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.


UBI Taiwan to discuss ‘key trends’ at international summit

UBI Taiwan to discuss ‘key trends’ at international summit

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).

India: Prem Das Rai: “Lazy people will be lazy people whether they get money or not”

India: Prem Das Rai: “Lazy people will be lazy people whether they get money or not”

Prem Das Rai (Wikipedia)


The Morung Express newspaper has interviewed the sole Sikkim MP at Lok Sabha (central parliament in India), Prem Das Rai. On the 17th of February, excerpts of that interview were posted, where Rai clearly states that introducing a universal basic income (UBI) in the state “is a leap of faith”. To him, it is a trust issue, when critics point out that a UBI kind of policy may turn people lazy. In reply, he says that “lazy people will be lazy people whether they get money or not”.


Rai does not conceive UBI as a grant, or a subsidy, but an income. That means that the purpose is not to have UBI seen as a hand-out, but a human right. “UBI is for every citizen of Sikkim, all Sikkimese people”. This contrasts with the recent announcements of both national opposition party Congress and government Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which Rai considers to be targeted schemes (Congress aims at the “poor” and the BJP at “poor farmers”) and in reaction to the agrarian crisis ravaging the country.


According to Rai, Sikkim state is not proposing basic income as a reaction to some urgent crisis, but as a way to look “ahead and changing the mindset of the youth”. Over that new mindset, and knowing they will have a guaranteed influx of money every month, regardless of their personal situation, people will naturally behave differently and tend to make better choices in life. That is Rai’s belief, anyway.


As for funding, and instead of speaking about taxes, Rai responds that Sikkim state is rich in resources, such as “hydropower, tourism, organic farming and pharmaceutical companies”, as well as “educational facilities”, and so will find the funds to cover for basic income, from within these several sources. The specific form this funding will be performed, however, is still unclear.


On Raul Ghandi’s Congress party promise to implement a kind of basic income all across India (conceived as a negative income tax), if it gets elected in May, Rai responds that Sikkim is the example to follow, devaluing Ghandi’s initiave. Rai sees basic income in India more as a growing number of regional initiatives, rather than a central idea, implemented nationally.



More information at:

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

Universal basic income proposal a leap of faith: Sikkim MP”, Morung Express, February 17th 2019

André Coelho, “India: Basic income is being promised to all poor people in India”, Basic Income News, February 1st 2019

Anil Sasi: “Universal Basic Income: The ‘money for nothing’ idea”

Anil Sasi: “Universal Basic Income: The ‘money for nothing’ idea”

Children playing in Sikkim, India. Picture credit to: India Today

Anil Sasi’s article starts from the Sikkim announcement to implement a basic income in the state, up until 2022. After describing the basic income concept in broad strokes, explains the Indian tapestry of conditional social benefits, in cash and in kind, which is riddled with inefficiency and corruption. It refers that, so as to finance a basic income, the structure of existing benefit programs would have to be completely changed, “in order to free up resources so that a particular amount can be directed to people on a periodic basis”. From there, Sasi goes on to describe a few of the most relevant basic income-like pilot programs and experiments, using that to contextualize the Sikkim situation.

As in many other regions in the world, the planning for a basic income implementation involves slashing on existing conditional programs, some of which might be rendered obsolete on their own terms (emptied out of beneficiaries, due to mean-testing). Sasi points out, though, that this cutting on governmental subsidy programs might be dangerous, even counterproductive, citing economist Bhalchandra Mungekar, a former member of Rajya Sabha and the Planning Commission. Interestingly enough, however, Mungekar was one of the Congress party leaders to promptly backup Rahul Ghandi’s announcement of a national basic income implementation in India, were the party elected in the next general elections in May.

More information at:

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

André Coelho, “India: Basic income is being promised to all poor people in India”, Basic Income News, February 1st 2019

Anil Sasi, “Universal Basic Income: The ‘money for nothing’ idea”, The Indian Express, January 11th 2019

India: Congress party gets serious about basic income and reaches out to Thomas Piketty for policy design support

India: Congress party gets serious about basic income and reaches out to Thomas Piketty for policy design support

Thomas Piketty. Picture credit to: Books Live (Sunday Times)

Details are being fed into Rahul Gandhi’s promise of a minimum income guarantee to poor Indians, an announcement made earlier this month. Thomas Piketty, an authority in economics, and particularly in inequality analysis, is assisting Ghandi’s Congress party in designing the policy onto the Indian context.

Although Piketty has a particular vision on basic income, he has supported a universal, unconditional basic income. At some point the particulars of his proposal may have generated confusion, but it seems his contribution to what can be a real shot at implementing (a kind of) basic income in India prove his resolve on this matter. “It is high time to move from the politics of caste conflict to the politics of income and wealth distribution”, Piketty has stated. MIT professor Abhijit Baerjee is also helping to materialize this idea on the Congress manifesto for the upcoming elections. Economy Nobel prize winner Angus Deaton was also contacted by party officials, but hasn’t apparently been involved in the scheme’s design.

The Congress’s proposal for its “minimum income guarantee” was told, by party officials, to be “anything above 10000 Rupees per month” per household. For a typical family, that would amount to 66% of the family’s net living wage, which contrasts with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) most recent promise for implementation of a basic income-type of policy (6000 Rupees/year, per small farmer).

More information at:

André Coelho, “India: Basic income is being promised to all poor people in India”, Basic Income News, February 1st 2019

Expenditure and Living Wage calculation in India

Scroll staff, “Minimum income guarantee: Economist Thomas Piketty confirms he is helping Congress with the scheme”, Scroll.in, February 7th 2019

Thomas Piketty, “Is our basic income really universal”, Le blog de Thomas Piketty, February 13th 2017

Genvieve Shanahan, “FRANCE: Piketty’s comments on basic income cause confusion”, Basic Income News, February 3rd 2017

D.K. Singh, “Thomas Piketty & Angus Deaton help frame Rahul Gandhi’s minimum income promise”, The Print, January 31st 2019

André Coelho, “India: The Indian government also promises basic income to farmers”, Basic Income News, February 12th 2019