BIEN Stories: André Coelho

BIEN Stories: André Coelho

André Coelho (News Editor-in-Chief)

For me to contribute to BIEN, particularly to Basic Income News, was kind of a natural progression in my personal activism, after the Zeitgeist Movement. I naturally accepted the basic income concept, after defending a resource based economy, as the former can be seen as an intermediate step towards the latter. BIEN is indeed a “house”, a place where one can feel at home, made up of people who truly believe in the betterment of society, through basic income. I owe very much, and still do, to people like Karl Widerquist, Louise Haagh, BIEN’s co-chairs, and to a whole team of volunteers. This team includes people like Toru Yamamori, Jenna van Draanen, Amanda Wray, Kate McFarland and Tyler Prochazka, amongst many others who dedicate their time and talents to maintain and develop Basic Income News.

I believe that any process of true change comes from a combination of hard work, inspiration and luck, and I think we, at BIEN, are contributing to that change. A desperately necessary process of societal change, for the better, for which we play a small but important part. We help spreading the news about basic income developments throughout the world – benefiting from a truly international affiliate network, sweeping all continents – valuing accuracy and coverage of a wide range of information. There is also a tremendous effort going on to outreach onto BIEN affiliates, in an attempt to straighten bonds, exchange information and widen Basic Income News coverage.

The basic income global movement is set in motion, it is growing, and BIEN is and will continue to be an important part of it. Being able to contribute my small share to this global revolution is both a challenge and a gift.

At the end of 2016, the year in which BIEN celebrated the 30th anniversary of its birth, all Life Members were invited to reflect on their own personal journeys with the organization. See other contributions to the feature edition here.

BIEN Stories: Jan Otto Andersson

BIEN Stories: Jan Otto Andersson

Jan Otto Andersson (Åbo Akademi University)

Several texts were momentous at the start of my BI journey, even though they did not always fit a strict definition of an unconditional basic income.

The first text was a pamphlet written by my acquaintance Gunnar Adler-Karlsson. In Danish it was called “No to Full Employment”, but it was not published in Swedish until renamed as “Thoughts on Full Employment”. Adler-Karlsson set out a vision of a three-layered society: the necessity economy, the capitalistic economy and the free economy. The vision included a “life income” or “citizen’s wage”, but everybody was supposed to take part in the necessity economy. The year was 1977.

Another text was a visionary collective work “Norden år 2030” (Nordic 2030). The booklet was illustrated with futuristic graphics and fictional interviews with people who had experienced revolutionary changes and now inhabited a United Nordic region. In one interview, “samlön” and “samtjänst” are introduced. The terms are difficult to translate, but maybe “co-wage” and “co-service” would do. The co-wage is a minimum given to all, but all have to take part in the service production. The booklet was the work of a designer and a photographer.

I already was an admirer of André Gorz, when the book “The Roads to Paradise” appeared in 1983. Gorz discussed heteronomous and autonomous work, and how society should be transformed from being dominated by capitalist wage-labour towards more real freedom. One important means was to introduce a BI called “social wage”, “social dividend” or “social income”.

In 1986 I took part in the international congress on Basic Income in Louvain-la-Neuve. My contribution was called “Basic Income in Three Social Visions”: a Red-Blue mixed society, a Blue-Green dual society and a Red-Green combined society. I concluded that a BI could hardly be included in a Red-Blue fordist version; that it could be part of a blue-green anarcho-capitalist, rather dystopian project; but would be a central feature of a Red-Green vision.

At the conference I got acquainted with a piece by Philippe Van Parijs and Robert van der Veen that enthralled me: “A Capitalist Road to Communism”. Back in Finland I told a “night tale” at one of the last party assemblies of the Finnish Communist Party. In the story, two wise men visited Finland. They pondered our problems and persuaded us to introduce a basic income. The eventual consequences were astounding. People gradually found that they were living in a new society. To find a fitting term for it they consulted old books, and the best they could find was “communism”.

In a book “Vänsterframtid. Nationalekonomiska studier av fordismnes kris och morgondagens alternative” (“Left Future: Economic studies of the fordist crisis and alternatives for tomorrow”), I deepened my thoughts on how a Citizen’s Income could be a crucial step towards a red-green society in the Nordic context.

The Left Alliance, a new party encompassing the old radical left fractions, was founded in 1990. The programme of the party included a “Citizen’s Income”. The CI was seen as a central feature of the “Third Left”. The Third Left would combine the best elements from the First republican/liberal Left and the Second social democratic/communist Left.

The Green Party had been established in 1987 in Finland and from the start it supported a basic income. Interest for the idea was also expressed by people in other parties, and a dozen activists from several parties joined to discuss how to advance Basic Income in Finland. The result was a booklet “Perustulo, kansalaisen palkka” (“Basic Income, the citizen’s wage”). It appeared in 1992, but so did the great “lama”, the worst economic crisis in an OECD-country since the war. There was little room for bold new ideas in a country beset with acute financial and social problems.

I attended the BIEN congresses in Antwerp 1988 and Florence 1990. During my stay in London as guest professor in 1989-1990, I became involved with the Citizen’s Income group. I received the TaxMod micro-simulation model developed by Hermione Parker, visited Anne Miller in Edinburgh, and befriended Tony Walter, whom I later invited to my university (Åbo Akademi) to give a course on basic income.

At BIEN’s 1998 congress in Amsterdam, I presented a paper called “The History of an Idea: Why did Basic Income Thrill the Finns, but not the Swedes?” It was published in the book Basic Income on the Agenda.

Olli Kangas and I made an opinion poll of whether and why people in Sweden and Finland supported a BI or not. We found astonishingly more support in Finland. Even the Finnish conservatives were more in favour of the different BI ideas we asked about than the Swedish greens! In the Geneva congress in 2002, I presented our article “Popular support for basic income in Sweden and Finland”.

Since I had become active as an ecological economist, and developed what I have called my “Global ethical trilemma” between affluence, global justice and ecological sustainability, I became absorbed with the relation between ecological limits and BI. In BIEN’s 2012 congress in Munich, I presented the paper “Degrowth with basic income – the radical combination”. A related article “Basic Income from an ecological perspective” was published in Basic Income Studies.

Andersson at 2016 BIEN Congress (source:

Gradually the interest for basic income has been revived in Finland. A Finnish branch of BIEN has been formed. Olli Kangas has been assigned the delicate task to conduct the pilot study ordered by the government. The task has been made almost impossible for different reasons, but at least basic income is now on the political agenda. Even the Social Democrats are forced to reconsider it seriously.

I was invited as a key speaker to the 2016 BIEN congress in Seoul on the theme “Does Basic Income fit the Nordic Welfare State?” I also acted as a commentator on the planned Youth Dividend experiment in the city of Seongnam.

Andersson (in white) in Seongnam

In Seoul it was decided that the BIEN 2018 congress will be held in Tampere, Finland. I wish you all welcome!

At the end of 2016, the year in which BIEN celebrated the 30th anniversary of its birth, all Life Members were invited to reflect on their own personal journeys with the organization. See other contributions to the feature edition here.

BIEN Stories: Julio Linares

BIEN Stories: Julio Linares

Julio Linares – “My Short Journey in BIEN”

I first heard about BIEN at a conference in Switzerland about the future of work and basic income. I went to that conference because of a hunch. I had finished reading Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation and was in the midst of a brainstorm, thinking about how to change the system we find ourselves in. It came to me that if in the past humans commodified fictitious commodities (Land, Labor and Money), then we can also decommodify at least one of them. The question was how. When the basic income idea came to my head, I thought I had discovered the wheel.

I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I needed to tell somebody. My wife didn’t quite get my crazy mumbling at 2 A.M. and told me to go to sleep. I quickly found that others had already thought of this long before me and had developed the idea further. I couldn’t be happier. I checked social media the next day and found out about the Swiss referendum and the event that was happening before it, gathering academics, entrepreneurs and others interested in basic income. Not looking back, I bought the cheapest ticket I could find and went.

At the conference I had the opportunity of meeting Guy Standing and many other inspiring people involved in the network. I knew I had made the right choice in going. I met young scholars there, who told me about the congress happening in Korea in July 2016. Originally from Guatemala, I had been living in Taiwan for 5 years. Living so close to Korea, I thought I should go as well. Applications were long past the deadline but I still sent an email asking if I could present a paper. When I got accepted I went without glimpse of doubt, this time accompanied by my wife. She and I met in Taiwan while having a full scholarship so we can empirically attest to the transformative benefits of a basic income.

My paper was about alternative ways of funding a basic income. Specifically, I thought of creating financial funds that could make a basic income scheme sustainable in the long run. In this way, I theorized, it could be possible not only to provide a basic income to people but at the same time start changing the greedy ways that finance is used in our time. I received a lot of constructive feedback from the people who attended the talk and learned a lot from the experience.

At the BIEN congress I met Anja and other life members of the BIEN network. Inspired by their clarity of vision and positive attitude I decided to join on the spot. I am proud member number 252. Right now I find myself in the process of setting up a network in Guatemala, looking for funding in order to do a pilot project. So far we have contacted one of the municipal mayors of Guatemala. He and his team were very interested in the idea and have agreed to cooperate with us.

Although I just joined the network, I hope to help as much as I can in spreading the word about the importance of basic income and getting other people involved in my own country. I believe basic income can help in reducing poverty and increasing the livelihood of people in Guatemala and the rest of the world. The movement is only beginning!

Photo: Participants at 2016 BIEN Congress in Seoul, South Korea.

At the end of 2016, the year in which BIEN celebrated the 30th anniversary of its birth, all Life Members were invited to reflect on their own personal journeys with the organization. See other contributions to the feature edition here.

BIEN Stories: Steven Shafarman

BIEN Stories: Steven Shafarman

“Toward Basic Income and a Peaceful Democratic Revolution”

By Steven Shafarman

My drive to enact a basic income – and most of my ideas about how to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize allies – arose from exploring the way young children learn to walk and talk.

I first wrote about these ideas, though without the term basic income, in the mid 1980s, inspired by the analogy of “the body politic” and Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” Young children, as they learn to walk, outgrow crawling and leave it behind. Their basic needs are provided by parents or other adults. Thus, when everyone’s basic economic security is guaranteed, I believe our society can “outgrow” pollution, racism, war, and other problems.

In 1998, while enrolled in a doctoral program in system science and human development, I self-published a book about how to heal our political system. With that book, I was hooked. I moved to Washington D.C. in the fall of 1999, seeking support for these ideas. I heard about USBIG in 2000, went up to New York for one of the earliest meetings, and presented at the first conference in March of 2002. That’s when I learned about BIEN, and decided to attend the Congress in Geneva. My paper, on how to build a mass movement, was selected and published.

Over the following years, I presented at most USBIG meetings; wrote three more books; started an author mailing list to update my readers; self-published or with micro publishers; gave talks at BIEN meetings in Dublin in 2008 and Montreal in 2014; worked with the Green Party of the U.S., adding basic income to their platform; and made several attempts to launch nonprofit organizations to support our efforts. Yet I was always thinking about young children, and how they learn naturally, spontaneously. My primary profession is teaching people, all ages and any health condition, to breathe freely and move easily, to outgrow back pain, breathing troubles, stress-related disorders, and other difficulties.

While promoting basic income, I’ve been actively thinking of myself as a healthy curious young child, pursuing my dreams, goals, and interests. At the same time, though, I’ve been anxiously wishing I had a basic income; regardless of the amount, that would have been immensely valuable.

The “Tax Cut for the Rest of Us Act of 2006,” H.R. 5257, would have created a small basic income through a fully refundable tax credit. It was introduced in the U.S. Congress, though never debated. Al Sheahen and Karl Widerquist wrote the initial paper, with a title I suggested, and Al and I arranged a series of meetings to lobby for it. After lunch in the basement cafeteria of a House office building, on our way to a meeting on the third floor, we were in an elevator with a dozen congressional staffers. I used that moment to say, loudly, “The reason I’m lobbying for basic income, Al, is that I want to live in a true democracy, without leaving the country.” Several staffers laughed. One said, “Good luck.”

Living in Washington D.C., I’ve had many conversations with people who work at political think tanks, lobbying shops, and similar organizations. Everyone has a specific issue, project, or other focus, and limited interest in new ideas. Liberal Democrats typically respond with a variation of “I love that idea, but … ,” and then explain why it’s politically impossible. Conservative Republicans tend to instantly state a moral or emotional objection; when we have time to discuss it in detail, however, they often agree that it makes sense.

Before autumn 2013, most people had never heard of basic income, although a few recalled ideas from the 1960s and ’70s about guaranteed income, negative income tax, or Richard Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan. That October, our friends in Switzerland filed for their referendum and held their event with the coins, and their campaign was widely reported in the U.S. media. I saw a huge breakthrough. My conversations became far more congenial and productive.

Over the past few years, I’ve been writing a book that, I expect, will attract, excite, and unite people from across the political spectrum and outside it. My title is “Basic Income Imperative: for peace, justice, liberty, and personal dignity.” It’s nearly finished. I have queries out to a number of literary agents, and hope to have a publisher soon.

I now believe – more than believe, actually, I’m confident – that within the next few years we can have a peaceful democratic revolution for basic income. Let’s make history and make it happen.

Steven Shafarman is a co-founder of Basic Income Action, and the author of four books about basic income, with another forthcoming. He also teaches FlexAware and the Feldenkrais Method. He lives in Washington, D.C.

At the end of 2016, the year in which BIEN celebrated the 30th anniversary of its birth, all Life Members were invited to reflect on their own personal journeys with the organization. See other contributions to the feature edition here.

BIEN Stories: Christopher Balfour

BIEN Stories: Christopher Balfour

Christopher Balfour (BIEN Life Member)

In the early 1960s I worked as a Youth Employment Officer in the English Midlands. We were then an education-based service concerned with guidance and placement but also responsible for trying to assist those without work and paying out benefits, a valuable way of keeping in touch each week.

Having been adopted as a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate in the mid-1960s (and taken part in the 1966 Election) I began to talk with already-elected Members of Parliament who shared my concerns. In this way I met Brandon Rhys Williams and then his mother, Dame Juliet. They introduced me to this concept of a small payment as of right, no strings attached, to all citizens. A few years later Sir Keith Joseph wrote to me that “there is no chance of these ideas being ignored. Far too many of us are keen.”

The Conservatives then lost the 1974 Elections. Mrs Thatcher appeared on the scene and all this thinking was sidelined. I left the Party and was elected as Independent Councillor, leading to much involvement with schemes to provide employment and assistance to young people. At once there was the problem that, if a participant received more than £4 per week, this was subtracted from any agreed supplementary benefit. A small ’no strings’ payment seemed even more worthy of consideration. This advocacy continued through the 1980s. It seemed, still seems, a portal to other ways of life opening up opportunities, enabling possible creative enjoyable activity for all including those condemned to drudgery. I know because, as a result of my mother’s death when I was a child in 1945, her Will (not anticipating early death) gave me this accidental access to my own unearned basic income.

In the last 25 years I have had other involvements. But I have taken the opportunity to bring up the subject, not in friendly meetings of the converted, but rather amongst those who are hostile and regard such a contribution as “something for nothing”. I also try to remind people that our education-based helping service may have been more productive than an employment based service which too often seems to lead to “sanctioning”. A few Conservatives still respond today. I just so much regret what may have been lost when Edward Heath was defeated in the 1970s. The Conservatives spoke then of “individual freedom”.  They had considered the costs and were beginning to think they might be manageable because of the potential benefit.

I am now old, and it is good to see increased discussion. Amongst my grandchildren there are now four (teenagers and older) who have endured my advocacy over years and now supportive.

Photo from Christopher Balfour’s website,

At the end of 2016, the year in which BIEN celebrated the 30th anniversary of its birth, all Life Members were invited to reflect on their own personal journeys with the organization. See other contributions to the feature edition here.

BIEN Stories: Malcolm Torry

BIEN Stories: Malcolm Torry

Malcolm Torry – “My Basic Income Story”

Almost exactly forty years ago, I left university, got married, and started work in Brixton, in South London, administering means-tested benefits. I spent two years on the public counter: and it didn’t take long to understand how inefficient, degrading, and disincentivising means-tested benefits were. After two years I left to train for the Church of England’s ministry, and from 1980 to 2014 I served in four different South London parishes, and saw yet more of the damage that our benefits system can inflict.

In 1984 a group of individuals from a variety of walks of life met at the offices of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in London to give birth to the Basic Income Research Group (subsequently the Citizen’s Income Trust). Since then we have held meetings, published a regular journal (The Citizen’s Income Newsletter), managed a website and a library, conducted our own research, and helped other organisations with theirs. The speed with which the debate has gone mainstream in the UK, as elsewhere, during the last few years, has taken those of us who have been working on the issue for more than thirty years a bit by surprise. Two years ago I retired early from a very demanding parish (we had the whole of the Greenwich Peninsula, as well as two other communities, in the parish) in order to concentrate on Basic Income and other research interests. Requests for presentations, articles, and assistance with research, continue to increase in number. The Citizen’s Income Trust runs on voluntary labour and a very small budget, and so is limited in what it can do; but we have an excellent group of trustees, and have benefited from occasional help from volunteers and students on placement.

In relation to my own research, it has been most generous of the London School of Economics to appoint me as a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics for a second three year term, and equally generous of the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex to train me in using EUROMOD, the microsimulation programme. I am also enormously grateful to the many people who have assisted in various ways with my books and other publications. The now widespread interest in the Citizen’s Income Trust’s work goes a long way towards making up for the lack of human and financial resources.

Thirty years ago we helped to establish BIEN, we were pleased to be able to organise the BIEN Congress in London in 1994 (a rather smaller event than congresses today), and we have been pleased to see BIEN develop into a global umbrella organisation. The recent increase in both the extent and the depth of the Basic Income debate means that BIEN’s role as a forum for debate is now more important than ever. As the global debate and individual national debates continue to evolve, it will be essential to maintain the integrity of the debate’s vocabulary, to disseminate accurate information about research results and pilot projects, and to ensure that communication occurs between the many different aspects of the debate. Only BIEN can fulfil these roles. It has an important future.

At the end of 2016, the year in which BIEN celebrated the 30th anniversary of its birth, all Life Members were invited to reflect on their own personal journeys with the organization. See other contributions to the feature edition here.