Taiwan holds ‘historic’ basic income conference

Taiwan holds ‘historic’ basic income conference

The Universal Basic Income in the Asia Pacific international conference was held at National Chengchi University (NCCU) on March 18. This was the first conference dedicated to universal basic income (UBI) focused on the Asia Pacific region. Scholars, activists, officials, and guests traveled from all over the world to participate in the event.

All livestream videos are available on the UBI Taiwan Facebook page, and a HD version will be available shortly on UBI Taiwan’s YouTube page.

Around 100 people participated in the event in person, including participants who flew from America, Switzerland, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, and mainland China. There were nearly 1,000 streams of the Chinese-translation broadcast of the event, and there were over 1,200 views of the livestream videos on Facebook. A total of 16 different sessions were held, with over 100 questions posed to the UBI experts in-person and online. Furthermore, the event page has reached 35,000 unique viewers to date.

Enno Schmidt, leader of the Swiss referendum campaign, gave the keynote speech for the event: “Basic Income and Democracy.”

“The Asia Pacific UBI conference undoubtedly has been one of the historical steps in furthering the worldwide UBI movement, focused on the recognition of Asia Pacific, as well as unity and collaboration,” Schmidt said.

The event has been in preparation since November, when organizer Tyler Prochazka, an NCCU International Master’s Program in Asia-Pacific Studies (IMAS) student and features editor of Basic Income News, received a grant from the US State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship Alumni Development Fund along with James Davis, a junior from Columbia University. NCCU’s College of Social Sciences (CSS) later agreed to sponsor the event, and NCCU’s IMAS department provided additional assistance.

NCCU CSS Professor Ping-Yin Kuan provided the welcome speech for the event, where he discussed how he first learned about the idea of UBI while he was studying in the United States. His master’s thesis advisor was involved in the “Income Maintenance Experiment” in New Jersey, which tested a form of negative income tax in the 1960s and 1970s.

“As a student who came from Taiwan – at that time Taiwan was a relatively poor country – I was amazed by such a crazy idea. And I thought that only the US, a rich country, would come up with such a scheme,” Kuan said.

“After I became more familiar with issues of social inequality, I could see that it was not a crazy idea at all. The question that should have been asked then, and I believe should still be asked now, is why a country as rich as the US allows a significant proportion of its people to live below a basic decent condition,” Kuan expanded.

“Now Taiwan is considered a rich county, and we can certainly ask the same question here.”

Conference co-organizer James Davis prepared a documentary for the conference, meeting with prominent figures in finance, technology, and politics to discuss basic income.

“Universal basic income is the future of redistribution and welfare policy. It has the potential to alleviate global poverty and unleash an entrepreneurial spirit unlike anything we’ve seen before. These interviews explore the practical and ideological grounds of universal basic income, debunking the critics, and anticipating its challenges,” Davis said.

Sarath Davala, a researcher on the Indian basic income trial, presented on the “Transformative Power of Basic Income for India” via Skype.

“Universal basic income is the most radical idea of our contemporary times. It takes the discourses of democracy and poverty to the next level,” Davala said. He noted that UBI Taiwan “has created history by organizing the first regional activity in Taipei.”

“This conference is the foundation for future cooperation at the regional level, which is very much needed to take forward the basic income movement in each of the countries in the Asia Pacific region,” Davala said.

Ping Xu, coordinator for UBI Taiwan and co-organizer of the conference, presented on the feasibility of basic income for Taiwan.

“This is the first step for basic income in the Asia Pacific. It represents an awakening of human evolution toward traditional Asian culture and away from our current inhumane working standards,” Xu said.

Joffre Balce, secretary of the Association for Good Government in Australia, presented on “Rewriting the Textbook to Deliver Universal Human Dignity.”

“The first Asia Pacific Conference on Basic Income was a glimpse of how society can work together for a common vision — bold, innovative, diverse yet respectful of each other’s noble intentions, united in efforts and determined to realize each other’s vision for a society of equality in rights, the self-determination of the individual and the freedom to cooperate for a better society,” said Balce.

Ted Tan, the coordinator for research and information for UNI Asia and Pacific Regional, flew from Singapore to attend the event. He said he “hopes there will be another conference next year.”

“The conference was very interesting and it could have easily been extended for another half or one day. There is still much to discuss on the possibility of a universal basic income in this region, so I appreciate the inputs and sharing of all the experts in the same room,” Tan said.

Chung Yuan Christian University provided simultaneous Chinese translation for the event. Enzo Guo, a Taiwanese senior at Chung Yuan, led the group of translators.

“I felt so honored to interpret for those brilliant scholars with their ideas and findings. I benefited greatly by their talks. These are important matters that people living in Asia Pacific should know,” Guo said.

Musician Brandy Moore also provided her song “Just Because I’m Alive” for the conference and its promotional videos. Moore wrote the song after hearing about basic income in 2015 and performed it at a basic income conference in 2016 for the first time. In June, Moore will perform the song at NABIG 2017 in New York City.

“Being invited to put my song forward to be part of this recent basic income conference held in Taiwan was a wonderful additional surprise,” she said.

“Music reaches people on a heart level and it’s going to take both heads and hearts to make basic income a reality,” Moore said.

Purchases of Moore’s song will help fund basic income organizations after she recoups the funding to produce it.

Julio Linares, an NCCU student from Guatemala, had met many of the presenters at the BIEN Congress in South Korea, where he also presented.

“I argued how a Basic Income Fund (BIF) could work as a way of creating long-term investments whose profits are redirected back to people in the form of a monthly basic income while at the same time making the fund financially sustainable over time,” Linares said. “The attendees were not only from Taiwan but from different countries and they all showed great interest in the topic as it raised quite a lot of discussion.”

Petra Sevcikova, an NCCU IMAS student from the Czech Republic, organized the NCCU volunteers for the conference.

“After working in event management in Europe, helping to organize the UBI Conference in NCCU in Taipei was a new and extraordinary experience. I believe that the conference was unique and quite important for people interested in the basic income,” Sevcikova said.

Speakers included Gary Flomenhoft (University of Vermont, USA), Sarath Davala (India), Julio Linares (NCCU), Gregory Marston (University of Queensland, Australia), Joffre Balce (Australia), Munly Leong (Australia), Toru Yamamori (Doshisha University, Japan), Ping Xu (Taiwan), Enno Schmidt (Switzerland), Hyosang Ahn (Basic Income Korea Network), Cheng Furui (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), and Tyler Prochazka (NCCU). The abstracts for each presentation can be found here. A compilation of the research will soon be published online.

For Kuan, bringing these scholars to Taiwan will help to highlight the important issue of inequality, as many social welfare systems in the Asia Pacific are “not working effectively.”

“It is important to bring regional scholars to share knowledge about basic income and spark new ways to think about social security. This is particularly important, not just in Taiwan, but the Asia Pacific in general,” Kuan said.

Yamamori presented on “What Can We Learn From a Grassroots Feminist UBI Movement?: Revisiting Keynes’s Prophecy” via Skype.

“While I was able to attend only via Skype, I could still feel positive vibes and energy from the venue. I know Tyler, Ping and others made a huge effort to make this conference successful,” he said.

“Let me show my gratitude to them and participants, and let us go forward for an unconditional basic income together,” Yamamori said.

Guo said he is optimistic that the conference will have a big impact on Taiwanese society.

“By gathering the elites and people from different fields together and discussing with each other, I believe this conference has undoubtedly paved the way for the popularization of UBI in Taiwan,” he said.

When reflecting on the potential of the UBI in the Asia Pacific, Schmidt said it can bring together all people from all backgrounds, both in the Asia Pacific and beyond.

“The idea of an unconditional basic income for everyone must remain clear, which is regardless of any life circumstances, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly. This idea does not exclude anybody, it does not fight against anything. The idea of UBI unites and connects people and restores our forgotten values,” Schmidt said.

Basic Income Interviews: Juon Kim

Basic Income Interviews: Juon Kim

Juon Kim has been an organizer of Basic Income Youth Network in Korea since 2013. In March of this year, Juon ran for a proportionate candidate of Green Party Korea in the general election, representing the party’s UBI agenda. She’s currently a graduate student of cultural anthropology, and plans to write her MA thesis about basic income.

In this Basic Income Interview, Juon talks about how she came to learn about and support basic income, and why she is now an activist.

About 5 years ago, only a few people in Korea knew about basic income, including my friends. Since they were studying basic income, I became aware of it but was not attracted to it at first. But after reading two women’s books, I decided to live as a UBI advocate and joined the Basic Income Youth Network based in South Korea.

One book is Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. “It is necessary for women to have five hundred pounds a year and a lock on the door if you are to write fiction or poetry.” It reminded me of basic income immediately. The other is Carole Pateman, a feminist political theorist saying that basic income could guarantee universal economic citizenship of women.

Juon Kim at the 2016 BIEN Congress in Seoul

Juon at the 2016 BIEN Congress in Seoul

When I was young, I dreamt of becoming a human rights lawyer. Many discrepancies in the society seemed to have been caused by law which is a tool only for the powerful. I entered university envisioning that I would stand in the forefront of social changes with the law as the tool for justice. I was even thinking of branding law firm ideas to increase my chances of being someone’s first choice to defend them.

But the university that I encountered back in 2010 was no more than a ruin. The gravity of making ends meet pulled heavily against my attempted search for friends with whom I would find solutions to the social ills. No time could be wasted if it wasn’t for career preparation, no space was available without fees, and ultimately no freedom to plan my life as I wanted was granted.

Fortunately, there were great classes and friends in and out of the campus. There were those who were being forcefully evacuated from the very place of their livelihoods in their cities, those who are taking their lives in their hands just to reclaim their lost jobs, and those religious figures, LGBT activists, disability-rights activists, grass-root activists and youth activists who fought against state violence and its forced militarization of Gangjeong village in Jeju island and forced nuclearization of Miryang in Korea.

I saw how they tried and worked to rebuild hope in their own respective communities. We met in support, delight and equality. I experienced happiness rising from others even amidst poor material conditions.

In our encounters I realized something. All of us who were dreaming of a better life, one that’s better than now, were in fact fighting against ‘dual poverty’. They fought against poverty of their own and simultaneously poverty of the world.

What I endured was not different from what they endured. It was in this moment I was introduced to the idea of ‘basic income’. I strongly related to its philosophy that the rights to eat and live should be guaranteed just for the reason that I am a constituent of this society.

What if the activists I met who suffered from dual poverty had basic income? What if my colleagues, women, youth and young adults, farmers, artists and seniors had basic income? What happens when there appears this gift called basic income in the Korean society, whose severe income bipolarization and winner-takes-all structures in all corners render all untrustworthy toward each other?

I imagined an alternative made possible by the hope called basic income to those who give up their lives or terrorize others’ lives because there cannot be a better tomorrow. Then I joined basic income movement because I wanted to imagine all these possibilities as one.

The ‘human rights’ that used to be so nondescript when I wanted to be its lawyer took shape as an economic citizenship, basic income. Basic income as the fundamental right for all humans. I hope it becomes a common sense to all everywhere in the world in the nearest future.

Photos used by permission of Juon Kim. (Cover photo: Juon promotes basic income at International Women’s Day, dressed as a suffragette.)

Juon wishes to thank her friend Heehe for translation assistance.

Basic Income Interviews is a special recurring segment of Basic Income News, introduced in July 2016 by Jason Murphy and Kate McFarland. Through a series of short interviews, we aspire to display the diversity of support that basic income receives throughout the world.

Have your own thoughts to contribute? Want to see yourself in a future Basic Income Interview?

Visit our interview form.

KOREA: Joint Press Conference to Call for Basic Income Scheme, Seoul

[Witten by Hosang Ahn, co-organizer of the BIEN Congress 2016]

Basic Income Korean Network (BIKN, president: Namhoon Kang) held the joint press conference to demand that the next National Assembly should discuss and legislate the basic income scheme on the 16th March at the city center of Seoul. Nine organizations including BIKN and some candidates for the general election who set forth basic income policy as election promise participated in it. They are Basic Income Youth Network, Catholic Farmer Association, Labor Party, Green Party, Cultural Action, Alba (part time job) Union, Left Youth and Co-op Gajangjari (fringe) except Korean Network.

Lots of political and social issues have risen as the general election in April is coming, among which the most important one is how to give all people the economic stability. Junghoon Park, president of Alba Union said “today unemployment is normal and employment is exception for part time workers, so they should be given stable income, basic income guarantee to protect their rights as workers.” And Namhoon Kang insisted “basic income guarantee is a sole way which we, human beings could live and survive as humans under the economic system Al would change.” Under these circumstances, Green Party and Labor Party, small and extra-parliament parties in Korea, promise basic income scheme their major policies, and some politicians in office interest in it.

Basic income guarantee has been just an idea in Korea up to recently, but now many consider it as a concrete means to overcome economic crisis and to give people material condition as they understand that other policies cannot work. Korean Network is going to organize various events to promulgate basic income idea and to make effort to institutionalize it.


Namhoon Kang, president of BIKN, speaking at the Joint Press Conference

Namhoon Kang, president of BIKN, speaking at the Joint Press Conference

SOUTH KOREA: Mayor of Seongnam City talks on his plan for ‘Youth Dividend’

SOUTH KOREA: Mayor of Seongnam City talks on his plan for ‘Youth Dividend’

Enno Schmidt, co-founder of the Swiss basic income initiative, made a film on Jae-Myeong Lee, the mayor of Seongnam City, talking his plan for ‘Youth Dividend’.

Jae-Myeong Lee wants to introduce a basic income for the young people in his city, a city of one million inhabitants, 30 km southeast of the capital Seoul. While he was working on this he heard from Prof. Kang Nam-Hoon, a pioneer of the basic income movement in South Korea, about the idea of an unconditional basic income. For Lee this idea is linked with democracy. He expects and hopes that Switzerland will take the first steps in this direction with the upcoming 2016 referendum. He said this would make it easier for other countries to follow and would be a big help for him as welll. The youth basic income in Seongnam City could be a first step in South Korea for further steps towards the introduction of an unconditional basic income for everyone in the country.

Geum Min and Enno Schmidt interviewed the mayor on 19th June 2015, during the International Basic Income Conference in Seoul. This was held as a prelude to the next Basic Income Earth Network Congress, to be held summer 2016 in Seoul.

A film by Enno Schmidt, 8 Min.
In Korean with English subtitles.
English translation by Ji-Young Moon and Barb Jacobson