I have been the Coordinator of the US Basic Income Guarantee Network since 2008, when Karl Widerquist stepped down, and President of USBIG, Inc., our non-profit organization, since it was incorporated in 2017. I was drawn to the organization as a scholar and an activist, writing on theories of social justice and their applications. Basic income appealed to me as a policy that could
- maximize the advantage of the least advantaged in society,
- transform work from coerced servitude to freely accepted creative activity,
- help to acknowledge and reward unpaid care work,
- equalize the arbitrary and very unequally distributed luck, and
- underpin efforts to live more sustainably.
I wanted not only to research this idea, but promote awareness of it, and try to make it a reality, and I have participated in most of the 20 conferences since 2002.
The last 6 years have been particularly amazing. During this time, we incorporated, upgraded our website, enhanced the content of the monthly newsflash, and continued our annual conferences, alternating annually between Canada and the US. As interest increased, we began in 2017 holding the US conference independently of the Eastern Economic Association, for 2 years at the Silberman School of Social Work, then entirely virtually in 2021, and this year in Portland, Oregon, and online, as we commence annual conferences in both the US and Canada.
Over the last decade, we’ve seen the Ontario basic income pilot project, tragically aborted by the Conservative government, but generating considerable experience, research, and interest across Canada. In the wake of important referenda in Switzerland, pilots in Finland and India, and books on basic income reviewed in popular media, by such authors as Andy Stern, Annie Lowrey, and Chris Hughes, new organizations began to form in the US. The Economic Security Project (ESP) provided financial support to a well-studied pilot project in Stockton, CA. Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign put universal basic income on the national political agenda. In the wake of that campaign, other organizations formed, include the Income Movement, and Humanity Forward, and closely allied foundations. These organizations have tens of thousands of members, and are variously engaged in grassroots organizing, basic income experiments, and lobbying at municipal, state, and federal levels. Over 100 Mayors now officially support unconditional cash transfers. The pandemic response, which included unprecedented unconditional and near universal cash transfers, has opened up new political opportunities, such as the effort to make the Child Tax Credit expansion permanent, and afforded researchers an immense natural experiment on a national scale.
USBIG’s mission has been focused on the annual conference, even more urgent as people strive to understand and coordinate the many dimensions of a growing movement. The BIG Conference is now co-sponsored by the Income Movement since 2021 and 2022, along with our traditional partner the Basic Income Canada Network, and newer organizations (in 2022, the Humanity Forward Foundation, the Basic Income Canada Youth Network, and the UBI Center), with financial help from the Gerald Huff Fund for Humanity, the Humanity Forward Foundation, AidKit, and Steady.
As I step down, I’m confident that I’m leaving USBIG in a good place, and in good hands. Chelsea Wilkinson, a board member, artist, IM staffer, and fellow organizer of the most recent conference, will be taking over as interim president. The board is finishing its new strategic plan. There will be a fundraising drive to enable us to take on the increasing challenges of larger, hybrid conferences, and the desirable follow-ups in social media, webinars, podcasts, blogs, op-eds, discussion papers, and conversations with the growing field of actors. We are fortunate to have new and able partner organizations.
It has been a privilege to lead USBIG in this exciting time, and a pleasure to work with all the great people on our board and in our partnering organizations. I’m stepping down from my role as president, but I plan to stick around, writing, and volunteering in other ways. As you read this, I hope you too will consider volunteering for USBIG or contributing financially through our website.