Emergency Basic Income during the Coronavirus crisis

Emergency Basic Income during the Coronavirus crisis

There is a translation of this article into French.


A basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement (BIEN’s definition of Basic Income)

The coronavirus pandemic is causing huge suffering for those individuals who experience serious attacks of the disease, and for the families and friends of those who die from it. Everybody understands the social distancing measures that governments around the world are having to implement, because nobody wants health services to be put under so much pressure at any one time that those who need treatment cannot receive it. The global economy has been tanking as all sectors have had to shut down. Only two sectors – food and medicine – have really been keeping the economy afloat. As we all still shop for food, supermarkets have been a lifeline. However, an even bigger lifeline, quite literally, has been that of the medical industry. With medical devices and equipment such as needles and facemasks in such high demand, medicine has been keeping both people and the economy alive.

Governments have been doing what they can to protect employees’ incomes when their employers can no longer pay them, and to protect the incomes of self-employed people when their businesses have to cease trading either temporarily or permanently: but the measures put in place often struggle to protect the incomes of large numbers of workers in the informal sector and migrant workers.

Around the world we have seen legislators, journalists, think tanks, researchers, campaigners, and many others, calling for an emergency Basic Income. This is clearly to be welcomed. Also to be welcomed are changes to existing benefits systems that take them closer to being Basic Incomes. What is not to be welcomed is the use of the term ‘Basic Income’ for benefits that are not genuine Basic Incomes: that is, they are not ‘a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement’.

The reason for the increase in interest in Basic Income is that a genuine Basic Income would provide a secure layer of income when all other sources are either absent or insecure; it would inject demand into the economy and help us to avoid a recession; and because everyone would receive it, it would contribute to the social cohesion that every nation will need if it is to get through this crisis. It would not matter that Basic Incomes would be paid to people who didn’t need them, because it would be an easy matter to raise income tax rates on higher incomes so that those who already had secure incomes would not see their disposable incomes rise, and would be helping to pay for the Basic Incomes that everybody needed.

It is a significant problem that instead of paying Basic Incomes, governments are relying on increasing the coverage of existing means-tested benefits and on implementing new income-tested benefits. These benefits fall if earned income rises, so occasional and even permanent opportunities to earn additional income might be turned down because any increase in earned income would reduce benefit payments and could risk people losing their benefit claims entirely. A Basic Income would not fall if earned incomes were to rise, so any opportunity to contribute to the economy would be gladly taken, and there would always be an incentive to start the new businesses that any new economic situation would require.

Given the clear advantages of Basic Income, why are governments not implementing temporary or permanent Basic Income schemes? There might be several reasons for this. First of all, whether a country’s economy is more developed or less developed, there might simply be no mechanism available to enable the government to pay an unconditional income to every legal resident. What would be required would be a database that contained every individual’s name, contact details, date of birth, and bank account details. Given sufficient political will, many countries would be able to construct such a database within a fairly short period of time: but in the midst of this crisis it will generally be easier to use existing mechanisms to protect the incomes that can be protected fairly easily: through expansions of existing means-tested and contributory benefits systems; through using existing ‘pay as you earn’ income tax systems to enable employers to continue to pay employees who have been laid off; and to make grants to self-employed individuals on the basis of submitted annual accounts.

Where existing benefits systems are being used to maintain household incomes, the conditions for the receipt of benefits are often being relaxed: for instance, by no longer requiring stringent employment search requirements. Such changes are steps towards the complete unconditionality of Basic Income, and they are to be recognised as such, and are to be welcomed.

A trend that is not to be welcomed, though, is the use of the term ‘Basic Income’ for mechanisms that are not Basic Incomes. The recent short-lived experiment in Ontario was called a Basic Income, but it was household-based and therefore not ‘on an individual basis’, and it was income-tested and therefore was not ‘without means test’. It was not a Basic Income, and it should never have been called one. Similarly, during this crisis, governments are sometimes using the term ‘Basic Income’ for new or reformed benefits that are not Basic Incomes. This ought to stop, because it is misleading, and it makes rational debate more difficult to conduct.

So we should recognise and welcome the efforts that governments are making to adapt existing benefits systems so that they are closer in character to Basic Income; but we should point out that anything that is not a Basic Income will not exhibit the advantages that a genuine Basic Income would exhibit, and that if it is not a Basic Income then it should not be called one.

BIEN is gathering information from its affiliated organisations on their governments’ measures to protect incomes during the crisis, and in particular information on the extent to which those measures exhibit the characteristics of Basic Income, and the extent to which they do not.

In the meantime, information on the measures that governments are implementing can be found on the IMF website.

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Guy Standing and Philippe Van Parijs interviewed for an article in El Pais

Guy Standing and Philippe Van Parijs interviewed for an article in El Pais

The Spanish newspaper El Pais has published an article, ‘La renta básica deja de ser una utopía‘ (‘Basic income is no longer a utopia’):

La pandemia lleva a diversos países a ensayar planes de transferencias directas no universales para compensar la reducción en los ingresos de sus ciudadanos …

The pandemic leads various countries to try non-universal direct transfer plans to compensate for the reduction in the income of their citizens …

An English translation can be found here.

Spain may issue ‘permanent’ basic income to fight COVID-19

Spain may issue ‘permanent’ basic income to fight COVID-19

Reports are emerging that Spain is hoping to deploy a “permanent” basic income type program in the near future. The program comes as Spain aims to respond to the economic crisis from the global coronavirus pandemic.

Spain has one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world with over 13,000 deaths.

Spain’s push for establishing basic income as a “permanent instrument” that “stays forever” will help reduce financial anxieties for many families worried about their jobs. Sending cash to families rather than corporations will better ensure economic security for the most vulnerable.

However, questions remain about the nature of the program and whether it will be truly universal and unconditional.

If Spain successfully implements basic income, it will become the first European country to implement the program on a national scale and one of the only places in the world to do so.

Finland famously experimented with a basic income pilot program. The experiment made recipients happier and healthier. Nonetheless, some government officials were upset the basic income pilot did not significantly affect employment status within a year for recipients.

Nadia Calviño, Spain’s minister for economic affairs, said the payments will be targeted to families and will differentiate based on their “circumstances.” In practice, differentiating based on circumstances will result in means tests that fall on the poor. If there are strict criteria, then some families who need assistance may be unnecessarily excluded or have their assistance delayed.

A better system is presuming each individual qualifies and allowing wealthier individuals to opt-out. If an individual who received basic income has a large income by the end of 2020, the government can phase out their basic income through the income tax system the following year.

Universality helps the poor, not the rich. It ensures all those who need assistance can receive it immediately. The true costs of universality are lower because it requires less administration and bureaucracy to implement the program.

Punk Band Records a Song with Indepentarian Argument for Basic Income

Punk Band Records a Song with Indepentarian Argument for Basic Income

Indepentarianism exists. The Danish punk band, Husligt Arbejde [House Work] has recorded an indepentarian song, “Borgerløn – the power to say no,” which translates into “Basic Income – the power to say no.” According to Google translate, the band describes its music as “aggressively political, minimalist punk.”

“Indepentarianism” is the theory of justice I began to lay out in several works including my book, Freedom as the Power Say No. Universal Basic Income plays an important role in that that theory. I was overwhelmed to find the idea has made it into a punk song. I thought it might be a coincidence. (It’s a basic and obvious argument for UBI.) But I contacted the band and sure enough, the song was about the book.

Most of the song is in Danish. Only one line, “the power to say no” is in English, but they say it over and over again. The lyrics are below in both Danish and English.

Original Danish lyrics:

Kan en luder sige nej?
power to say no, power to say no
Kan en ansat gå sin vej?
power to say no, power to say no
Må en fattig bøje sig?
power to say no, power to say no
Er man fri uden sit nej?
power to say no, power to say no

BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED

Staten si’r den elsker dig
power to say no, power to say no
mens den strammer garnet om dig
power to say no, power to say no
Løb for vækst og BNP
power to say no, power to say no
“ellers går systemet ned”
power to say no

, power to say no

BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED

Liberal politik
power to say no
det var det vi aldrig fik
power to say no
Hvad er egentlig faktisk frihed?
power to say no
Det er økonomisk frihed!
power to say no

, power to say no

BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED

Velfærdsdamer, kontorister
power to say no, power to say no
Arbejdsprøvning, tusind lister
power to say no, power to say no
BU-REAU-KRA-T
power to say no, power to say no
Vi vil hel’re være fri!
power to say no, power to say no

BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED

English lyrics, translated by the band:

Can a whore say no?
power to say no, power to say no
Can an employee go his way?
power to say no, power to say no
Must a poor man bow?
power to say no, power to say no
Are you free without your no?
power to say no, power to say no

BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM

The state says it loves you
power to say no, power to say no
while tightening the yarn around you
power to say no, power to say no
Race for growth and GDP
power to say no, power to say no
“otherwise the system will crash”
power to say no, power to say no

BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM

Liberal politics
power to say no, power to say no
That’s what we never got
power to say no, power to say no
What is real freedom?
power to say no, power to say no
It is financial freedom!
power to say no, power to say no

BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM

Ha! Welfare ladies, clerks
power to say no, power to say no
Work testing, a thousand lists
power to say no, power to say no
BU-REAU-CRA-CY
power to say no, power to say no
We’d rather be free!
power to say no, power to say no

BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM

This isn’t the only Indepentarian song. Years before I began writing philosophy, when I was living in New York, going to school, and playing in bands, I was already formulating ideas along these lines, and some of them came out in my song, “The Home of the Fat Homeless.”

The lyrics are contained in the picture below (toward the bottome left):

Common Arguments Against Basic Income Don’t apply to the Emergency BI

‘Most economists will agree that the economy needs injections of cash right now.’

The economy needs injections of cash right now

The Guardian newspaper asked me to write an opinion piece about the Emergency Universal Basic Income (UBI). They changed my headline but otherwise, printed it as I wrote it.

America is in crisis. We need universal basic income now. By Karl Widerquist, the Guardian, 20 Mar 2020

I’m reprinting it here in full:

A few members of Congress recently have suggested that the United States government institute an emergency Universal Basic Income (UBI) in response to the twin crises of coronavirus and the stock market collapse, which many economists believe could signal the start of a significant recession. UBI provides an unconditional sum of money from the government for permanent residents whether or not they work. Proposals for an emergency UBI vary. One common suggestion from lawmakers is $1,000 a month for adults and $500 a month for children for four months or more if the coronavirus persists. This amount would be an enormous help in this crisis.

 

I’ve studied UBI for more than 20 years, and I find that opposition to it usually comes down to two main arguments: that everyone should work or that we simply can’t afford it. Whether these are valid or invalid arguments against UBI in normal times has been debated for decades, but they simply don’t apply to the emergency UBI during the current situation.

 

Right now, we don’t need everyone to work. In fact, we need a lot of people to stop working. We don’t want food service and healthcare workers who might be sick to go into work and infect people because they can’t afford to stay home. In an economy where millions of people live paycheck-to-paycheck, an emergency UBI would give non-essential employees the opportunity to stay home during the coronavirus outbreak, slowing the spread of the disease. The more people we have who can afford to stay home the better off we’ll be, at least for the duration of the outbreak.

 

Most economists will agree that the economy needs injections of cash right now. When economies slide into recession, there is a “multiplier effect” as people lose their jobs and businesses contract, they spend less. Other people then lose their jobs or contract their businesses, and this multiplier effect continues. The economy shrinks, income declines, and money literally disappears from circulation.

 

Governments can help stop this process by creating money and injecting it into circulation. After the 2008-2009 economic meltdown, the United States government and governments around the world created trillions of dollars worth of currency out of thin air and injected it into the economy, usually by buying back their own debt, in an effort to stimulate demand and reverse the multiplier effect. Buying back government debt isn’t necessarily the best way to stimulate the economy, however. The money goes mostly to people who are already rich, and they have very little incentive to invest that money when everyone else is losing income.

 

An emergency UBI is just about the best economic stimulator that exists in modern times because it gets money in the hands of everyone. No one’s income would go to zero due to stock market-related layoffs or corona-related precautions. That income helps people maintain some of their spending, which helps prevent others from losing their jobs through the multiplier effect.

 

Congress should act now. An emergency UBI, providing $1,000 per adult and $500 per child, per month, for four months or as long as the outbreak lasts, can help everyone get through this critical time. The sooner our government acts, the sooner we start to recover. We don’t know how bad coronavirus will get. We shouldn’t have to worry about how we will be able to buy food and pay rent as well.

 

 

The economy needs more money and less labor.

 

We need people to spend money.

 

And we don’t need them to work for it.

 

 

Emergency Basic Income during the Coronavirus crisis

Daniel Raventós and Julie Wark: “Covid-19 and the Need, Right Now, For a Universal Basic Income”

The pair Daniel Raventós and Julie Wark have analyzed the corona virus outbreak and consequent economic downturn and call for an immediate implementation of basic income in each country, truly a global response to a global crisis. It can be read, from the onset of the article:

Apart from the medical threat revealing a brutal class divide in healthcare, the coronavirus pandemic is creating social and economic havoc among non-rich populations. If ever the need for a universal basic income was evident, it is now. But governments, trying to save the neoliberal system, and making the most of the disaster to lay the foundations for a new round of disaster capitalism, won’t see it. To give a couple of examples of this catastrophe profiteering, laissez-faire entrepreneur par excellence, Sir Richard Branson, wants a £7.5 billion government bailout for his airline, and Trump has proposed a $700 billion stimulus package in which industries will be “stimulated” at the expense of Social Security and, once again, the poor. So much for the free market.

More information at:

Daniel Raventós and Julie Wark, “Covid-19 and the Need, Right Now, For a Universal Basic Income“, Counterpunch, March 19th 2020