“A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments:” an early version of this book is available for free download

An early version of the book, A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments,  is available for free download on my selected works website.
The devil’s in the details is a common saying about policy proposals. Perhaps we need a similar saying for policy research, something like the devil’s in the caveats. I say this both because nonspecialists (the citizens and policymakers who are ultimately responsible for evaluating policy in any democracy) have great difficulty understanding what research implies about policy and because specialists often have difficulty understanding what citizens and policymakers most hope to learn from policy research.
This problem creates great difficulty for Universal Basic Income (UBI) experiments which are now getting underway in several countries. These experiments can add a small part to the existing body of evidence people need to fully evaluate UBI as a policy proposal. Specialists can provide caveats about the limits of what research implies, but nonspecialists are often unable to translate caveats into a firm grasp of what that research does and does not imply about the policy at issue. Therefore, even the best scientific policy research can leave nonspecialists with an oversimplified, or simply wrong, impression of its implications for policy.
This short book discusses the difficulty of conducting UBI experiments and communicating their results to nonspecialists given both the inherent limits of experimental techniques, the complexity of the public discussion of UBI, and the many barriers that make it difficult for specialists and nonspecialists to understand each other. This book is an effort to help bridge those gaps in understanding with suggestions in an effort to help researchers conduct better experiments and communicate their results in ways more likely to improve public understanding of the possible effects of UBI.
The book, A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments, by Karl Widerquist is Published by Palgrave Macmillan (2018) and is available on Palgrave’s website, on amazon.com, and other online retailers. But an early version is available for free download on my selected works website.
UBI Calculator answers basic income’s big question

UBI Calculator answers basic income’s big question

Conrad Shaw wants America to know about Universal Basic Income, and he has two big projects to help make it happen.

Shaw’s documentary project is filming 21 Americans across 10 states who are receiving a basic income for two years. The documentary series will be released throughout 2020.

More recently, Shaw created the UBI Calculator to show individuals how much they would gain (or lose) from various basic income proposals.

The goal behind these two projects was to “answer the two main questions you get when you’re having a discussion about UBI.” That is, what would people do with the money and how do you pay for it.

The UBI Podcast spoke with Shaw about the UBI Calculator and what it could mean for the basic income movement.

Many people are worried that basic income “is just going to be taxing the middle class.” The UBI Calculator helps answer this concern about whether the middle class would be taxed more or would gain more under a basic income program.

With the calculator, an individual can type their own household income, social assistance, and other information to see how basic income plans would affect them, including Andrew Yang’s plan. 

Shaw spent “hundreds” of hours on Google Spreadsheets developing the math behind the calculator, along with an intern who spent ten weeks assisting the development. He said he made the calculator based on “conservative” assumptions so that individuals can see the “worst-case scenarios” rather than paint a more rosy picture of each plan.

“I think credibility comes from not only the depth of the analysis when you’re talking about web tools I think it also comes from the ease of use and just the ease of functionality,” he said.

To build the calculator, Shaw raised $70,000 USD “to make the version of it that I thought it needed to be.”

For the future, Shaw plans to make a “policymaker mode” where individuals can “go in and play with the actual economics themselves.”

“Maybe they’re against you know taking money from the military and flat taxes and so they really want to have a carbon tax and see how much can be made from that and a land value tax,” he said.

Another area to explore is the “dynamic effects” of basic income, which looks at how UBI might affect the broader economy.

“We can have windfalls from the reduction in costs of poverty crime and health emergencies we can have a windfall from the economic stimulus of just putting money in the hands of consumers which creates jobs and creates extra revenue,” he said.

Building this calculator and preparing his documentary was meant to have an “impact on the national discussion in time for the 2020 election,” Shaw said.

“Right now it is a very powerful moment in the UBI movement,” he said. “UBI needs to be more of a grassroots movement if it’s going to get something legislated.”

Groups calling for basic income experiments spread across the UK

Groups calling for basic income experiments spread across the UK

Groups across the UK are calling for pilots of a radical alternative to the current welfare system.

A Universal Basic Income (UBI) would see all citizens given a guaranteed income regardless of their eligibility for benefits or their employment status.

Finland, Kenya, India, and cities across the United States have recently piloted the revolutionary idea.

Supporters of a basic income, such as the University of London’s Professor Guy Standing, believe that it would guarantee minimum living standards and basic economic security across the UK.

The movement started in South Yorkshire with the founding of UBI Lab Sheffield in 2017. This is a grassroots group formed of researchers and activists exploring the potential impact of a basic income through calling for pilots in local areas.

In recent months, UBI Labs have launched in Liverpool, Leeds, Kirklees and the North East.

UBI Lab Liverpool was founded by Councillor Patrick Hurley, who introduced a motion supporting a UBI pilot at Liverpool City Council.

Artist Toby P Lloyd, whose work explores the liberating potential of a basic income, is leading UBI Lab Newcastle.

There are also ongoing discussions with groups interested in launching UBI Labs in Belfast, Hull, Birmingham, Derry/Londonderry, Exeter, Lancaster, Portsmouth, Manchester, Norwich, and West Sussex.

The UBI Lab network allows groups to share resources, promotional materials, advice, and experience.

In May, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell announced that a Labour government would pilot basic income in Sheffield, Liverpool, and the Midlands.

Pilots in Canada, Namibia, and Finland have shown significant health benefits. Researchers found that a basic income reduced stresses associated with economic insecurity.

The pilot proposal produced by UBI Lab Sheffield is designed to measure the impacts on health and wellbeing as a key outcome of any basic income trial.

Members of the UBI Lab network have started conversations about basic income with council leaders, councillors and directly-elected mayors across the country.

The network wants to encourage more local authorities to lobby Westminster for a basic income pilot in their area and people interested in setting up new groups across the UK.

A recent Gallup poll found that 77% of UK adults favour the introduction of a basic income as a way to support workers who lose their jobs to automation.

In Spring 2020, the UBI Lab Network will host the second edition of UBI North in Sheffield. This will be the biggest conference on basic income in the UK.


Tchiyiwe Chihana of UBI Lab Sheffield said:

“Piloting a Universal Basic Income is an essential aspect of exploring potentially viable responses to the urgency of ever-expanding social and economic disparities. Consultative in approach, UBI Lab Sheffield ensures that multiple options reflecting the needs and experiences of people at micro and macro levels can be factored into a pilot while being adaptable. This also means that as many people as possible also have insight into the development of a potential UBI pilot in the city. Collectively, the raw data being developed has added to the resources of our city and has contributed to a sustainable knowledge pot for future use. The networking and the spin-off discussions that have developed out of UBI Lab Sheffield cannot be overstated.”


Cllr Erin Hill of UBI Lab Kirklees said:

“At a time when society seems very divided, the one thing most of us can agree on is that the current system isn’t working for anyone. Universal Basic Income – a regular payment made to everyone regardless of income or behaviour – isn’t a magic solution to all our problems, but it is a vital part of creating the better society we so clearly need. UBI doesn’t leave anyone behind. It provides basic security and opportunity for all citizens; protection for working people; a lifeline for those with caring responsibilities; better health and life chances for our children and grandchildren; support for marginalised groups, and so much more.

Right now, we have local people doing six or seven zero-hour contract jobs and still having to claim benefits; nurses and teaching assistants relying on food banks; people caring for relatives and being financially punished for it, and most people in poverty also being in work. Something has got to change. Across the world we have seen UBI transform lives and communities – I want us to be part of that transformation too.

Here in Kirklees we have a rich history of ordinary people standing up and demanding change for themselves, their families, and their communities – from women’s fight for the vote to the recent campaign to save our local hospital. I’m really proud that UBI Lab Kirklees has made a commitment to engage with local people, to make your voices central to the debate about what kind of society we want to be.”


Cllr Patrick Hurley of UBI Lab Liverpool said:

“The Basic Income is an idea whose time has come. Paying a wealth dividend to each citizen in order to help them make the best of their lives could be transformational for our country. People who want to take a chance on a change of career, or want to care for family members, or need a helping hand to smooth out life’s rough edges, would all benefit massively from something like this. At UBI Lab Liverpool, we think a series of demonstrations and pilots across the country could show the benefits to the wider population with limited downsides. That’s why we’re working with colleagues from across the city and across the country to promote Basic Income and see how best to implement it at a national level.”


Toby P Lloyd of UBI Lab Newcastle said:

“Critics of Basic Income say that it would make people lazy and they would all stop working. This argument has a very narrow view of ‘work’, defining it only as paid employment. Society relies on a huge amount of unpaid ‘work’ for it to function, most of this is done by women. Basic Income would not solve this, but it would be a first step in rewarding this unpaid labour and recognising its value. Basic Income would also be a way of investing in people, giving them more control over their lives and how they use their time, enabling them to reach their full potential. This is not possible for many people under the current system, because they are trapped in exploitative jobs which leave them with no time or energy to do anything else.”


Notes for editors:


– UBI Lab Sheffield is a collaboration between multiple organisations and individuals, seeking to explore the potential of a Universal Basic Income and the possibility of a pilot in the city. Organisations involved include Opus Independents, Sheffield Equality Group, The Centre for Welfare Reform and the University of Sheffield. https://www.ubilabsheffield.org/

– A feasibility study launched by the Scottish Government and supported by NHS Scotland is currently looking at the practicalities of a pilot in Scotland.

– Press assets and images are available at: https://www.ubilabsheffield.org/press

My failure to change Canada’s basic income narrative

My failure to change Canada’s basic income narrative

For the past 3 years, my primary goal has been to get the Liberal Party of Canada to include Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) on its electoral platform. (Support for this policy is already in the official Party program.) The election was held on Monday, October 21st and UBI was never mentioned. My ultimate goal is to see UBI implemented in my lifetime. 

I ended up fighting on two fronts and losing on both.

The first front consisted of my lobbying efforts within the Liberal Party. I was hoping I could convince them to include a promise to implement UBI as a commitment to the electorate should they win re-election. When I got cold feet and neglected to contact the guy who was writing the platform, my project was probably doomed. Plus, several weeks into the 6-week election campaign I changed strategies. On September 19th an independent report by UBIWorks was published. It presented the case that the Canada Child Benefit was a UBI. I stopped presenting Basic Income as an experimental policy to be tested and, instead, argued that it was a fait accompli in Canada, hiding in plain sight. My efforts to get the press to ask questions and to stimulate debate among the Liberal candidates came to nothing. 

Despite high-level contacts within the Party, I had the impression that my message was not getting through to the right people. In hindsight, it is equally possible that my suggestion was being heard loud and clear in the right quarters and that appealing to their electoral self-interest rather than their consciences was spot on the best approach. After all, while I was emphasizing the economic impact of the Child Benefit for GDP growth, job creation, corporate profits, and tax revenue, the platform kept droning on about poverty reduction, a subject that people would rather not think about because they find it depressing and it makes them feel guilty. Perhaps Liberal strategists, who were staking their reputations on their message, simply rejected my proposal as not being something that would, at this point in the campaign, help them win reelection. Was this a mistake that partially explains why the Liberals lost their majority in the House of Commons? It would be pretentious of me to suggest this.

However, today’s flop may yet bear fruit in the next electoral cycle in 4 years. This is what cooler heads than mine thought from the outset.

While all this was going on, a second front was opened with my allies in the Basic Income community. To bolster my position that UBI already existed in Canada under another name, I tried to convince famous people in the movement to lend their credibility to this argument. I was flabbergasted by the strong and nearly universal resistance I encountered: no, the Canada Child Benefit could not be called a Basic Income, full stop. 

While two or three people got on board immediately, most of the cognoscenti insisted that what I was advancing was inconsistent with the Basic Income Earth Network  (BIEN) definition of UBI for a variety of reasons. Theoreticians and experimentalists alike, as well as activists, flatly refused to go along with my plan to leverage this unique opportunity to change the narrative about UBI. I thought: “I’m caught in a paradigm shift, as it happens!”

Some argued that the Child Benefit was not universal because it was only earmarked for kids. Yang’s Freedom Dividend which excludes minors still qualifies as a UBI, though. Others claimed it violated individuality because it was given to families, as though it makes any sense to hand $500 to a toddler. However, most objected on the grounds that the Child Benefit is means-tested. This was the breaking point where everything I was trying to do simply collapsed. I never saw it coming.

The Canada Child Benefit is not means-tested, it is income-tested. People outside Canada are colour-blind to the distinction. Income-testing is just not part of their paradigm. Means-testing is an evil policy tool that allows bureaucrats to arbitrarily deprive vulnerable people of funds and services that they need and have a right to receive. It grinds them into the ground and makes an example of them to terrorize everybody else. Income-testing is a horse of another colour. 

In Canada, we have a progressive tax system just like the one Adam Smith himself proposed: “It is not unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue but something more than in that proportion.” That is why no one questions the practice of taxing back from the rich funds equivalent to the Child Benefit from which they derive no important advantage and thereby recover some of the cost of a program, which is immensely useful for everybody else. Conscientious objectors to means-testing will insist that even when this claw-back is done specifically for the purpose of recouping UBI, it does not infringe on the principle of universality because it is done in separate operations, the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. In Canada, we tend to view this as an elaborate and unnecessary fiction. Covering up the mechanism does little to hide the process which serves no other purpose than to claw back UBI from the rich.

In the FAQ on the BIEN definition of Basic Income, we read under the caption Is Basic Income paid irrespective of income?

“Taxable “means” may need to be taxed at a higher average rate in order to fund the basic income. But the tax-and-benefit system no longer rests on a dichotomy between two notions of “means”: a broad one for the poor, by reference to which benefits are cut, and a narrow one for the better off, by reference to which income tax is levied.” 

The second notion is used universally to assess the Canada Child Benefit, which is why we use the term income-tested and not means-tested. My argument failed to convince. How it is possible, on the one hand, to clearly distinguish the two notions and, on the other hand, still insist on using the same term to describe them?

I think we are confronted with two incommensurable competing paradigms in both the political sphere and the academic domain. The old paradigms have accumulated a thick crust of unresolved problems such that business-as-usual can no longer operate smoothly. In politics, poverty reduction continues to dominate social policy discussions even though it no longer provides useful solutions. In the UBI academic community, a rigid definition stifles progress towards implementation by ensuring that the ideal program remains unattainable. I will be fleshing out this argument at a later date. 

I have not lost hope that the politicians will eventually learn to frame UBI as a powerful economic stimulant and an entitlement for all Canadians, especially the middle class. The academics too, will at some point loosen their church-like grip on orthodoxy and accept a leading role in promoting social justice, down in the trenches. 

However, I would hate to end up like Moses, who never did reach the promised land, and spent 40 years not getting there. I do not have that kind of time. I will be quickly making new friends in the party that holds the balance of power and leveraging these connections to achieve my goal of seeing Unconditional Basic Income implemented for all, in my lifetime.

Pierre Madden

​​WhatsApp/Cell: +1 514 238-0044 




End the threat of economic destitution now

End the threat of economic destitution now

Karl Widerquist (This article was originally published by Open Democracy, 17 September 2019)

UBI is the opposite of something for nothing. It is the just compensation for all the one-sided rules of property and property regulations that society imposes on individuals.

The biggest threat to freedom in the world today is economic destitution. We need universal basic income (UBI) because destitute people are unfree to sleep undisturbed, unfree to urinate, unfree to wash themselves, and unfree to use the resources of the world to meet their own needs. Being unfree in these ways makes them unfree in all their economic relationships.

The destitute are unfree in the most basic sense of the word. The destitute are not unable to wash themselves and they are not unable to use the resources of the world to meet their needs: they are unfree to do these things. Because our governments enforce a property rights system in which some people control natural resources and other people do not, someone will interfere with them if they try to do these things that they are very capable of doing.

Poverty is not a fact of nature. Poverty is the result of the way our societies have chosen to distribute property rights to natural resources. For millions of years no one interfered with our ancestors as they used the resources of the world to meet their needs. No one failed to wash because they were too lazy to find a stream. No one urinated in a common thoroughfare because they were too lazy to find a secluded place to do so. Everyone was free to hunt and gather and make their camp for the night as they pleased.

No one had to follow the orders of a boss to earn the right to make their living. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were not rich, but they were not in poverty as we know it today. Our laws today make it illegal for some people to satisfy their most natural and simple bodily needs, and our laws make homelessness such a fact of life that we can believably pretend that it’s all their own fault. There are billions of people today who are more poorly nourished than their hunter-gatherer ancestors. It cannot be simply their own fault. We have chosen one way to distribute rights to natural resources; we can just as easily choose a system that does not create poverty as a side effect.

We have created the threat of economic destitution, and we have used it as a ‘work incentive’. In doing so, we have made virtually everyone dependent on their employers or on the government or private charities for which they might be eligible. This policy allows a few privileged people to dictate the terms of employment to virtually everybody.

We need to stop judging people and restore the freedom people had before governments took away their direct access to the world’s recourses.

The most common objection to UBI labels it as something for nothing, and declares that something for nothing unacceptable. They say people have a moral obligation to ‘work’. Lazy people who will not work should not be rewarded with anything. Therefore, supposedly, any social benefits should be conditional on at least the willingness to accept employment.

This argument is filled with problems. I’ll just discuss two. The first problem with it is that UBI is the farthest thing from something-for-nothing. All societies impose many rules on every individual. Consider the discussion of homelessness above. Why can’t homeless people build their own shelter and their own latrine? Why can’t they drink out of a clean river? Why can’t they hunt, gather, or plant and harvest their own food? They cannot do these things because governments have made rules saying they don’t have the right to do these things.

Governments divided the Earth into ‘property’. The wealthy got a share, while most people got nothing but the opportunity to ask the wealthy for a job. Those of us who somehow managed to get a share of the Earth’s natural resources benefit every day from the state’s interference with virtually everybody else (i.e. the people who didn’t get a share). We pay them no compensation, no reparation, nothing to restore the freedom you get from the ability to work for yourself with no boss, no client, and no caseworkers. A state without UBI is the state that has something for nothing.

The wealthy got control of resources without paying their real cost, and control of resources gives them effective control over the labour of virtually everybody. UBI is not, and should never be seen as, something for nothing. It is the just compensation for all the one-sided rules of property and property regulations society inherently imposes on individuals.

The second problem with the work obligation argument against UBI is that it conflates two different senses of the word ‘work’ – one that means toil and one that means employment or time spent making money. In the toil sense, work simply means to apply effort regardless of whether it is for one’s own benefit or for someone else’s. In the employment sense work means to work for someone else – such as a client or a boss. Anyone with access to resources can meet their needs by working only for themselves or with others of their choosing. But people without access to resources have no other choice but to work for someone else. Furthermore, they have to work for the same group of people whose control over resources makes it impossible for the propertyless to work only for themselves.

Working for someone else entails the acceptance of rules, terms, and subordination, all of which are things that a reasonable person might object to. There is nothing wrong with working for someone else and accepting the conditions of work as long as the individual chooses to do so. But there is something wrong with a society that puts one group of people in the position where they do not have the power to say no to the jobs offered them by more privileged people.

When we take away access to the Earth’s resources and make no reparation, we are not forcing people to work, but to work for at least one of the people controlling the Earth’s resources. When we do this, we create a mandatory participation economy the makes people unfree, vulnerable, and miserable.

The evidence is found in every sweatshop, in every ‘trafficked’ person, in every on-the-job instance of sexual harassment, in every homeless shelter, and in every worker who can’t afford any basic necessity of life.

The solution is to create a voluntary participation economy based on truly free trade. In this sort of economy, each person would pay for the parts of the Earth they use and each would receive a share of the payment for the parts other people use. This principle is the basis of UBI. With a sufficient UBI to draw on, each person would have the power to say no to a bad job offer, and the power decide for themselves whether the offers in the job market are good enough to deserve their participation. And that’s what it means to enter the job market as a free person. Nothing protects a worker better than the power to refuse a job. This power will protect not only the poor and marginal but all of us.

–This article was originally published by Open Democracy, 17 September 2019

Destitute in Britain. Garry Knight/Flickr. Creative Commons

Destitute in Britain. Garry Knight/Flickr. Creative Commons

The justification for basic income is ethical

The justification for basic income is ethical

“The justification for [basic income] is ethical, not instrumental,” states Guy Standing at the ShapingHorizons conference at Cambridge University, UK, on September 11, 2019. He goes on to assure his audience that basic income studies have revealed that it may reduce poverty and inequality, but that “the real reasons for wanting to support a basic income is a matter of common justice.” See his full speech.

For Guy Standing it is a clear case: everybody’s wealth and income are mainly due to the achievements and efforts of others, especially our ancestors. It is they who have created what we all enjoy in the form of, for example, public knowledge and social services. If we add natural resources to the list, we are looking at the three most important pillars of what people alive today have at most contributed minimally towards: the commons.

As it is common legal practice around the globe allowing “to receive something for nothing” in the case of private inheritance, Standing suggests extending this idea to the social inheritance of the commons. In contrast to private inheritance, the distribution of commonwealth should not be based on, e.g. family bounds. The entitlement to a share of public wealth should instead be based on the simple requirement to be human. However, instead of sharing our rich commons, they are “privatized and plundered […] in the name of rentier capitalism,” as Standing puts it.

In addition to stating ethical reasons for basic income, Guy Standing also took the chance to stress how the global debate about basic income has changed dramatically over the last few years. With participants from as many as 45 countries the BIEN congress 2019 in Hyderabad, India, at the end of August this year demonstrates the global significance of basic income.

Further, recent developments in the UK allow justified hope that basic income is soon to play a larger role in the political debate of a country that suffers under its austerity policies of the last decade or so.

First, the Green Party UK favors basic income while referring to it as “citizen’s income”, and second, Scotland’s SNP supports the idea of basic income in the form of a “Citizen’s basic income” and is preparing basic income pilots to be happening in the near future. Third, at the request of the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell MP, Guy Standing has created a report to the British Labour Party detailing how UBI pilots could be implemented in the UK.

It is not only the first time that a British politician has specifically requested a report on basic income, but it is also unprecedented that the same politician has confirmed his commitment to conducting basic income pilots on the basis of such a report if his party wins the next general election.

For additional information on the ethical reasons for basic income, see Guy Standing’s most recent book “Plunder of the Commons”.


Hannes Mehrer
PhD student, Cambridge University