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

United Kingdom: As the first Labour Party commissioned report on basic income comes out, renewed interest on the policy surfaces in the UK

United Kingdom: As the first Labour Party commissioned report on basic income comes out, renewed interest on the policy surfaces in the UK

An important report on basic income has been released in the UK, as announced before, and publicly presented at the RSA last Tuesday. In that report, one central idea is to put forward, for the UK social reality: to give every adult citizen a 100 £/week (equivalent to about 460 €/month), unconditionally and without means-testing. According to the Progressive Economic Forum (PEF), this policy can be tested in the UK in five different ways (for an year):

  1. Giving a 100 £/week (116 €/week) to every adult in a randomly selected community, plus 50 £/week (57 €/week) for children and any extra amount to account for disability necessities. The scheme would replace all benefits but the housing benefit.
  1. Giving a 70 £/week (81 €/week) to every adult in a randomly selected community, plus 20 £/week (57 €/week) for children, but keeping child benefits. All other means-tested benefits would remain in place, accounting for the unconditional transfer as income, thus reducing or eliminating the (existing) benefits paid.
  1. A 50 £/week (58 €/week) to every adult in a randomly selected community, plus any existing benefits (not considering the unconditional transfer as income).
  1. A randomly selection of adults (country-wide) on welfare seeing conditionalities removed.
  1. A randomly selection of homeless people given an unconditional cash grant, replacing other (cash or non-cash) benefits.

At the referred presentation, Labour Party’s John McDonnell, the Exchequer Shadow Chancellor, said the Labour Party is not committing to introduce basic income in the UK (if elected), but this report will definitely be instrumental for the party’s next manifesto design.

Not surprisingly, Tories in parliament stand firmly against this policy, branding it as a “handout”, and dismissing it as hugely expensive and unfair to “hardworking taxpayers”. To that, Guy Standing, main author of the referred author, has replied that governments looking forward should “at the very least introduce local pilots to see how effective it could be”. He and RSA Director Anthony Painter have been strong proponents of reducing or eliminating means-testing and conditionality in general, in a welfare system in the UK which has been “expensive to administer and is causing destitution”.  Painter summarizes by saying that “basic income-style pilots have been proven to have beneficial effects on health, well-being, and trust, while giving people more freedom to decide for themselves how to manage their lives.”

A series of articles have been produced on this issue, in several news outlets, such as the Guardian, Brave New Europe, the Mirror and BBC News. The presentation video can be watched below, and also heard on an RSA podcast.

More information at:

André Coelho, “United Kingdom: Guy Standing presenting report “Piloting Basic Income as Common Dividends”, Basic Income News, May 6th 2019

Guy Standing, “Basic Income as Commons Dividends: Piloting a Transformative Policy – A Report for the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer”, Progressive Economic Forum, 2019

Dan Bloom, “Basic Income: John McDonnell hails report calling for UK to pilot radical scheme”, Mirror, May 7th 2019

United Kingdom: Guy Standing presenting report “Piloting Basic Income as Common Dividends”

United Kingdom: Guy Standing presenting report “Piloting Basic Income as Common Dividends”

John McDonnell (left) and Guy Standing (right)

This week, on May 7th, Guy Standing will be presenting a report prepared at the request of the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell MP. The complete title of the report is “Piloting Basic Income as Common Dividends”.

The event is organized by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and the Progressive Economy Forum (PEF), and will take place at the RSA’s Great Room Auditorium, at 11 am. It will be introduced by RSA’s Director Anthony Painter and PEF’s Chair Patrick Allen, followed by an opening keynote by John McDonnell himself. After that Guy Standing will present the fifty-page report in about thirty minutes, which will then be openly discussed by commentators Ed Miliband, former Labour Party Leader, Margaret Greenwood, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, and Caroline Abrahams, Age UK Director, as well as in a round of questions and answers with the audience.

Although other books and reports have been made public, focused on basic income for the British reality (e.g.: Annie Miller’s “A basic income pocketbook”, Malcolm Torry’s “Why we need a Citizen’s Basic Income”), this was the first time a British politician has specifically asked  for a report on basic income. As Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell and the Labour Party had been flirting with the idea, however, since early 2016 (even though McDonnell had been a basic income supporter as far back as 2014).

More information at:

Kate McFarland, “United Kingdom: Labour Party to look into Basic Income”, Basic Income News, June 6th 2016

Toru Yamamori, “United Kingdom: Labour Party considers universal basic income”, Basic Income News, February 21th 2016

Toru Yamamori, “United Kingdom: Basic income supporter John McDonnell becomes shadow chancellor”, Basic Income News, September 18th 2015

UBI Taiwan aims to be ‘tipping point’ for basic income

UBI Taiwan aims to be ‘tipping point’ for basic income

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.


India: Telangana, unconditional cash transfer to farmers and more

India: Telangana, unconditional cash transfer to farmers and more

Road in rural India. Picture credit to: India TV.

Farmers in India are under considerable stress. Uncertainty regarding weather, yield, prices and revenue, create the perfect conditions for distress and fragility over the exposure to shark lenders. That also means that massive hunger is a risk just around the corner, and in a year of elections in India, its rural population (about 70% of total population) is repeatedly targeted for campaign purposes. Loan waivers, for instance, have been a pet political tool for election purposes, even though waivers haven’t traditionally helped small or marginal farmers (around 80% of all farmers).

To counteract this state of affairs, some states in India start to take matters in their own hands. The province of Telangana has been the first Indian state to provide and unconditional cash transfer to farmers. This, the decision of the Sikkim state to go forward with basic income implementation, experimentations popping up in several parts of the world (e.g.: Germany, Ukraine, United States, Spain), and some political support for basic income over central government in New Dehli, particularly after the 2016-2017 economic survey and its famous chapter on basic income, leads to renewed conversations in India.

In programs like this one, provocatively titled as “Government mulls universal basic income, is India ready for income for all?”, obstacles to basic income seem more in number and in size, than opportunities and benefits it can potentially provide. TV pundits take turns at criticizing the idea: it disincentivizes work, it is unaffordable, it is vague and populist, it cannot possibly be a replacement for long-time and traditional forms of help to those in need. However, simultaneously, some high placed economists and politicians see at least some advantages and viability in a basic income for all Indians, or directed to certain population cohorts (such as farmers). The dice are rolling.

Sarath Davala. Picture credit to: BIEN

Sarath Davala. Picture credit to: BIEN

Sarath Davala, coordinator at India Network for Basic Income (INBI), has written on Facebook: “Increasingly I am beginning to think that India could be the first country to take the plunge into a kind of Targeted Basic Income. It won’t be universal, but it will certainly be unconditional. The initiative is more likely to come from the provinces”. Guy Standing, also a long-time activist and researcher on basic income and someone who has been deeply involved in the Indian (basic income) experiments, has also pronounced himself at the onset of India’s first steps towards this revolutionary policy: “The beauty of moving towards a modest basic income would be that all groups would gain. That would not preclude special additional support for those with special needs, nor be any threat to a progressive welfare state in the long-term. It would merely be an anchor of a 21st century income distribution system. Will the politicians show the will to implement it? We need to see”.

More information at:

Why Telangana gave cheques to farmers instead of direct transfer”, rediff Business, May 11th 2018

André Coelho, “India: Sikkim state is on the verge of becoming the first place on Earth implementing a basic income”, Basic Income News, January 11th 2019

Guy Standing, “Basic income works and works well”, The Hindu, January 14th 2019