basic Income Day”.
With the increase in research on the circular economy system, the basic income and circular economy relationship has also started to be considered. For example, this relationship was examined in the article ‘‘How could a Basic Income support a Circular Economy?’’ published on the Basic Income Network Scotland website on 23 July 2019. In fact, this article is based on the transcript of an interview between Timothea Armor, Basic Income Network Scotland Editor, and Teja Hudson, a zero waste consultant and founder of Zero.
The current system of capitalism, free markets, and endless growth, according to Hudson, disappoints us socially. She points out that there are many people who want to make the world a better place, but this disappointment forces them to struggle just to survive. Therefore, she claims that we have lost many bright and creative minds due to preventable social inequalities such as poverty, hunger, disease, gender inequality, persecution, violence and lack of education. Finally, she suggests we need social change, and these people represent a great untapped potential for that social change.
Adding to Hudson’s argument, it is very difficult to be creative when you are stressed, under pressure or not inspired, and especially when you are worried about money. As a result of this, there are a lot of artists and creative people struggling to practice their art and instead interrupted by the need to earn a living. Hudson summarizes the potential contribution of basic income to this problem with the following statement: “This is where Basic Income would be a revelation.” She claims that by implementing a Basic Income, highly experienced creative people, free thinkers and problem solvers will be ready to help solve the problems of 10 billion people on a small planet instead of getting stuck in a dead end.
According to Hudson, circular economy is a way of looking at resources on our planet and understanding that everything is part of a circular system rather than a line. She believes the aim is to keep resources circulating in this cycle for as long as possible, minimizing the use of unused raw material and maximising productivity in the production process.
As for the potential relationship between basic income and the circular economy, Hudson points out that environmental and social concerns are very closely linked and that the goals and values of both systems are the same; “for humanity and the planet to survive and flourish together, so what helps the environmental movement to accomplish that will also help the social movement to accomplish that, and vice versa.” She argues that these two systems acting together could be more effective and bring sources and audiences together.
Kim Lag Jung from Gyeonggi Province was interviewed about the South Korean Youth dividend program. The interview took place at the 2019 Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Congress in India.
The interview covered the dividend and its reported benefit for local youth, local business owners and how it has affected the national conversation about basic income and whether it could be expanded to include more ages.
Since 2016, 3,500 South Korean youth have received the equivalent of 1,000,000￦ (US$872) in local currency that can be used at local small businesses. The youth dividend started in Seongnam city, but from 2019 it was expanded to 150,000 youth across Gyeonggi province with 31 cities.
In 2020, because of Covid-19, Gyeonggi Province gave the local cash 250,000￦ (220$). This was essentially a Covid Basic Income given to every citizen. Small businesses and traditional markets, especially street marketers were pleased with the program.
In addition, in April 2020, the first international South Korea Basic Income fair was hosted in Gyeonggi province. Another online fair was held in September 2020 with 150,000 participants. The fair will be held in April 2021 again.
Yujoo city in Gyeonggi province has begun an agricultural basic income project. The project will be implemented if it gains approval from the local legislature. Cultures and Arts Basic Income and basic income for pregnant women are being discussed as well.
In March 2022 with the presidential election, basic income will be a hot issue on the agenda. Basic Income Korean Network (BIKN) is trying to lead the basic income conversation during the election.
With Gyeonggi province, BIKN and a member of the national assembly from the Basic Income party was elected in 2020. This demonstrates basic income is becoming a widely discussed issue in Korea. Even few public schools are giving cash coupons to students to spend at the school cafeteria.
Below is the transcription of four interview questions being asked in the video.
What is the biggest benefit of the youth dividend?
The Youth Basic Income was implemented in April 2019. Before that, it was implemented in 2016 in Seongnam city. Lee Jae-Myeong started it. Now he is the Gyeonggi provincial governor. He changed the Youth dividend to the youth basic Income and has been implementing it in 31 cities and districts. We had conducted a survey on 3,500 youth basic income recipients. The results say that the youth had difficulties not having any income and planning their future was hard due to financial difficulties such as unemployment. However, now that they have the youth basic income, they can make their future plans with it. That is the biggest surprise of the basic income research result.
2. What have business owners said about the Basic Income?
In Korea, Youth basic income gives local cash, which can only be used in Gyeonggi province. Its youth satisfaction rate is high. The reason why? Because there is a well-established infra structure for Basic Income consumption supported by Gyeonggi province. Small businesses and traditional markets, especially street market traders receive the local cash so that local business gain from it. Also, self-employed people and small business people are highly satisfied with the Youth basic income so that Basic Income is being widely spread and well known in Korea.
3. How has the youth dividend affected the national conversation about Universal Basic Income?
The youth dividend, implemented in 2016 in Seongnam city and the youth basic income, started in 2019 in 31 cities and districts, has a big impact on the Basic income discussion and basic income policymaking nationwide.
For example, starting the youth dividend in 2016, through the Youth Basic Income in 2019, now we discuss about agricultural Basic Income, Agricultural subsidy, Cultures and Arts basic income in Korea. Some local governments made it a reality. Political party members are having various discussions of the Basic Income legislation. Therefore, I am confident that the basic income will become a reality soon.
4. Will the youth dividend expand to include more ages in the future?
Yes. I am certain that its expansion will include infants, the elderly and cover all ages. As I mentioned earlier, right now, we are discussing the agricultural basic income, Agricultural subsidy, Cultures and Arts basic income, and the pregnant women basic income etc.