This is the Newsletter of the USBIG Network, which promotes the discussion of the basic income guarantee (BIG) in the United States--a policy that would unconditionally guarantee a subsistence-level income for everyone. If you would like to be added to or removed from this list please email: Karl@Widerquist.com.
The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network held its Fourth Annual Congress in New York City on March 4-6, 2005 (related stories articles 2, 3, and 4). The Congress was part of the Eastern Economics Association Annual Meeting, which was attended by 1,200 people. About 100 to 150 people attended 70 presentations on all aspects of the basic income guarantee including financing, labor market impact, ethical issues, and effects on poverty and the human condition.
Presenters came from all across the United States and as far away as Brazil, South Africa, and Belgium. Irwin Garfinkel, of Columbia University opened the conference with a background discussion of BIG. Nancy Folbre, Almaz Zelleke, Jillynn Steven, and Eva Kittay debated BIG as a solution for single parents. Guy Standing, of the International Labor Organization, discussed the need for a BIG-style grant for populations hit by the tsunami. Erik Olin Wright, of the University of Wisconsin, discussed BIG as a socialist project. Brian Barry, of Columbia University, discussed the relative merits of basic income and basic capital proposals. Francis Fox-Piven discussed the role of income guarantees in protecting working class livelihoods. Philippe Van Parijs discussed four political strategies to move social policy in the direction of BIG if the full policy is not politically feasible in the short-run.
Clarification of USBIG’s role
At one of the conference’s final sessions, Bertha Lewis, of ACORN, Stanley Aronowitz, of the City University of New York, Eduardo Suplicy, of the Brazilian Senate, and Sally Lerner, of the University of Waterloo, Ontario, discussed the possibility of building a political movement for BIG or for more progressive social policy in general. There are several groups promoting policies containing elements of BIG, such as caregiver credits and resource dividends, but there is no organized group promoting a full basic income guarantee in the United States at this time. There was a great deal of enthusiasm in the session for a political movement for BIG, but as yet, no one has organized such a movement. USBIG Coordinator, Karl Widerquist, clarified that it is not the role of USBIG, which serves as a discussion group and a network building contacts between supports and anyone interested in discussing the idea.
The role of USBIG as a discussion group was confirmed at the organizational meeting that followed the conference. No matter how big a political movement for BIG might become there will be an important role for a discussion group. A political movement will have to focus on one version of BIG, focusing in on a certain size, method of financing, and rules for distribution, but it will still be useful to have a discussion group with a broader focus. Most people who have been involved in USBIG are interested in such a movement and a few of them have begun to take action in the form of an add hoc committee to promote BIG in the form of a tax credit (see article below).
The meeting reconfirmed the USBIG committee, and decided that USBIG will continue in its informal structure. It will continue its current activities, which include bimonthly newsletters, the website, the discussion paper series, and yearly conferences. Next year’s conference will again be in conjunction with the Eastern Economics Association; this time in Philadelphia. USBIG will have one session at the American Economics Association for the first time in January 2005, organized by John Maragos, of Colorado State University (email here). More Information on the session here.
An ad hoc group of people led by Al Sheahen, retired author, have been discussing his proposal for BIG (USBIG Discussion Paper No. 93) with members of Congress, whom have expressed some interest in introducing a BIG bill. Sheahen’s proposal takes the form of a refundable tax credit for all American citizens. Depending on the layout of Congressional support, they will choose whether to focus a bill for a full BIG, large enough to eliminate poverty, or for a small, introductory version of the idea, comparable in size to the Alaska Permanent Fund. Of course, the submission of a bill is a very small and comparatively simple step, compared to drumming up the kind of support needed to change the law. Anyone interested in helping with the effort should contact Al Sheahen at email@example.com.
After the USBIG Congress, the committee met and asked Almaz Zelleke to join. Zelleke is a graduate student in political theory at Harvard and has recently been sharing the care for her two children. She has been involved with USBIG since near the beginning. Her role will probably to coordinate academic presentations on BIG at conferences other than the USBIG Congress, but that remains to be confirmed. In addition to Zelleke, the USBIG Committee consists of Karl Widerquist, of Oxford University (Coordinator); Steve Shafarman, of the Citizen Policies Institute (Activist Liaison); Al Sheahen, retired author (Public Relations Coordinator); and four at large members: Eri Noguchi, of Columbia University and the Association to Benefit Children; Michael Lewis, of the SUNY-Stony Brook School of Social Welfare; Fred Block, of the University of California-Davis; and Robert Harris, economics consultant and former Vice President of the Urban Institute.
Eight Canadians, from Quebec, Ontario, and Saskatchewan met at the USBIG Congress in New York City on March. Jim Mulvale (head of the University of Regina’s social justice program) convened the meeting. The topic of the discussion, according to Myron Frankman, of McGill University, was to build a network promoting, “Basic Income research, debate, advocacy, and action in Canada (or, at least, trying to assure that we don't lose of our remaining entitlements).” Also in attendance were Sally Lerner of the University of Waterloo (Ontario), and several members of The Social Assistance in the New Economy (SANE) research program, which has a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for a three-year study into the changing nature of social assistance in Ontario.
Participants discussed previous efforts to promote BIG in Canada, and future strategies including restarting a website, organizing sessions at conferences, an email discussion group, and building toward a Canadian Conference on Basic Income. Participants have since organized a session on basic income that will take place at the Canadian Social Welfare Policy Conference later this year. More news is expected on that soon.
There are now at least three groups discussing basic income all across Canada. The March meeting follows the Pictou Statement from Nova Scotia last autumn and increased activities of the LIFE (Livable Income For Everyone) in British Columbia in the last 18 months (LIFE is on the web at: http://www.livableincome.org/,firstname.lastname@example.org).
Participants from the March meeting have put together an email list on BI Canada: "au_canada - Basic Income / Alloc. Univ"AU_CANADA@LISTS.MCGILL.CA;
If you wish to subscribe, the message goes to email@example.com. Please send the following message: sub au_canada first name last name (e.g. sub au_canada Thomas Paine), or simply e-mail Myron Frankman. Also contact him for more information on the efforts to follow up on the Canadian meeting in March. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Alaskan State Senate passed a resolution to divert some revenue from the APF to infrastructure projects including a gas pipeline. Alaskan newspapers say the motion is unlikely to pass in the House, but there is a movement in the House to divert Permanent Fund earnings to support education. Opponents say that there is plenty of room the state budget to finance these projects without dipping into the Permanent Fund, especially considering the high price of oil, which benefits the Alaskan state budget tremendously. Governor Frank Murkowski, who had pledged no use of fund earnings without a referendum in his 2002 campaign, now says that he will evaluate the bill if it is passed by the legislature. Both motions are reminders that the Permanent Fund is not immune to attack even with its overwhelming public support. Some legislators are interested in pushing a motion to require that any redirection of APF revenues be approved by a vote of the people, which might be the best way to protect the APF.
The Prime Minister and high government officials in South Africa have been cool to the Basic Income Grant (as BIG is known in South Africa), but a grassroots movement lead by the BIG Coalition has kept the issue alive in the media and among voters. The Coalition (coordinated by Rev. Edwin Arrison) is supported by two dozen organizations; and they are constantly recruiting more supporting groups. The Black Sash, one of the supporting groups, has just announced that it will dedicate seven members of its staff to the BIG campaign.
The Coalition has begun organizing a monthly study group at its national headquarters, which looks into financing and other issues. But as Arrison sees it, no matter now good their arguments are, BIG will not happen unless they organize the people behind their cause, and that is where he intends to focus most of their energy. “We are really in the process of mobilizing a people's movement for economic justice and while this is not easy, it is probably the most important thing to be happening in our country at the moment. But it cannot happen in our offices.... we must mobilize in the churches, on the shop floor, and in the communities.”
The BIG Coalition also engages with government at the highest level. The South African constitution guarantees the right of access to social security for all, which creates a strong case for a human rights campaign and even litigation on the issue. BIG has received the endorsement of economists, social scientists, and religious leaders, such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and his successor, Njongonkulu Ndungane. BIG is again a central component of the 2006/2007 People's budget (launched on February 21, 2005) and will continue to be part of the coalition’s discussions with government. Members of the National Religious Leaders Forum will be meeting with President Mbeki to discuss BIG.
The Basic Income Earth Network has recently announced that it is organizing its next Congress in South Africa in the autumn of 2006. This will be BIEN’s first conference outside of Europe since it made the decision to become a global network in September of 2004. This choice of location could be taken as recognition from leaders of the world movement for BIG that South Africans are leading the way. South Africa is the only country in the world with a major grassroots campaign for BIG. Few places can expect the kind of inside government support that BIG has received in Sao Paolo and Juno without a strong people’s movement behind it. A South African style people’s campaign might be the only way to push BIG onto the agenda anywhere.
Gad Lior for the Hebrew daily “Yediot Ahronot” (28 Mar 05) wrote that, in its annual report, the Bank of Israel for the first time recommends subsidizing essential services for people with low income, including transport, childcare, a negative income tax, and improving job training and placement for the unemployed. The Bank of Israel also recommends reducing the number of public sector employees and reforming the capital market. In contrast to the position of some senior Ministry of Finance officials, Acting Governor of the Bank of Israel Dr. Meir Sokoler recommends a negative income tax "with the aim of increasing incentives for people with low incomes to enter the labor force." The full story can be found at:http://www.globes.co.il/serveen/globes/docview.asp?did=898516&fid=942
BIEN reports that new record heights in unemployment (5.22 million in February and partly due to the statistical effects of the ‘Hartz’-reforms) have spurred new public debates about ways of solving problems of unemployment and poverty. The German Basic Income Network has tried to influence public debate by issuing several press releases, one of them commenting on the ‘Job summit’ of the red-green government and the conservative opposition, the other one taking up a public intervention by the head of the Bundesagentur für Arbeit, Frank-Jürgen Weise. The network supported Weise’s proposal to release older workers in Eastern Germany from being available for work and paying them unemployment benefits as a kind of basic income, but also called for a more courageous move to introduce a basic income. In a show on radio Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb) one of the network’s spokespersons presented the idea of a basic income as a way of solving the problem of unemployment and poverty. Members of the network also produced several newspaper articles. For further information, contact Katrin Mohr (email@example.com). See also http://www.labournet.de/diskussion/index.html
Also in Germany, the network "Freedom, not full employment" has been actively promoting a universal basic income in the last months, through presentations (for instance on February 23, 2005, at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Frankfurt) and an interview for the radio-program "Jump" of the Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (Jan.24, 2005). For further information, see http://www.freiheitstattvollbeschaeftigung.de/
BIEN reports, within the framework of this stimulating international conference, which was hosted by the Graduate School of Social Sciences (GSSS), a panel entitled "Minimum Income and the Meeting of Social Needs" was especially devoted to basic income as a means to achieve social justice. It included four presentations. Jurgen De Wispelaere (University College, Dublin) explored whether the design features of universal welfare make basic income more effective, robust and politically resilient ("Basic income: Effective, robust and resilient?") ; José Noguera (Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona) made objections to the assumptions of leftist advocates of workfare ("Unconditional welfare rights? A defence of basic income vs. welfare to work policies); Richard K. Caputo (Yeshiva University, New York) tackled the issue of the optimal level of the basic income guarantee ("Eclipsing the welfare state? Meeting needs vs. universal income distribution schemes"); and finally Sascha Liebermann (Universität Dortmund) challenged the consensus regarding the stated objective of full employment ("Strengthening citizenship - effects of an unconditional basic income on political communities"). The presentations were followed by critical comments by Michael Opielka (one of the founding fathers of the basic income debate in Germany, currently visiting scholar at UC Berkeley). For further information, contact the panel chair Yannick Vanderborght at firstname.lastname@example.org
BIEN reports, the first Conference of Argentina's national network on basic income will be held at the Centro Cultural de la Cooperación, Buenos Aires. After a brief public presentation of the activities of the network for this year, the conference took place with the participation of Patricia Aguirre (Universidad de San Martín, Buenos Aires), Antoni Domènech (Universidad de Barcelona), and Rubén Lo Vuolo (Ciepp, Buenos Aires).
The USBIG Discussion Paper Series includes papers related to the basic income guarantee in advance of publication. It includes conference papers and others. Opinions are the authors’ own. Discussion is welcome. Papers are available on the USBIG website. Authors wishing to submit new paper should see the instructions on the website: http://www.usbig.net. The following papers have been added in the last two months:
By Steven Bouguin
ABSTRACT: Since the nineties, a network of "local exchange systems" (LETS) is growing in continental Europe. Although it is still very small, it present itself as a concrete alternative towards capitalism. The system work as follows: people hold on a self-organized basis a stock-index of activities they can potentially exchange with others. Some people bring into this "social stock exchange" piano-lessons, others are teachers, carpenters, plumbers or are able to care for persons. Everybody that is enlisted in the system is authorized to ask some help or services but has to offer something in exchange. The LETS-network is advocating a demonetization of society in everyday life. A lot of them are also in favor of basic income with a green ideological background rather than a social(-ist) one. Our contribution will be based upon a small sample of interviews (10) with members of these LETS-networks in France and Belgium. We will ask them concrete information concerning the way it works, the problems it may encounter as well as their general viewpoint about this approach against monetization. We will conclude with a critical assessment of this alternative option and confront it with the principles of basic income.
Note: This paper is published in French.
By David Swanson
ABSTRACT: States without serious media reform. The corporate media hold a tight grip on our political agenda. No one will ever buy enough commercials for a BIG to make it happen. No one will ever spin it with the perfect sound bite to force the corporate media in their current formation to present a BIG in a positive light. And we need to be creative in our approach to reforming the media. Not only must we work to re-regulate and diversify the major corporate media, but we must also develop our own media -- and fundamentally that means re-building the labor media. In addition, we ought to combine the living wage movement with the media reform movement with the labor movement, and an ideal way to do that is through a campaign for a Living Wage for Reporters that targets for union organizing large chains of small newspapers paying poverty wages, and doing so with a focus on the effects of high turnover and poor training on the quality of reporting and the failure of these paper to cover the issues that community organizations care about.
By Karl Widerquist
Uncertainty effects ethical theory in three ways: First, are the theories we propose genuinely ethical? Second, will the institutions we put in place to create a just society actually work as intended? Third, can the ethical theory be misused maliciously? This paper proposes justice as voluntary agreements is a strategy of minimizing the maximum loss under ethical uncertainty
By Michael Howard
ABSTRACT Any reader of the papers (by Tcherneva, Wray, and Harvey), or any auditor of earlier panels on this topic cannot have failed to notice a perplexing rancor surfacing from time to time, unusual for a group broadly sharing a commitment to equality, individual freedom and opportunity, and recognizing the importance of self-realization through work. In my effort to identify the real issues in the debate and also the source of the antagonism, I have come to two conclusions. First, progress in this debate requires that we get fairly precise about what we mean by income and job guarantees. Second, misunderstanding arises when we are unclear about the circumstances in which we imagine one or another policy applying, or when we shift from an ideal, in which some version of egalitarian justice is thought to be realized, to a situation short of the ideal. Since most authors speak both about the ideal and the most practicable in the shorter term, this confusion is easy to make.
By Erik Olin Wright
ABSTRACT: Most discussions of Basic Income revolve around two clusters of issues: first, the normative implications of Basic Income for various conceptions of justice, and second, the pragmatic problems of the sustainability of basic income given a range of economic considerations including such things as effects on tax rates, incentives, labor markets, and so on. These are obviously important issues, but I want to explore a different sort of question: In what ways can a guaranteed basic income be considered part of a broad socialist challenge to capitalism?
By Pavlina R. Tcherneva and L. Randall Wray
ABSTRACT: (We) argue that BIG should be designed as a participation income, concentrate(ing) on how this could be accomplished drawing on the recent Argentinean experience with a job guarantee program. The idea is to show how the Argentineans have addressed the common criticisms associated with ELR programs and how it can in fact be viewed as a ‘participation income’ and can serve as a vehicle for achieving a number of goals advanced by BIG proponents.
By Almaz Zelleke
The ideal of reciprocity has been used by advocates of a conditional basic income to justify work requirements as an answer to the exploitation objection to an unconditional basic income. But the reciprocity principle and the exploitation objection rely on a male-centric, ideologized view of paid employment as the paradigmatic form of social contribution, and fail to account for many of the social contributions made by women (and men) who perform caregiving, volunteer, and other unpaid but socially useful activities. The substitution of participation requirements for work requirement is one answer to this problem, but a feminist critique suggests a more comprehensive rethinking of the way we assess distributive justice, property rights, and redistributive policies, and provides support for the argument for unconditionality.
By Gianluca Busilacchi
The great inequality in the distribution of world resources is well represented by the co-existence of two opposite phenomena: the scarcity of resources that relegates billions of individuals in extreme poverty conditions, and the over-consumption of resources by a minority of inhabitants who waste and pollute the planet earth. In addition to the serious ethical paradox produced by the combination of these negative forces, every year poverty and pollution cause severe economic losses, both directly and for negative externalities. Is it possible to reverse this ethical and economic paradox and find a joint solution to these two forms of world pollution? This paper illustrates a simple model of earth basic income: a taxation mechanism on waste production to finance a basic income appears to be a simple solution to both problems.
By Robley E. George
ABSTRACT: Socioeconomic Democracy is a model socioeconomic system wherein there exist some forms of Universal Guaranteed Income and Maximum Allowable Wealth, with both the lower bound on personal material poverty and the upper bound on personal material wealth set and adjusted democratically by all participants of society. This paper briefly describes the essential elements of Socioeconomic Democracy, including quantitative democracy and economic incentive, and then outlines some of its properties, such as societal variations, justifications, relationship with Islam, practical political approximations, realizability, and the significant reduction of a large number of acknowledged serious societal problems. We conclude by reviewing how a number of contemporary dilemmas impeding the realization of some form of needed universal guaranteed income are trivially (and democratically!) resolved with Socioeconomic Democracy. These include questions as How much?; Who decides?; Where necessary funds come from?; Where does democracy fit in?; and How soon can all this start to happen?
By Michael Opielka
By Robert F. Clark
ABSTRACT: Human societies have always recognized a special responsibility to those in need. The reasons for this sense of responsibility vary but mainly spring from a few core values. Through a brief historical "tour d’horizon" of selected societies, this paper seeks out those values as a way to frame the debate on extreme global poverty.
By Eva Kittay
By Rolf Kunnemann
By Jillynn Stevens
ABSTRACT: By virtue of women’s disproportionate role in child rearing and other caregiving functions, unequal pay, and our compromised status in the labor market where traditional “women’s work” such as retail, waitressing, teaching, social services and nursing, are undervalued when compared to traditional men’s work, it stands to reason that women would benefit most from a national basic income guarantee. Social welfare policy serves as a model for analysis to deconstruct the social mores held by those in power and the distance we must traverse to implement a basic income guarantee. It is important to carefully consider social welfare policy as a reflection of governmental attitudes and intentions of social control since these policies often serve as a transparent testing ground for policies that would never be acceptable for middle and upper income Americans.
By Jeremy Seekings
ABSTRACT: This paper explores the prospects for future pro-poor reforms to welfare regimes in the ‘South’ through an analysis of the development of Southern welfare regimes in the past. Esping-Andersen’s approach to the analysis of distribution is inadequate in Southern conditions primarily due to its neglect of the ways in which states influence distribution through shaping the development or economic growth path. Even if we narrow our analysis to the provision of income security, Esping-Andersen’s ‘three worlds’ typology is less useful in the South than an alternative typology that distinguishes between ‘agrarian’, ‘inegalitarian corporatist’ and ‘redistributive’ welfare regimes. The ‘redistributive’ regimes are those that entail significant social assistance, i.e. provision for a minimum cash income, at least for specified categories of ‘deserving’ poor, that is not dependent on past contributions. These (rare) regimes have their origins in both reform from above (pre-emptive action by elites concerned with the social, economic and political problems posed by poverty) or below, following democratisation. In most cases, the pre-requisites for reform are deagrarianisation (and the collapse of kin-based poverty alleviation) and the limited development of formal contributory welfare systems in the formal sector of the economy. Well-developed insurance systems can easily impede the development of social assistance. The electoral strength of poor citizens not covered by social insurance is a crucial factor in most cases, especially recent ones.
By Monika Hogen in Deutsche Welle Magazine, April 17, 2005
“Rich or poor, everyone would get the same. Rising unemployment figures and poverty levels in Germany are begging for a solution. Some experts say the answer is doing away with welfare, and introducing a basic income for all citizens.”
The full text of the article can be found at: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,1564,1520479,00.html
Brian Barry, Published by Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005
Brian Barry holds appointments in Political Science at Columbia University and the London School of Economics and Political Science
According to BIEN, the book asks, why does it matter to spell out what social justice requires? Because radical changes in our ways of life are unavoidable. And "whether these changes will be for better of for worse depends partly on the availability of a coherent set of principles and a program flowing from them that is capable of mobilizing the growing discontent with 'business as usual'." One key ingredient of this program, in Barry's view, is an unconditional basic income. Chapter 15 ("Jobs and Incomes") emphasizes the many advantages the latter would have over a means-tested system. Moreover, "it is the most practicable (perhaps the most practicable) way of counteracting the excessive power of employers over workers". Chapter 16 ("Can we afford social justice?") looks at its political feasibility. Important steps towards a basic income at the poverty level (60% of medial income) include universal child benefits, basic pensions and a basic income at 30% of median income. Also worth considering is the "participation income" variant, requiring engagement in some of a broad range of valuable activities. It "would have the disadvantage of requiring some monitoring, but it would deal with the objection that some people would simply scrounge off the efforts of others, putting nothing back in return... it is quite reasonable that the right to a basic income as a citizen should be associated with a responsibility to the community".
By Guy Standing in Transfer.European Review of Labour and Research. vol.10 issue 4 Winter 2004, pp.606-619
BIEN reports, in this paper, Guy Standing (ILO and co-chair of BIEN) argues that because of the changing character of work and labour in the context of globalisation, progressives and particularly trade unionists could make a basic income a key part of their agenda. Standing considers the standard objections and then reviews the various advantages of moving in that direction, towards the realisation of a republican or claim right.
By Guy Standing in Economics and Political Weekly, 05/02/05. Available online at www.ilo.org/ses
BIEN reports, all those who have watched their fellow human beings traumatised by the tsunami will warm to the outpouring of money intended to assist them recover and revive their lives. Major conferences of world leaders were hastily arranged; donor representatives convened to meet in Geneva. What should be done with the money being mobilised so dramatically? Suppose that after the initial focus on emergency relief, part of the foreign aid was allocated to what might be called Tsunami Recovery Grants, giving about $20 a month to every individual living in the affected areas, without condition. A system of disbursement could be devised fairly easily, using biometrics for identification to prevent petty fraud. Simplicity and transparency are paramount if donors and policymakers are really serious about redressing the impoverishment of the already impoverished that is the main reality. Tsunami Recovery Grants would stimulate the rebirth of a local market economy geared to the basic human needs of the remaining or returning local populations. They would also give people a sense of modest economic security in which to come to terms with the trauma of the life-shattering experience. In these disasters, even economists too easily look for a paternalistic option, wanting policymakers to be seen to be doing good, rather than relying primarily on the economic rationality of individuals, local communities and self-forming social groups.
For links to dozens of BIG Websites around the world, go to http://www.usbig.net, and click on "links." These links are to any website with information about BIG, but USBIG does not necessarily endorse their content or their agendas.
Editor: Karl Widerquist
Research: Paul Nollen
THE U.S. BASIC INCOME GUARANTEE (USBIG) NETWORK publishes this newsletter. The Network is dedicated to promoting the discussion of the basic income guarantee (BIG) in the United States. BIG is a generic name for any proposal to create a minimum income level, below which no citizen's income can fall. Information on BIG and USBIG can be found on the web at: http://www.usbig.net. If you know any BIG news; if you know anyone who would like to be added to this list; or if you would like to be removed from this list; please send me an email.
As always, your comments on this newsletter and the USBIG website are gladly welcomed.
-Karl Widerquist, Coordinator, USBIG. Karl@Widerquist.com