As one of the world’s leading scientific experts on universal basic income (UBI), Jurgen De Wispelaere has written books and numerous articles on UBI, in addition to having edited several volumes on the topic. He is currently a political economy research fellow at the Independent Social Research Foundation and a policy research fellow at the Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath. He was previously a visiting research fellow at the University of Tampere, where he was a consultant on the research team preparing Finland’s current national basic income experiment.
In this interview, De Wispelaere outlines the most important aspects of UBI — its feasibility, what we can learn from previous experiments, why the right implementation is so important and how UBI touches our basic philosophy of human nature. De Wispelaere’s core argument is that the best reason for pursuing the UBI agenda is ending poverty.
The first independent, UK-specific opinion poll on UBI (Universal Basic Income) that I have seen, shows that a plurality of voters would support its introduction, with 48% “in favour” and just 25% against. However, there’s a catch: the degree of support drops sharply, when asked whether they would be prepared to pay for it, either by way of increases in tax, or by cuts to existing welfare programs.
The research was conducted by Ipsos Mori and the Institute of Policy Research at the University of Bath. by the Institute of Policy Research at the University of Bath. The university’s Dr Luke Martinelli describes the result as “surprising”, as there has been so little public debate about the idea until very recently.
There’s little point in paying too much attention to the detailed numbers. Voters are not really able to make an informed opinion without more information. The degree of support or opposition would likely change, depending on the proposed level of UBI payment proposed, and the associated cost. However, the mere fact that a substantial proportion of voters have expressed for the idea in principle, shows that this is an idea that merits further serious debate.
Further debate, and research, is needed. We need greater definition of just what is meant by “basic” income. Would in include housing costs? Who would qualify – all citizens, or adults only? If children also qualify, at what level? What existing benefits would it replace? What would it cost?
To estimate the cost, we need to know more about how potential recipients would respond. Would a significant number of people simply choose not to work, so reducing the government tax take, as some opponents fear? Or would the removal of the existing disincentive for benefit claimants to find part-time work, lead to more people supplementing their basic income payments with part-time work, or risk-taking in setting up new businesses? Supporters argue that this could expand the economy and the tax take – making the project affordable.
Fortunately, the work has begun. There have been a number of experiments and research studies already, in many parts of the world (in both rich and poor countries). The SNP government in Scotland recently announced its own plans for an investigation. Politically, the Green Party has incorporated the principle or a UBI in its formal policy platform. It is time for other parties to join the debate.
- Half of UK Adults Would Support Universal Basic Income in Principle (Ipsos Mori)
- Universal basic income: Half of Britons back plan to pay all UK citizens regardless of employment (The Independent)
- Universal basic income ‘may be adopted in Scotland’ (The Independent)
- Hawaii considers introducing universal basic income (The Independent)
- Universal basic income could expand whole economies, claims think tank (The Independent)
- Survey of 11000 Europeans find that 68% would vote for basic income (Basic Income Earth Network)
The concept of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), also known as a Citizen;s income, deserves serious consideration – and research. As John Kay notes at the end of his post,
As in other areas of policy, it is simply not the case that there are simple solutions to apparently difficult issues which policymakers have hitherto been too stupid or corrupt to implement.
This is a useful contribution to the debate, pointing out some of the flaws in the arguments presented by the advocates for UBI. Either it is simply unaffordable to UBI at a level appropriate for a decent standard of living – or it will remain necessary to supplement the minimal, affordable, level of UBI for those people in extreme need with no additional income, thus eliminating “simplicity” as a core argument in its favour.
Here is the introduction to his analysis – read it in full:
The basics of basic income – John Kay
Basic income is a fashionable topic. A proposal to introduce one in Switzerland was put to a national referendum in 2016, although it was soundly defeated. Finland has recently introduced a modest experiment for 2,000 households. The current interest is mainly on the political left; for example, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination in 2016, and Britain’s John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Chancellor, have expressed enthusiasm for the concept of unconditional basic income. Benoit Hamon, the Socialist Party’s candidate for the French presidency, has made the proposal a principal plank in his platform. The Scottish National Party, which recently announced plans for a second independence referendum, is also strongly in favour. Basic income, at its roots, is a plan to replace all or most existing state benefits by a single payment, made unconditionally to all citizens (or perhaps residents) of a country. There are three principal strands of argument for such a proposal. The first deduces an entitlement to such income from some a priori moral principle. Such an assertion of rights goes back at least to Thomas Paine (1737-1809), and it has also attracted other philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell. More recently, the case has been put forward most vehemently by Philippe Van Parijs.
A proposed provincial pilot project to give some people struggling on poverty-level welfare payments and low-wage jobs a basic income with no strings attached, received a thumbs-up during recent online and public consultations.
Ontarians are also keen to know whether this type of support would impact health, housing, food and work habits, according to a report summarizing public feedback on the initiative.
“There was strong agreement that the basic income amount should be set at a level that will lift recipients out of poverty,” says the report, released Thursday.
The three-year pilot project, announced in the 2016 budget, is expected to be launched this spring.
Source: Toronto Star
- Universal basic income: Money for nothing or efficient equalizer? (journalistsresource.org)
- Finland’s biggest trade union says a universal basic income is ‘useless’ (businessinsider.com)
This is a book about multiple emancipations. What would it take for all women to be free – by unshackling the countless numbers who are financially dependent on men? What action would free up enough people, men and women, to care for others who might otherwise live in fear, especially in countries where much more social care will be needed in the very near future?
Philippe van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght, an economist and a political scientist, respectively, explain how the academic arguments for a basic income have been growing in strength since they were first made in the late 1700s. Since then, it has become clear to a still small (but growing) group of people that with so many of us no longer able to earn a subsistence income from the land, and with growing automation and ecological limits to sensible consumption, social progress without a basic income cannot be sustainable. Today the vast majority of our food is grown and harvested through automation, and robots make more and more of our goods; but we cannot use machines to care for each other. Not yet – and, if we are to stay sane, hopefully never. A concern with sanity in a book on economics is refreshing
Source: THE Books
In the USA, as the rich got richer and the poor stagnated, globalisation has been blamed – contributing to the rise of Donald Trump. Evidence from elsewhere is that it ain’t necessarily so. This graph shows that in stark contrast to the US, in the Netherlands, it was the poorest households that saw the strongest growth in income.
In yesterday’s election, the Dutch electorate saw off the threat from their own yellow haired anti-immigrant populist politician. No co-incidence?
The graph above is included in a December 2016 paper by Torsten Bell and Adam Corlett for the Hans van Mierlo Stichting, arguing that the adverse impact of globalisation on poorer Americans (and British?) implied by the “elephant curve” is not inevitable, but the result of poor policy decisions.
Read the full article.
The globalisation debate too often gets simplified into a claim that working people in Western countries have seen their incomes stagnate in recent decades. But the evidence doesn’t support this simplistic case against globalisation. Yes, trade and migration bring with them challenges, but a more equal distribution of growth also depends on domestic policy choices.
Source: Hans van Mierlo Stichting
It’s an incredibly simple idea: universal basic income – a monthly allowance of enough to pay for your basic needs: food, shelter, education. And it’s completely unconditional: not a favour, but a right.
But could it really be that simple? In the three years that followed, I read all I could find about basic income. I researched dozens of experiments that have been conducted across the globe. And it didn’t take long before I stumbled upon the story of a town that had done it, had eradicated poverty – after which nearly everyone forgot about it.
This story starts in Winnipeg, Canada. Imagine a warehouse attic where nearly 2,000 boxes lie gathering dust. They are filled with data – graphs, tables, interviews – about one of the most fascinating social experiments ever conducted. Evelyn Forget, an economics professor at the University of Manitoba, first heard about the records in 2009. Stepping into the attic, she could hardly believe her eyes. It was a treasure trove of information on basic income.
When Forget found them, 30 years later, no one knew what, if anything, the experiment had demonstrated. For three years she subjected the data to all manner of statistical analysis. And no matter what she tried, the results were the same every time. The experiment – the longest and best of its kind – had been a resounding success.
PEOPLE are funny about food. Throughout history they have mocked others for eating strange things. In 1755 Samuel Johnson’s dictionary defined oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people”. Nineteenth-century Japanese nationalists dismissed Western culture as bata kusai, or “stinking of butter”. Unkind people today deride Brits as “limeys”, Mexicans as “beaners” and French people as “frogs”. And food-related insults often have a political tinge. George Orwell complained that socialism was unpopular because it attracted “every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer [and] sex-maniac…in England”. In many countries today, politicians who wish to imply that their rivals have lost touch with ordinary voters sneer that they are latte-drinkers, muesli-munchers or partial to quinoa.
This South American grain gets a particularly bad rap. To its fans, it is a superfood. To its detractors, it is like the erotic sci-fi murals found in Saddam Hussein’s palaces—pretentious and tasteless. An advertisement for Big Macs once riffed on this prejudice. “Foodies and gastronauts kindly avert your eyes. You can’t get juiciness like this from soy or quinoa,” it said, adding that “while [a Big Mac] is massive, its ego is not.” Even those who love quinoa sometimes fret that scarfing it may not be ethical. What if rising hipster demand pushes the price up, forcing Andeans to eat less of their beloved grain? Or what if the price falls, making Andean farmers poorer? A headline from Mother Jones, a left-wing magazine, perfectly captured the confusion of well-meaning Western foodies: “Quinoa: good, evil or just really complicated?”
Source: The Economist
The primary focus of an important article at Harvard Business Review is of course, “business”. However, all business operates inside a social context. The context for this analysis, is globalisation. This has been of immense value to richer people in the developed world, and to Asian and other developing world middle classes. One group that has not benefited particularly, and by falling back in relative terms, is the working class in Western developed countries. (This is very clearly shown in the frequently cited “elephant graph”
Our global narrative of progress, the implicit case for embracing change in exchange for its fruits, is being increasingly called into question by economically marginalized groups and populist politicians across the globe. This narrative has rested on three propositions: that globalization is a major driver of growth and prosperity; that technological progress enriches our lives; and that shareholder returns reflect businesses’ contributions to societal progress.
Those who question the continued applicability of this narrative have a case. While globalization has increased aggregate prosperity and reduced inequality across nations, it has also created winners and losers within nations
Source: Harvard Business Review
This uneven distribution of benefits has consequences, for those who have been left behind – and for both business, and for political conditions. In the UK, and the USA, we have seen the result in the rise of Donald Trump, and the June vote against the EU. Elsewhere in Europe, there’s been a widely reported rise in support for populist parties.
This is sharply illustrated by what the HBR refers to as a “trust gap”. HBR includes a graph that shows the widening of this trust gap between 2012 and 2016. Note that although it is the USA that has seen the most dramatic impact of this in electoral politics, the widening is even greater in the UK and in France.
The “Universal Basic Income” or UBI (also known as a “Citizen’s Income”, or CI) is an intriguing idea now attracting increasing attention from both left and right wings of the political spectrum, and from both rich and poorer countries.
Proponents can produce some cogent, immensely attractive arguments in favour – but opponents some equally cogent hard-headed objections that it is simply unworkable, or unaffordable. There is room for a great deal more research – so it is good to know that a Danish university is offering a grant for a fully funded PhD fellowship financed by Aarhus University Research Foundation (AUFF):
In recent years Basic Income has arisen across the world as a response to such diverse challenges as poverty, ineffective public sectors, structural unemployment, a heralded ecological disaster, and the rise of the robots.
At the heart of Basic Income we see a libertarian dream of individual freedom and creativity united with a socialist dream of fundamental economic redistribution. On the edges of the discussions lurk such issues as border and immigration policy. And a few steps further out; scenarios found in Sci-Fi – take such examples as sea steading, societies free of bureaucracy, or the settlement of Mars.
We invite applicants from anthropology, philosophy, economy, literature studies or history who can formulate an empirically founded project within this broad framework. Independent thinking and quirky projects will be appreciated as much as intellectual flexibility and willingness to work across disciplinary boundaries.
More information here
- Is Finland’s basic universal income a solution to automation, fewer jobs? (Guardian)
- Universal basic income ‘useless’, says Finland’s biggest union (The Independent)
- Canada is betting on a universal basic income to help cities gutted by manufacturing job loss (Quartz)
- Indian government survey says universal basic income could combat poverty
- Scottish government ‘interested’ in universal basic income (BBC News)
- Universal basic income ‘worrying and expensive’
- Korea: New presidential candidate promises universal basic income (Basic Income News)
- “Being open-minded about universal basic income” (World Bank blog)
- Economists Are Not Very Enthusiastic About The Idea Of A Universal Basic Income (Co.Exist)