Economist and BIEN cofounder Guy Standing (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) will deliver a lecture on basic income at the University of Copenhagen on Tuesday, October 3.
Danish journalist Per Michael Jespersen, opinions section editor for the daily newspaper Politiken,will moderate.
Standing’s lecture is part of the series Det vi ved – det vi kan (“What we know – what we can”), a collaborative project of Politiken, the University of Copenhagen, and Carlsberg Foundation, which features experts from varied disciplines speaking on topics of contemporary relevance.
Founded in 1884, Politiken is one of Denmark’s most popular daily newspapers. According to Wikipedia, the print newspaper had a circulation of 88,597 copies in 2013, and its website experience traffic of approximately 800,000 users per month in 2011. Its design has earned the paper international awards in recent years. Politiken has a social liberal and center-left stance, and is historically associated with the Social Liberal Party (Radikale Venstre), although no longer partisan.
Erik Christensen, former associate professor at Aalborg University, has written a new book on basic income, På vej til Borgerløn – Aktuel idedebat (“On the way to Basic Income: A debate on contemporary ideas”), which is to be published in August 2017 by the independent publishing house Hovedland. See the announcement at the website of BIEN-Denmark.
Christensen’s latest book is a compilation of revised and expanded blog posts from the past four years, which he previously published on Modkraft, a now-defunct Danish progressive Internet portal.
What is basic income?
Why has basic income again become topical?
Basic income in historical perspective
Basic income as a liberation project
From welfare state to competitive state
From working society to civil society
Basic income and global capitalism
The trade union movement and basic income
Basic income and economic democracy
Basic income and monetary and land reforms
Basic income nationally and internationally
On the way to a major breakthrough
Christensen is the author of The Heretical Political Discourse: a Discourse Analysis of the Danish Debate on Basic Income (2008, Aalborg University Press; full text here).
Photo: Political Laboratory on Basic Income at The Alternative’s convention (credit: Louise Haagh).
“The Alternative Facts”
Denmark’s green political party The Alternative (Danish: Alternativet) has adopted basic income as an aspirational goal and established a working group to investigate a precise model and implementational strategy for the policy.
These decisions were formalized at the party’s 2017 convention, which took place May 27-28 in Odense, where basic income was a prevailing theme. Since its founding in November 2013, The Alternative has developed its policy positions through what it describes as a “political open-source process,” centered on political laboratories [link: Danish] at which party members and other interested individuals discuss and debate proposed policies. Its initial party program, for example, was influenced by the contributions of over 700 people who participated in political laboratories and workshops in early 2014. The recent convention in Odense featured such a political laboratory on the topic of basic income, which was attended by over 300 delegates.
Haagh at the Alternative’s political laboratory on basic income
The political laboratory began with presentations of opposing views on basic income.
First, BIEN Chair Louise Haagh laid out reasons to support the policy, including, fundamentally, the idea that basic income is a democratic right. Haagh emphasized that basic income can be seen as a natural extension of the Nordic welfare model, an enhancement of the existing welfare state rather than its replacement. She also argued that, among other advantages, a basic income could provide an improvement for unemployed job seekers, as Denmark’s existing job centers are inefficient, producing a low employment rate and forcing customers to spend a large amount of time in administrative processes.
Following Haagh’s presentation, Kristian Wiese, Director of the think tank Cevea, offered reasons to be skeptical of basic income. Wiese worried that basic income is merely a palliative that fails to address the underlying problems of unemployment and precarious employment, and expressed concern regarding the policy’s support from neoliberals and Silicon Valley technocrats.
After the presentations, participants broke into small groups to discuss the relative merits and drawbacks of basic income. The discussion was framed around several questions–whether a basic income is a good idea if it can be introduced without extra cost, whether a basic income is likely to lead to more socially productive activity or less, and what new policies and procedures could be introduced alongside basic income to promote community and entrepreneurship–and responses from each group were collected. While no formal vote was taken, the general consensus of delegates was favorable to basic income, and the party decided to proceed with the development of a precise model to adopt as party policy.
To the latter end, the assembly established a working group tasked with the project of drafting a policy proposal on basic income for the party within one year. In addition to the proposal of the working group, The Alternative will await precise calculations from the Ministry of Taxation before endorsing any model of basic income as party policy. (Basic Income News will publish a follow-up report on the activities of the working group later in the year when more details are known.)
The Alternative’s current political program endorses the provision of benefits without work requirements or other conditions to uninsured social security recipients as well as to those covered by insurance through union membership. Basic income will be the third and final step in the party’s social policy reform. Even prior to the recent convention and political laboratory, party leaders such as MP Torsten Gejl have described The Alternative’s advocacy of the former policies as steps toward its eventual promotion of a universal basic income for Denmark (cf., e.g., Gejl’s talk at the book launch of Philippe van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght’s Basic Income).
Torsten Gejl at UBI Nordic Conference (credit: Michael Husen)
The party has shown increasing interest in basic income in recent years, and has established close ties with BIEN-Danmark, BIEN’s Danish affiliate. The party was the official host for the two-day Nordic Conference on Basic Income Pilots, held at Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish Parliament, in September 2016. Leading members of the party have continued to participate in basic income events in 2017. For instance, party leader and cofounder Uffe Elbæk spoke at the world premier of the basic income documentary Free Lunch Society, Josephine Fock participated in a debate at a seminar on basic income and the future of work, and Gejl spoke at BIEN-Danmark’s annual meeting, in addition to the aforementioned book launch.
In honor of the launch of the book, Van Parijs has delivered several public lectures, beginning with events in Copenhagen, Denmark (March 28) and Stockholm, Sweden (March 30). Copenhagen (Video Below)
The former was part of a workshop on basic income organized by the Department of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen in conjunction with two political parties, the Alternative and the Social Liberal Party, and held at the Danish Parliament, Christiansborg.
Van Parijs’s lecture was followed by two additional presentations on the topic — a critical perspective from Otto Brøns-Petersen of the think tank CEPOS, and a sympathetic one from Torsten Gejl of the Alternative, who relates that the party is beginning to investigate a model for a feasible basic income for Denmark.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eraDjPAiC-E Stockholm (Video Below)
The second launch event was a seminar at Stockholm University, moderated by Institute for Future Studies Director Gustaf Arrhenius.
In this lecture, Van Parijs considers basic income from the standpoint of philosophical ethics and social justice, addressing the common objection that it is unjust to provide money to individuals without requiring some type of work or contribution. In countering the “freeloader” objection, Van Parijs begins with what he calls “ad hominem” replies — accusing the objectors of applying inconsistent principles. He proceeds to provide a positive account to justify the provision of a basic income without requiring anything in return, viewing it instead as a social inheritance. According to Van Parijs, most of the wealth in society cannot be ascribed to the contributions of any particular individuals, and is best conceived as rightfully belonging to all of us collectively. At the same time, he stresses that we still need an “ethos of contribution”, which is compatible with the provision of an unconditional basic income.
Ingrid A.M. Robeyns (Chair Ethics of Institutions at Utrecht University) and Andreas Bergh (Associate Professor in Economics at Lund University) provided comments on Van Parijs’s talk.
Robeyns praises Basic Income, especially for its balanced and sympathetic treatment of critical views. Her comments provide a general critique of the discourse surrounding basic income, arguing that one cannot be “for” or “against” a basic income outright without specifying amount, funding source, and what other programs would be replaced.
Bergh also praises the book, calling it “convincing”, although he too has complaints with the current state of basic income discourse–beginning with the book’s subtitle. According to Bergh, basic income is not a “radical” proposal and, moreover, calling it such is unhelpful with respect to its political popularity. Bergh urges basic income advocates to “get their hands dirty with national politics”.
After the European book launch events, Van Parijs traveled to the United States for additional public lectures. These included a talk at Bowling Green State University in Ohio on April 7, where he was one of three keynote speakers (along with Evelyn Forget and Matt Zwolinski) at the university’s annual Political Theory Workshop–which, for 2017, focused on basic income and the future of work. On April 12, Van Parijs spoke at Stanford University, as the second major event hosted by the university’s newly founded Basic Income Lab.
A new documentary on basic income — Free Lunch Societyby Austrian director Christian Tod — premiered in Copenhagen’s Bremen Theatre on March 20, 2017, to a crowd numbering in the hundreds.
The 90-minute film covers a range of “highlights” of the basic income movement, such as (for example) Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend, Manitoba’s “Mincome” experiment, campaigns for guaranteed minimum income in the 1960s US, the 2008 basic income pilot in Namibia, Switzerland’s 2016 basic income referendum, and current concerns about automation. Along the way, it features interviews with prominent basic income proponents — including, among others, billionaire businessman Götz Werner (founder of the German drugstore chain dm-drogerie markt), libertarian political scientist Charles Murray (American Enterprise Institute), venture capitalist Albert Wenger (Union Square Ventures), Mein Grundeinkommenfounder Michael Bohmeyer, Swiss referendum co-founder Daniel Häni, economist Evelyn Forget, and writer and entrepreneur Peter Barnes.
In an interview about the film (“Curiosity and the desire to improve the world”), Tod explains, “The film takes as its point of departure an ethical justification of basic income founded on the premise that natural resources belong to us all.” Tod’s musical selection — centered around the song “This Land is Your Land” — reflects this orientation toward the subject, as do his cinematographic decisions to include clips of natural scenery interspersed between the vintage footage and talking expert heads. (As he says in the same interview, “What might not come across quite so clearly in the completed film are elements which strike me as extremely important such as the countryside, the Earth, natural resources. I had wanted these aspects to be more prominent, but then the narrative would have suffered.”)
Tod has also acknowledged the influence of the science fiction series Star Trek: The Next Generation on his thinking about basic income and, eventually, the film: “It presents a society where there’s no money, where people only work because they really want to, and where they are driven by human curiosity.” Correspondingly, Free Lunch Society begins and ends with scenes from Star Trek.
About the interview subjects in his film, who were chosen in part to emphasize the political diversity behind support for basic income, Tod notes, “It’s interesting that they are almost all business people: owners of technology companies, CEOs of large or small companies, people who can afford to think about making the world a better place.”
Asked about the most surprising thing he learned while making the film — in an interview following the film’s premiere (see below) — Tod mentioned the discovery that “basic income was such a big thing in the United States in the 1960s,” tested in experiments and nearly voted upon.
Watch the Trailer
World Premiere Event
Most of Copenhagen’s Bremen Theatre 648 were filled at the world premiere of Free Lunch Society on Monday, March 20, 2017.
Director Tod states, “It was a fabulous evening in a tremendous location. It was very special to have the world premiere of Free Lunch Society in Copenhagen, because my film career started in this beautiful city 10 years ago, when I studied at Copenhagen university’s film department. The premiere on Monday was, so far, the peak of my career in filmmaking. Almost 650 people watching my vision and applauding, laughing and apparently liking it, is hard to top.”
The film’s world premiere was followed by short interviews with Tod and Bohmeyer, as well as a panel discussion with Uffe Elbæk (Leader of the Danish green political party The Alternative; Danish: Alternativet), Steen Jakobsen (Chief Economist at Saxo Bank), and Dorte Kolding (Chair of BIEN-Danmark). All three panelists were sympathetic to the idea basic income, although Elbæk explained that The Alternative was not prepared to endorse it — though they would be willing to pursue pilot studies, and though the party’s political agenda includes the provision of benefits to the poor “without specific control measures” (that is, without conditionalities like work requirements, similar in spirit to a basic income). Jakobsen advocates a negative income tax, as proposed by Milton Friedman, as a way to increase the purchasing power of the lower and middle classes and produce a more equitable distribution of wealth. Watch below (panel discussion and debate in Danish).