A nearly-packed auditorium of mostly young Taiwanese arrived on an early Saturday morning to learn about Universal Basic Income and its role in addressing key trends for the next generation.
This is the third year UBI Taiwan held its international summit in Taipei to push discussion of basic income on March 16. This year’s conference focused on the challenges Taiwan and the global economy is facing in the coming decade and what steps could be taken to make basic income a feasible solution.
Dr. Sarath Davala, vice chair of Basic Income Earth Network, was the keynote speaker for the second year in a row. Davala said this year’s attendees were even more enthusiastic.
“UBI Taiwan exudes unique energy and dedication to the idea of basic income. This kind of energy is perhaps rare in the basic income movement. Nowhere in the world, have I seen such critical mass of students collectively excited about basic income,” Davala said.
Dr. Ryan Engen, an economic officer at the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the unofficial U.S. embassy in Taiwan, gave the opening speech for the conference. Engen said basic income is “perhaps the most promising policy” to address Taiwan and the world’s economic transformations.
“If you can succeed in what you are trying to do, I actually think it has the potential to be the tipping point that changes the direction for the rest of the world, and that’s not an exaggeration,” Engen said.
In justifying the need to explore basic income, Engen discussed how the return on capital has outstripped income, which has exacerbated global income inequality.
The world is moving toward nationalism as a result of globalization and automation, which requires “creating a new global social contract that leaves nobody behind,” Engen said.
Guy Standing, BIEN’s co-founder, provided a video message for the conference Taiwan. He said Taiwan’s activists should frame basic income primarily in human rights terms, rather than as just an economic policy.
“Basic income is a matter of social justice,” Standing said. “We believe every man, woman, and child has a right to a share of the public wealth of the Commons from the wealth generated over generations, whether it is in Taiwan, China, Britain or anywhere else.”
Standing said while basic income would reduce poverty, this should not be the primary focus of Taiwan’s UBI movement.
“We must constantly stress the ethical basis of the campaign for basic income,” Standing said.
In the final round-table discussion, Ta-Ching Shih, a Taiwanese economic specialist at AIT, said basic income activists in Taiwan must first get attention to the idea and then focus on the policy specifics later.
Peter Knight, a former World Bank economist and a member of Fernand Braudel Institute of World Economics, also produced a video message for the conference where he discussed the economic rationale for basic income.
Knight said Taiwan is likely to face high levels of job automation in the coming years, along with Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. Taiwan’s coming status as a super-aged society may also induce consideration of whether basic income could help alleviate this issue, he said.
“UBI and progressive taxation to finance it, and the use of advanced labor-saving technologies are the key policies for Taiwan to achieve economic, social, political, and ecological sustainability,” Knight said.
Professor Ku Yun-wen from National Taiwan University’s Social Work Department went through a detailed analysis of Taiwan’s welfare policies and discussed how basic income may fit into the system.
Ku had previously written a report on UBI for Taiwan’s National Development Council, Taiwan’s Executive Yuan policy planning agency.
Professor Fong from National Taiwan University’s Economic’s Department provided insight into some of the relevant economic trends to basic income, such as increasing automation and its potential impact in Taiwan.
The conference was assisted in funding from the U.S. State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship through the Alumni Development Fund (ADF).
Before Alan Krueger passed away, he discussed the prospects of basic income in Taiwan with James Davis, one of the managers for this ADF project. Krueger was the former chair of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.
Krueger agreed Taiwan implementing basic income would likely inspire conversation around the world. However, Krueger said “there is a lot of work to be done.”
Professor Hou-ming Huang, the director of National Chengchi University’s Sociology Department, presented on the economic and philosophical transitions of humanity throughout history.
A journalist from Taiwan’s magazine The Reporter spoke on the misinformation that is often spread in Taiwan and global media regarding basic income.
Despite this misinformation, Davala said he is optimistic about the future of basic income’s development in Taiwan.
“I am sure that the debate in Taiwan will progress beyond conference halls and to the policy corridors,” Davala said.
Engen ended his remarks by noting Taiwan could play a very important role in the global UBI movement.
Taiwan is a “melting pot” of international influence and is at the center of global supply chains, Engen pointed out. Taiwan is also the “most progressive example in all of the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
“UBI happening here in Taiwan is very different than it happening anywhere else because Taiwan is a fully developed market democracy that is a technology epicenter of the world,” Engen said. “If UBI happened here it would send ripple effects around the world.”
In the run-up to the conference, Elyse Mark and Brian Anderson, who were also managers of the ADF project, produced interviews with U.S. scholars. Mark interviewed a legislative director for a councilmember of the District of Columbia council who produced a policy report on implementing minimum income in DC. Anderson interviewed an economist to understand the benefits of basic income across Taiwan and the United States. Davis also worked with Stanford’s Basic Income Lab to understand the context for how research there could help propel basic income frameworks for Taiwan.
The third annual UBI Taiwan international summit will be held in Taipei on March 16, 2019. This year’s theme is “Key Trends of the Next Generation,” focusing on technological development as well as growing income inequality and how these trends intersect with basic income.
Asia has progressed rapidly in the global basic income movement, led by India which has shown intense political interest in implementing policies containing aspects of basic income.
Sarath Davala, Basic Income Earth Network’s Vice Chair, will join the conference to discuss these developments and more in his keynote speech “Basic Income is the Foundation of A Caring Society.”
“This is the third consecutive year that UBI Taiwan is organizing a regional Basic Income Conference. UBI Taiwan is perhaps the only national level basic income group that organizes annual conferences. That is a demonstration of a robust movement, the strength of its leadership and their commitment to the idea of basic income,” Davala said.
Ryan Engen, an Economic Officer at the American Institute in Taiwan, America’s unofficial representative entity in Taiwan, will deliver the opening remarks discussing how digital transformations should make global economies consider updates to our social security systems.
Guy Standing, the co-founder of BIEN, Andrew Yang, the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, and Peter Knight, the former World Bank economist, will join via pre-recorded messages.
This year, there will be a focus on bringing in academics and opinion makers from across Taiwan. Professors from Taiwan’s premier universities, National Taiwan University and National Chengchi University, as well as influential Taiwanese media figures, will address the conference.
The Critical Language Scholarship’s (CLS) Alumni Development Fund (ADF) provided a grant to help fund the conference and related events. CLS is a language program under the U.S. State Department.
James Davis, the former Field Research Director for UBI Taiwan and one of the project recipients for the ADF grant, said the conference demonstrates UBI Taiwan’s commitment to pushing this discussion in Asia and around the world.
“UBI Taiwan is here to change everything. We are not content with a society where wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, as the wages of the working class fall year after year,” Davis said.
Davala has participated in every conference since it began in 2017.
“I am proud to be a regular participant of these conferences. I wish UBI Taiwan team success for this conference. With their kind of energy and dedication to basic income, I am sure one-day UBI will be a reality in Taiwan,” Davala said.
Brian Anderson, a senior at Western Kentucky University and also a recipient of the ADF grant, said this conference will help create academic connections between Taiwan and the United States.
“The push for UBI deserves international support and my project seeks to promote mutual understanding of shared interests between Taiwanese and American citizens,” Anderson said.
For Davis, society’s “inadequate” support for parents and caregivers as well as the financial difficulties faced by students illustrate the reasons why Taiwan should consider a basic income.
“UBI is the future. And UBI Taiwan is here to deliver,” Davis said.
The full conference information can be found on the UBI Taiwan website and on the Facebook event (Chinese).
Sarath Davala is an independent sociologist who, along with Guy Standing, was the architect of a series of UNICEF-backed basic income pilots in Madhya Pradesh, central India. Inspired by the findings of that study, he became the co-founder and coordinator of the India Network for Basic Income.
The Basic Income Asia Pacific 2018 conference held in Taipei this March featured a host of speakers from around the world, including Davala. I got to sit down with Davala at National Taiwan University to talk about his research and the applicability of basic income to Asia. The following transcribed interview has been lightly edited.
Please talk about your research in India, and how it has led to your support for UBI as policy.
Between 2011 and 2013, a women’s trade union called the Self Employed Women’s Association conducted an experiment in Madhya Pradesh. I was heading that research project and Guy Standing was supporting as the main principal researcher. Now that study where we gave unconditional basic income to 6,000 people living in nine villages came out with findings which were startling and surprising. Because at the time people believed – the government said, the bureaucrats always said, and everyone in the middle-class believed – that if you give money to people without any conditions, they will not use it for good purposes but bad purposes, like drinking alcohol and other things. But we found that many positive things have happened in all these villages. Particularly, the most vulnerable in society benefited the most.
That gave us the conviction that UBI is a very good policy. It need not replace everything (to say that only UBI should be there), but when you are designing or redesigning your welfare basket for your nation, you must have this as the foundation, where everybody gets a certain basic amount of money, and on that they build a life. UBI can be a foundation on which the market or the government, can actually build your life. So that is how research comes into policy.
Could you talk about the process in which you made the Madhya Pradesh basic income pilots a reality? How did you gain the support of local government?
We didn’t ask the local government for money, that’s the important thing. We asked a variety of people, but finally UNICEF agreed to give us the money. It was not a small amount of money, almost a million US dollars. That was required because we were giving cash to people.
Everyone is in process of searching for alternatives, even the government, because the existing system is not delivering the welfare properly, effectively. So we said [to the government], “here’s an alternative, please join us, listen to us, once every three months we will come talk to you.” So that, when we finally come out with the findings, the government said “Oh yeah, we know these guys, they’ve been doing this work.”
So that was one reason, we followed up with policymakers. But at the same time, the other reason was we needed local support. Because if you go to a village and say you want to distribute cash, the local politicians and media will be a problem. So we had the friendship of the government, the trade union which was working in the area, and international experts like Guy Standing. With this kind of combination, we have been able to roll out a study.
Did you encounter any challenges in implementing the basic income experiment on the ground?
A variety of challenges. Even in 2010, when somebody told me they have a project like this, asking “would you like to head this project?” I said “What? Giving money to people? Without any conditions? I always suspected you were mad but now it’s confirmed.” I thought it was crazy.
Similarly when you go to the villages, and say “we want to give cash to everybody for one year.” They say, “what kind of crazy fellow you are!” There’s a lot of disbelief, but also lots of suspicion, that “you guys have something else in your mind and you are going to cheat us, you are taking our consent signatures, maybe you will use our signatures to grab our lands.” People were suspicious about our motives. But then it took us a long time to bring everybody inside. There were 10 percent of the people who rejected the process. But then, women from those rich households said, “no, no. We want to be part of it. You are conducting training programmes and opening bank accounts. We don’t have bank accounts.” So they were interested.
In your presentation earlier, you talked about how it’s important to consider Asia’s local context. You have also worked with Guy Standing, who coined the term, an emerging socioeconomic class, the “precariat.” Do you think the concept of “precariat” is applicable to the situation in developing countries, or is the “precariat” more particular to developed societies?
No, no no. The precariat is everywhere. The percentage will change [depending on the economy], but the percentage is increasing. In fact, earlier the precariat was at the bottom, but even if you go to the high end jobs, you realise that the contracts are very fragile. Today you are there, tomorrow you can be given a pink slip: “okay, you are no longer needed.” Of course, the precariat is there in developing countries, but also every other country.
You want to deny that there’s a precariat, it’s up to you. But if you want to see, there is precariat. Who is the precariat? Precariat is that class of people whose basis of livelihood is very precarious. Today it is there, tomorrow it is not. And they can turn anywhere. That’s why Guy Standing says it is the most dangerous class. They can turn into anything, into crime, into drugs.
Speaking of the Asian context, would you say Asia is particularly vulnerable to the coming wave of automation?
Which economies are more vulnerable to automation and which are not? Within India, automation will affect maybe small section of the industrial manufacturing sector and the software industry. But because of the surplus cheap labour available in India, most of the entrepreneurs will bank on cheap labour.
So for India, I do not see the threat of automation, but it is possible in Taiwan. You are going to have your first automated 7-11? If that is profitable, more and more Family Marts, KFCs, McDonalds may switch their outlets. At the end of the day, an entrepreneur is looking at costs. And human beings are so difficult to manage, every entrepreneur will say. I taught human resources courses in a business management school for seven years. Every businessman is trying to get rid of them.
In your presentation, you talked about how the Indian government has been reducing the welfare state and pushing responsibility to the family and the market. In this context, do you think UBI is a way for governments to reject its responsibility as the welfare state to provide more social services?
Absolutely. Every government in the world is under pressure now. They are under pressure in order to pursue economic growth. They think if economic growth is there, everything will be alright. Under those pressures, they want foreign investment to come in, they want multinationals to establish units in their countries. So they want economic activity in their country, so they’re doing a variety of things with other nations, particularly the richer ones. They’re under tremendous pressure.
When those pressures are there, governments are trying to reduce their responsibility to the people. It’s our job as civil society that we have to keep reminding government that “this is your minimum responsibility. If not in that way, then you should do it this way.” We are saying that, in the welfare basket, UBI is a foundation, the primary thing. On top of it, we can put additional various other things. So that should be the new design. We are making a new design of the welfare basket, trying to propose to the government “in all circumstances you must do this. Don’t throw us into the market, and don’t throw us into the family,” because everyone in the family is in a precarious position. We have to force the government to implement basic income, because that gives basic security to everyone.
Any other comments?
I think there is great promise in the group steering the UBI Taiwan movement. I wish everyone in UBI Taiwan great success. To all the readers, please join and strengthen the movement, because we are definitely making history.
Interviewer: Shuhei Omi, Writer for UBI Taiwan
The Basic Income Asia Pacific 2018 conference signaled a feeling of growing momentum of the basic income movement in Asia Pacific, particularly in Taiwan.
Over 100 attendees filled the two day conference in Taipei, along with thousands of viewers of the online livestream and simultaneous translations. The speaker roster this year featured an extensive list of international and Taiwanese scholars and personalities.
Enno Schmidt, the 2016 Swiss referendum leader, and Sarath Davala, the leader researcher for UNICEF’s Indian basic income trial, led the keynote speeches for day one and day two respectively.
Davala said he felt “electricity” during the conference.
“The UBI Asia Pacific Conference is an important milestone in the basic income movement. It is a high voltage moment that we in Asia will talk to our children about. The energy in the conference was amazing, and I was inspired to see young women and men from different universities in Taiwan all fired up about the idea of basic income,” Davala said.
Schmidt said it was clear the Taiwanese group had put in a lot of effort since last year’s conference.
“At this year’s UBI Asia Pacific Conference, it was noticeable that the UBI team had already been working for a full year. Sarath Davala from India gave a rousing speech, and Patrick Havermann from the United Nations Development Program in Asia would like to make the entire UN network available to spread the idea of the Basic Income,” Schmidt said.
Taiwanese media emphasized the conference’s focus on Taiwan’s recent changes to the referendum law, which has opened up the possibility for a basic income referendum in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang opened the first day of the conference, noting that while she believes more research should be done on basic income in Taiwan, she supported the spirit of discussion at the conference.
“Indeed, to build a sound re-distribution mechanism to improve human welfare and equality — this is a timeless subject that needs continuous review and revisit,” Tang said.
The UN Development Program (UNDP) Asia Pacific Advisor Patrick Haverman, who has been leading an effort to work with regional governments to research basic income, opened the second day of the conference.
Haverman held a series of round-table discussions with Chinese scholars and officials on the possibility for a pilot program in China.
“In my work with UNDP, I have helped establish round-table meetings on basic income across the Asia Pacific with other UN agencies, academics, and government officials to start a discussion about UBI and explore the possibility of piloting an basic income project,” Haverman said. “The Basic Income Asia Pacific conference is good way to exchange information and to discuss how potentially UBI can address some of the most pressing challenges of our time, like inequality and automatization potentially taking over some of the current jobs.”
UBI Taiwan also presented the current state of their research on both days. The research group said their main focus is creating a framework for a universal Partial Basic Income (PBI) that would gradually phase into a full basic income over a decade. The English overview of their research can be found here.
The proposal would increase taxes by five percent of Taiwan’s GDP and could provide 3,000 NTD ($102 USD) to every Taiwanese citizen.
Jiaguan Su, UBI Taiwan’s Research Director, said the scholars who had met with the research team to discuss the national proposal were “impressed,” and that their main takeaway is that the proposal must emphasize the values of UBI.
“The most important lesson we took from the conference is we must promote the core values of UBI Taiwan through the national proposal. Namely, UBI is for everyone, not just a specific group of people. Our research should focus on this value in order to demonstrate UBI’s ability to promote democracy and human rights in Taiwan,” Su said.
Jason Hsu, a KMT (Nationalist Party) legislator in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, spoke at the first day of the conference. Taiwan media reported that Hsu is considering raising the subject of basic income with large Taiwanese companies.
James Davis, a Columbia University student and UBI Taiwan Field Research Director, interviewed Andrew Yang, the 2020 US presidential candidate running on a basic income platform for the conference. Yang is ethnically Taiwanese and said he was excited by the discussion of basic income in Taiwan.
“UBI Taiwan is fighting the good fight. I was honored to contribute to the BIAP conference because job automation has the potential to seriously hurt Taiwanese workers – and American workers – if universal basic income doesn’t become a reality soon,” Yang said.
Davis also interviewed Qin Gao for the conference, the Columbia University professor who has written a book on China’s cash transfer program, dibao. Gao is the director of China Center for Social Policy at Columbia. Gao noted the problems and stigmatization that arise from some of the means-testing conditions on China’s cash program.
Andy Stern, the former President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and former advisor to President Barack Obama, has been a consistent advocate of basic income in the United States and has provided advice and support to UBI Taiwan over the last several months.
“The clarity of UBI Taiwan’s vision and the tremendous work of its fellows is astounding. The time for universal basic income policies is now, not later. And the world is lucky to have UBI Taiwan on the vanguard of the global debate, designing UBI policy in practical, politically feasible ways,” Stern said.
National Chengchi University (NCCU) and National Taiwan University were the locations for the event this year. NCCU’s International Master’s Program in Asia Pacific Studies (IMAS) was the main organizer for the event. UBI Taiwan provided the volunteer team.
The U.S. State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship program provided a grant through its Alumni Development Fund to support the event to Prochazka, Elyse Mark, and Davis.
Tyler Prochazka, UBI Taiwan’s co-founder, was the director for the conference along with Dongyan Wu, UBI Taiwan’s Public Relations Director. Prochazka and Wu will appear on Taiwan television in April and May.
Ping Xu, UBI Taiwan’s co-founder, said she was excited by the results of the conference, particularly the connections made between different opinion leaders from around the region and within Taiwan.
“It was great success to have many influential opinion leaders from political, medical and social fields participate in the conference. This was a brand new milestone to help build the UBI movement in Taiwan,” Xu said.
Davala said the conference was a positive sign for the future of Taiwan’s UBI movement.
“UBI Taiwan, within a short period has been able to inspire and mobilize hundreds of students to stand up for an idea that is often dismissed as Utopian and impractical. Taiwan could very well be the first Asian country to go for a referendum on Unconditional Basic Income,” Davala siad.
The livestreams and simultaneous translation broadcasts can be found on UBI Taiwan’s Facebook. For the conference’s Twitter stream, go here.
Hong Kong’s newspaper of record, South China Morning Post, recently covered the surge of interest in Universal Basic Income (UBI) in the Asia Pacific.
The author, David Green, points out the positive data that has been demonstrated thus far from cash-grant experiments, such as in India.
South Korea has had interest in basic income since the “youth dividend” was implemented in Seongnam city. BIEN held its Congress in South Korea last year.
The article notes that Taiwan is seeing increased interest in the idea of basic income since the first Asia Pacific focused Basic Income conference was held in Taipei.
The headline references China’s dibao program, which is a cash-grant minimum income guarantee. The dibao has many differences to UBI as conceived by Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN). Primarily, dibao is not a universal cash-grant (dibao is means-tested and only given to those that are under the dibao poverty line).
Due to dibao’s means-tests, the article notes there are an array of issues with China’s minimum income guarantee, primarily that it does not reach the poor.
Tyler Prochazka, features editor of BI News, was quoted as advocating for China to create “special economic zones” to test a UBI.
David Green, “GETTING PAID TO DO NOTHING: WHY THE IDEA OF CHINA’S DIBAO IS CATCHING ON“, South China Morning Post, April 14, 2017.