Report from the 15th Congress of the Basic Income Earth Network


Karl Widerquist, co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network

The 15th International Congress of the Basic Income Earth Network was held in Montreal at McGill University from June 27 to June 29, 2014, and a pre-conference North American day was held on June 26. The event was sold out with well over 200 people attending.

Street art in Boulevard Saint Laurent, Labrona -Basic Income Canada Network

Street art in Boulevard Saint Laurent, Labrona -Basic Income Canada Network

Two of the central topics at the conference were the recent basic income pilot projects the recent petition drives for basic income. Renana Jhabvala, of Self-Employed Women’s Association and Guy Standing, of School of Oriental and African Studies discussed the recent pilot project in India. Among other results, basic income was found to increase health and employment.

Enno Schmidt, Co-founder of the Initiative Basic Income in Switzerland and president of the Cultural Impulse Switzerland Foundation, and Stanislas Jourdan, Co-founder of the French Movement for Basic Income and Coordinator for Unconditional Basic Income Europe, talked with Barbara Jacobson, of Basic Income UK, and Philippe Van Parijs, of BIEN, about the citizens initiatives of basic income in Switzerland and the European Union (EU). Between the two initiatives, activists raises more than 400,000 signatures, enough to trigger a vote in Switzerland to take place in 2015 or 2016. Although the EU movement did not receive enough signatures to trigger a vote, it created headlines across the continent, sparked a pan-European movement for BIG (UBIEurope), and organized national movements in all of the EU’s member states.

Joe Soss, of University of Minnesota, gave the NABIG (North American Basic Income Guarantee) lecture, which was surprisingly optimistic despite its depressing title, “Disciplining the Poor, Downsizing Democracy?” He discussed how many recent social policies from welfare “reform” to the 500% increase in the incarceration rate are part of an international trend toward treating poverty as willful misbehavior curable only by discipline. The optimism came from his belief that people are coming to recognize what’s been happening, and they’re fighting back through various movements.

The conference included a good mix of academics and activists. The Congress generated press around Canada and to some extent around the world. Some of the attendees started an international youth activist organization for the basic income, called Basic Income Generation. The Basic Income Canada Network furthered its push for a $20,000 basic income for all Canadians. The theme of technological unemployment recurred through many of the sessions—much more than it has in any past BIEN Congress. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twentieth Century, was discussed by many of the academics at the Congress. And discussion of the Great Recession was frequent.

The Congress closed with BIEN’s General Assembly (GA) meeting. The GA voted to recognize five new affiliates from Norway, France, Portugal, Europe (UBIEurope) and the Southern African Development Community (the SADC BIG Coalition). UBIEurope and the SADC BIG Coalition have become BIEN’s first transnational affiliates.

A new Executive Committee (EC) was elected by the GA, including Louise Haagh and Karl Widerquist as Co-Chairs, Anja Askeland as Secretary, Borja Barragué as Treasurer, and Andrea Fumagalli, Toru Yamamori, Pablo Yanes Rizo, and Jason Murphy as EC members for News and Outreach.

Several issues were tabled (delayed) due to lack of time. These included some proposed amendments to BIEN’s statutes and a proposal to change BIEN’s definition of unconditional basic income to include a clause that it must be high enough to allow individuals to live in dignity.

The GA ended with a bit of drama. Before we could give up the room to the cleaning crew, which had been waiting much longer than they expected, the GA had to decide the location of the next Congress between three impressive proposals from affiliates in Finland, the Netherlands, and South Korea. As time was running out, the representatives of Netherlands and Finland both dropped their bid in favor of Seoul, Korea, and the motion was quickly passed unanimously.

I think I speak for all of BIEN’s leadership when I write that we are looking forward to working with Korea on the 2016 Congress and to working with UBIE and all of BIEN’s European affiliates to help build on the political moment for basic income has devleoped on that continent.
-Karl Widerquist, Cru Coffee House, Beaufort, North Carolina, June 13, 2014

Some of the press coverage of the BIEN Congress:

Ahn Hyo-sang, “[Special report] Basic income movement gaining momentum worldwide.The Hankyoreh, July12, 2014.

Benjamin Shingler, “$20,000 per person: Activists push for guaranteed minimum income for CanadiansThe Globe and Mail, 29 June 2014.

Beryl Wajsman, “The fierce urgency for a guaranteed national income”, The Metropolitain, 30 June 2014.

The Canadian Press, “Guaranteed $20K income for all Canadians endorsed by academics”, CBC News, 30 June 2014.

Deirdre Fulton, “New Campaign Pushes for ‘Basic Income Guarantee’ in Canada“, Common Dreams, 3 July 2014.

Dan Delmar, “The Exchange Podcast with Dan Delmar,” CJAD 800AM Radio, 2 July 2014. [Discussion of BIG begins about 18 minutes into the broadcast.]

Jacob Kearey-Moreland, “Universal Income Worth a Look”, Orilla Packet, 4 July 2014.

Mélanie Loisel, “Le revenu garanti est la voie de l’avenir, croit Blais”, Le Devoir, 30 June 2014.

The BIEN General Assembly Meeting

The BIEN General Assembly Meeting

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist is an Associate Professor of political philosophy at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University, specializing in distributive justice—the ethics of who has what. Much of his work involves Universal Basic Income (UBI). He is a co-founder of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG). He served as co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) for 7 years, and now serves as vice-chair. He was the Editor of the USBIG NewsFlash for 15 years and of the BIEN NewsFlash for 4 years. He is a cofounder of BIEN’s news website, Basic Income News, the main source of just-the-facts reporting on UBI worldwide. He is a cofounder and editor of the journal Basic Income Studies, the only academic journal devoted to research on UBI. Widerquist has published several books and many articles on UBI both in academic journals and in the popular media. He has appeared on or been quoted by many major media outlets, such as NPR’s On Point, NPR’s Marketplace, PRI’s the World, CNBC, Al-Jazeera, 538, Vice, Dissent, the New York Times, Forbes, the Financial Times, and the Atlantic Monthly, which called him “a leader of the worldwide basic income movement.” Widerquist holds two doctorates—one in Political Theory form Oxford University (2006) and one in Economics from the City University of New York (1996). He has published seven books, including Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press 2017, coauthored by Grant S. McCall) and Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No (Palgrave Macmillan 2013). He has published more than a twenty scholarly articles and book chapters. Most Karl Widerquist’s writing is available on his “Selected Works” website (works.bepress.com/widerquist/). He writes the blog "the Indepentarian" for Basic Income News, and he is grantually moving content from this blog to there.
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