This is the Newsletter of the USBIG Network (http://www.usbig.net), 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.
Jay Hammond, the governor of Alaska from 1975 to 1982, who led the fight to create the Alaska Permanent Fund, was found dead at his Homestead about 185 miles southwest of Anchorage, on Tuesday, August 2, 2005. He led an amazing life. Hammond was a laborer, a fur trapper (by dogsled), a World War II fighter pilot, an Alaskan bush pilot, a husband, a father of three, a wildlife biologist, a back woods guide, a hunter, a fisher with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a homesteader. Hammond was one of the last people to take advantage of the Civil-War-ear U.S. law giving away land. Other than a requirement to build a house and farm the land for five years, it was given away free—no strings attached.
Hammond was also hero to everyone who believes that no one should be barred from the resources they need to meet their basic needs—no strings attached.
Hammond got the idea for a resource dividend when he was mayor of a small town of Bristol Bay, Alaska in the 1960s. He realized that salmon were being taken out of the area without necessarily helping the town’s poor. He proposed a three percent tax on all fish caught in the area to be redistributed to all residents of the town. By an enormous stroke of luck, the man who had that idea (and saw it work in Bristol Bay) would be elected governor of Alaska just as the state was beginning construction of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Oil companies stood to make billions of dollars, and of course, they argued that Alaskans would benefit through new job opportunities, but Hammond knew one way to make sure that every single Alaskan would benefit from the pipeline.
And so the Alaskan Permanent Fund was born. For the last 20 years every Alaskan has received income from state oil revenues. A portion of the state’s taxes on Alaskan oil goes into an investment fund, which pays dividends from the interest on those investments—hence the permanent fund. Dividends vary, but they are usually more than $1,000 per year for every man, woman, and child living in the state.
The system is not perfect. Hammond told Tim Bradner, of the Anchorage Daily News, that his biggest regret was to let the legislature eliminate the state’s income tax. Without the citizens’ responsibility to pay taxes to support state services the fund will be vulnerable, and the legislature has been trying to raid the fund ever since. So far, the enormous popularity of the fund has protected it fairly well. Hammond also regretted that the fund was too small. Only one-eighth of the state’s oil tax revenues goes into the fund. If half of oil tax revenues went into the fund, as Hammond envisioned, every Alaska family of four could expect to receive more than $16,000 this year. Hammond died campaigning to increase the size of the fund.
But the most important thing about the fund is that it exists. It’s simple, it works, and everyone in the state benefits from it every year. How many elected officials can say they did that? According to Sean Butler in Dissent Magazine, Nobel Prize-winning economist Vernon Smith, called the Permanent Fund, “a model governments all over the world would be wise to copy.” It is a pilot program for resource taxes and basic income plans all over the world. Economists have recommended the Alaska solution for resource-rich, poverty-ridden countries from Nigeria to Iraq. Just this summer the government of Azerbaijan sent a delegation to Alaska to study the Permanent Fund. You can’t keep a good idea down.
Jay Hammond spoke at the 2004 USBIG Congress in Washington, DC. Here is how Butler describes the event: “The father of the Brazilian basic income, Senator Eduardo Suplicy, also presented at the USBIG conference last year. During his speech, he noticed Jay Hammond sitting in the front row, and, to warm applause from the assembled crowd, descended from the stage to shake his hand. The two basic income pioneers had at last met. Hammond and Suplicy make an odd couple. The Republican Hammond, with his Hemingway-like white beard and grizzly build, wears his far north ethos of self-reliance with pride. Suplicy, a founding member of the left-wing Brazilian Workers Party and a U.S.-trained economist, has the dignified appearance of an intellectual and professional politician. It’s tropical socialism meets arctic capitalism; yet somehow, when the two come together over basic income, they get along.”
I had the good fortune to attend that event and meet Governor Hammond. He was warm and engaging. He wasn’t there to bask in the glory of people who admired his past achievements but to fight to keep improving the APF. He was a genuine hero.
An article on Hammond and basic income by Sean Butler, entitled, “Life, Liberty, and a Little Bit of Cash,’ appeared in Dissent Magazine just a few weeks before he died.
There have been many good tributes to Hammond in the news and on the internet since his death. Here are just a few:
Frank Murkowski, current governor of Alaska, “Hammond’s Legacy Will Stand Out,” Alaska Daily News
Tim Bradner, “Hammond has passed; his ideas must live on,” Alaska Daily News
Douglas Martin, “Governor of Alaska Who Paid Dividends,” New York Times
Philadelphia, PA February 24-26, 2006
Featured speakers: Nicolaus Tideman and Heather Boushey
Organizers: Eri Noguchi, Michael Lewis, and Al Sheahen
The Fifth Congress of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network will be held in conjunction with the Eastern Economic Association (EEA) Annual Conference in Philadelphia at the Loews Hotel 1200 Market Street Philadelphia, Friday February 24 to Sunday February 26, 2006. USBIG attendees are welcome to attend any of the hundreds of sessions at the EEA Conference. The Congress is co-sponsored by USBIG and the Citizen Policies Institute.
The USBIG network is a discussion group on the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) in the United States—a policy that would unconditionally guarantee at least a subsistence-level income for everyone.
Featured speakers confirmed so far include Nicolaus Tideman, of Virginia Polytechnic Institute University, and Heather Boushey, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Tideman is a former Senior Staff Economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and is currently the chair of the economics department at Virginia Tech. He has published more than 75 articles in academic journals and collective volumes. His research focuses on voting rules, land value taxation, and economic justice. Boushey’s research examines health insurance coverage, trends in the U.S. labor market, and how families balance work and child care needs. She is the coauthor of The State of Working American 2002-03 and Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families.
Scholars, activists, and others are invited to attend, to propose papers & presentations, and to organize panel discussions. Proposals are welcome on topics relating to the Basic Income Guarantee or to the current state of poverty and inequality. Suggested topics include the political economy of BIG; the history of BIG; gender, family, and labor market issues of BIG; rights and responsibilities relating to BIG; refundable tax credits as a path to BIG; and empirical issues of BIG and of poverty including cost estimates. The purpose of the conference is discussion, and all points of view are welcome. The USBIG Congress is entirely autonomous in content and submissions are welcome in any academic discipline and from non-academics.
The four previous USBIG Congresses have been attended by a wide range of academics and activists from the United States and many other countries. They have proven to be a good venue for dialogue between academics and activists. Papers from USBIG Congresses have been published in a symposium in the Review of Social Economy (January 2005), in a special issue in the Journal of Socio-Economics (January 2005), and in a book entitled the Economics and Ethics of the Basic Income Guarantee (Lewis, Pressman, and Widerquist eds. 2005). Many more papers from USBIG Congresses have been published in academic journals and popular magazines.
Proposals for presentations should include the following information:
Proposals for panel discussions should include a title, topic, and description of the panel and the information above for each participant. If the participants are not presenting formal papers, the title of the paper and abstract may be omitted. Panels with formal paper presentations should be limited to four presentations, although discussions without formal papers can include more.
Presentations at this year’s conference will be organized into two groups: Academic panels (including researchers in all disciplines) will be organized by Michael Anthony Lewis and Eri Noguchi. Nonacademic panels (including activists, practitioners, and laypersons) will be organized by Al Sheahen.
Academic proposals should be directed to Eri Noguchi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nonacademic proposals should be directed to Al Sheahen at email@example.com.
If you are not sure which area your presentation best fits: You are not required to have any credentials to present in either area. Academic sessions can expect to have an audience made up mostly of people who have or are working on Ph.D.s while nonacademic presentations can expect to have a more mixed audience made up of fewer professors and more activists and lay persons. If you’re still not sure, ask the organizers.
EVERYONE WHO ATTENDS MUST REGISTER WITH THE EEA. Indicate on your registration form that you will be attending the USBIG conference and you can register at the members’ price ($45 in advance and $60 on site) without paying the EEA membership fee (saving more than half of the total cost). EEA regration information here. Information about registration will be on the USBIG website soon. For more information see the USBIG website (http://www.usbig.net) or contact the conference organizers (Michael Anthony Lewis and Eri Noguchi at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Al Sheahen at email@example.com).
According to the Livable Income For Everyone (LIFE) email update, the Status of Women Action Group (SWAG) in Victoria, British Columbia has just received federal funding for an 18-month project to examine how women would benefit from a Guaranteed Livable Income. Funding comes from Status of Women Canada. SWAG’s website reports, “The project will include 40 in-depth interviews with low-income women, several focus groups, a public meeting in April 2006 and the distribution of multi-media material.”
More details about the project can be found on the web at http://pacificcoast.net/~swag/swcproject05.htm.
According to Globes Online, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has instructed the Ministry of Finance to formulate a “negative income tax” (NIT) plan to go into effect in 18 months. Reporter Zeev Klein wrote, “Sharon also categorically told Ministry of Finance officials that a negative income tax would be introduced in Israel, and ordered them to prepare for it.” If it sounds too good to be true, the proposed Israeli NIT is actually more like an American-style Earned Income Tax Credit than a guaranteed income. It is a negative tax in the sense the government pays citizens instead of citizens paying the government, but it is not a NIT understood as a system designed to prevent anyone’s income from falling below a certain threshold as the term is usually understood in the United States. Details of the plan will become clearer after a cabinet meeting set for September to discuss how to implement the plan, but it has been announced so far that the proposal is designed to bring salaries of certain workers up to some threshold. It is being proposed as a business-friendly alternative to an increase in the minimum wage. The proposal is not generally seen as a move toward greater concern for the poor following a recent report on an increase in poverty. Ruth Sinai, writes for Haaretz.com, “In its burst of benevolence, the cabinet, in that same budget meeting, approved an additional cutback in child allowances and guaranteed income allowance for those aged 25 and under…Sharon authorized cutbacks in education, health, welfare allowances, rent subsidies, monitoring the enforcement of labor laws and vocational training.”
BIEN reports, on June 15, 2005, the Spanish economic daily newspaper Expansión devoted its cover article as well as its editorial and three or four additional pages to the idea of a basic income or citizen's income. This coincided with the bill presented by ERC (a pro-independence, leftist and republican party) and ICV (an eco-socialist and leftist organization), both in the tripartite Government of Catalonia, proposing the implementation of a basic income for all citizens in Spain. Most of the articles trumpeted the evils that, like biblical plagues, would descend on the country if BI were to be introduced: "irrationality", "food for indolence", "shock to the basic structures of the country", failure of the "culture of effort and personal improvement", "perversion of any idea of justice", "capital mistakes", "new religious faith", "freedom-killing proposal". Some of the Expansión columnists had previously written against basic income. In its Revista de Libros (Issue 50, 2001), for instance, one of them predicted that "no political party ... has contemplated proposing this subsidy, not even as a long term objective". Yet, not just one but the three political parties forming the majority in the Spanish and Catalan parliaments have already initiated serious study as a prelude to the legal process of introducing BI.
On June 20, 2005, Expansión published a much shortened version of a reply by Daniel Raventós, Professor at the University of Barcelona and chairman of the Spanish BIG Network. In his reply, entitled "A Defense of the Basic Income of Citizenship", Raventós first stresses that most objections to BI appearing in the pages of Expansión were actually formulated more than two decades ago. Subsequently, he tries to tackle some of the most common of these objections, including the idea that "people would not work with a BI". He also addresses the economic aspects of the discussion, referring to more detailed studies by R. Pinilla; and by J. Arcarons, À. Boso, J. A. Noguera and D. Raventós. "Are these definitive studies?" Raventós asks at the end of his article. "They are certainly not, but they do show that the best remedy against prejudice is detailed and meticulous empirical analysis".
BIEN reports, on the occasion of the publication of "L'allocation universelle", an introductory book on basic income by Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght (see NewsFlash 32), the Belgian media seem to be paying renewed attention to the idea, at least in the French-speaking part of the country. On Sunday June 12, 2005, both authors were invited to talk for one hour about basic income in a live broadcast of the public radio RTBF. On June 22, 2005, one of the main Francophone daily newspapers, "La Libre Belgique", published a double-page debate on the topic. Van Parijs and Vanderborght restated some of the arguments presented in their essay, and tried to show their relevance in the Belgian context. Three intellectuals were asked to give their opinion on the feasibility and desirability of the proposal. Claudine Leleux (University of Brussels) argued in favour of basic income and explained why she feels most attracted by a version of the idea defended by Jean-Marc Ferry, a French but Brussels-based philosopher. The two others were much more skeptical. Jean-Marie Harribey (University of Bordeaux IV and member of the Scientific Council of ATTAC) criticized the idea of disconnecting work and income, arguing that the left should rather go for full employment. Paul Palsterman (scientific council of Belgium's main trade-union CSC-ACV) argued that basic income proponents were too skeptical about the remaining possibilities of collective action in the field of welfare. Finally, on July 9, 2005, the picture of the front cover of the popular weekly "Télé Moustique" featured a typical manager in his three-piece suit, lounging on the beach. It ran as a title: "Tomorrow, paid to do nothing?" While in a long piece a journalist presented the basic income idea and the international debate, including a reference to the Alaskan Permanent Fund Dividend, in a short interview unionist Paul Palsterman restated again some of his main objections. "The BI proponents", he said, "might be good science-fiction authors, but they are bad philosophers."
A small group of activists, called the "Friends of the Earth Guernsey", has published a statement advocating the introduction of a basic income on the island. Guernsey is a semi-autonomous Island with 60,000 inhabitants, that is closer to France than England. BIEN reports that the Friends of the Earth argue a full basic income cannot be implemented in the short term, but that the principle should be applied on a smaller scale, for instance by recycling some eco-taxes as eco-bonuses, at least to recognize "every member of the community's equal share of the island's ecological space". Referring to the Irish Green Paper on basic income (2002), they present some key figures and try to estimate the total cost of such a scheme.
For further information, see http://www.foeg.org.uk/etr.htm
BIEN reports, in recent years, "social fora" have been held in various countries as popular alternatives to Davos' World Economic Forum. Basic income has often been one of the topics of discussion. This has been the case again in Erfurt on Friday 22 July 2005, during the German social forum. The German BIG network organized one day of debate with social scientists, representatives of trade-unions, and political actors, and presented basic income as an alternative to current welfare reforms in Germany.
For further information, please contact Robert Ulmer (Robert.Ulmer@gmx.de).
October 7-9, 2005: BIEN reports, in collaboration with the German BIG network, and the German and Austrian sections of ATTAC, the Austrian BIG network is organizing an international conference on basic income in the Austrian capital Vienna. Plenary speakers will include, among others, Brazilian senator and co-chair of BIEN Eduardo Suplicy and Philippe Van Parijs (Louvain & Harvard). Workshops (in German) will offer the possibility of discussing most aspects of the basic income debate.
October 13-15, 2005: According to the LIFE Update, the conference Imagining Public Policy to Meet Women’s Economic Security Needs will include a panel on “Basic Income, a new approach to economic security.” Participants will be Jim Mulvale (University of Regina), Cindy L’Hirondelle (Victoria Status of Women Action Group and Livable Income For Everyone), and Diane Delaney (Provincial Association for Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan).
October 20-21, 2005: BIEN reports, the Spanish Basic Income Network (Red Renta Básica) is organizing the Fifth Symposium on Basic Income in Valencia on 20-21 October 2005. The First Symposium was organized by the network in June 2001, and the event has been held annually since then. The language of the symposium is Spanish.
Sean Butler, Dissent Magazine, Summer 2005
Published just weeks before Hammond’s death, this article celebrates his life and traces the history of basic income from ancient Greece to modern America, and includes a report on Hammond’s appearance at the 2004 USBIG Congress.
Direct link to full text of the article: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/menutest/articles/su05/butler.htm
BIEN reports, the publication of this volume was already announced in NewsFlash 28 (July 2004), but due to printing errors that required the publishers to pulp the first print run, it has just come out again. It consists of a broad selection of the papers presented during BIEN's Ninth International Congress (Geneva, 2002). Never before have so many contributions to a BIEN congress been published together. With no less than 34 chapters, the book offers a comprehensive picture of the many topics discussed at both the plenary and parallel sessions as they relate to the more developed countries.
The author argues that universal basic income is a solution to the problem, common to developing countries (and not unheard of in America), in which people are excluded from accessing benefits that are, in principle, meant to be for them. Widlok is an anthropological researcher at the University of Heidelberg in Germany who has done a total of more than three years of field research in Namibia between 1990 and 2005. He is author of the book Living on Mangetti (Oxford University Press 1999).
Direct link to full text of the article: http://www.namibian.com.na/2005/August/columns/05CBCBC803.html
Rozzo, the Socialist Party (USA) candidate for New Jersey Governor, discusses the Basic Income Grant, which by itself would eliminate poverty in the US. 9:00PM Aug 17, 800 AM WTMR, Camden, NJ.
Global Basic Income Foundation renovates its website. BIEN reports, GBIF, founded in 2000, has recently launched a new website. The site contains a brief overview of arguments that support the introduction of a global basic income and a FAQ page which gives more detailed answers to questions about ethical foundations and funding possibilities. Other pages include facts on poverty and hunger, links to information and other organisations advocating a global or national basic income, and some information about the GBI Foundation itself. The GBI Foundation argues for the introduction of a global basic income, but also advocates for a national basic income in different countries. A global basic income is not presented as a substitute for national social security systems, certainly not in the short run, but as a necessary addition. Apart from the ethical and economic arguments that are commonly used to argue for a basic income, three specific arguments are given by the GBI Foundation for the introduction of a global basic income: 1. humanity as a whole has a responsibility to end extreme poverty and hunger; 2. the need for a global framework of social security; 3. the advancement of global awareness.
Membership in the USBIG Network is free and open to anyone who shares its goals. Five new members have joined USBIG in the last two months. Their names are below in bold. To become a member of USBIG, go to http://www.usbig.net.
The New Members are: Mark Levinson, New York, New York, Kathy Fitzpatrick, Grand Rapids, MI; Stephen C. Clark, Port Hueneme, CA; Cristian Pérez Muñoz, Sauce, Uruguay; Richa, Grand Rapids, MI; Floyd Robinson, Ann Arbor, MI.
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
Copyediting:Mike Murray and the USBIG Committee
Thanks for help with this issue to:Al Sheahen, Ayelet Banai, Cindy L’Hirondelle, and Tino Rozzo
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