This is the Newsletter of the USBIG Network (www.usbig.net),
which promotes the discussion of the basic income guarantee (BIG) in the United
States. BIG is a policy that would unconditionally guarantee at least a
subsistence-level income for everyone. If you would like to be added to or
removed from this list please email: Karl@Widerquist.com.
A. MONGOLIA: Government takes steps toward
implementing an Alaskan-style basic income
B. INDIA: Basic Income Pilot Projects are underway
C. ALASKA: 2011 Dividends safe as the APF rides financial roller coaster
D. BRAZIL: ReCivitas continues to expand private-funded BIG
E. EUROPEAN UNION: Citizens Initiative for Basic Income in Europe
F. SWITZERLAND: National Council of Switzerland rejects Basic Income Initiative
G. UNITED STATES: Socialist party candidate for president endorses BIG
H. NAMIBIA: BIG debate continues
I. NIGERIA: Government to distribute cash benefits to 1,050 residents
J. GERMANY: Basic Income Network has 50,000 Facebook followers
K. CORRECTION: JAPAN: BIG network meets with members of parliament
The 11th Annual
North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress will take place May 3-5, 2012 at
the University of Toronto on the theme of Putting
Equality Back on the Agenda: Basic Income and Other Approaches to Economic
Security for All. While Canada, the United States, and many other OECD
countries have grown increasingly unequal in recent years, equality has not
been on the political agenda. Yet evidence shows that income inequality is
accompanied by a range of significant negative consequences. Putting Equality Back
on the Agenda will examine this growing trend of inequality and consider the
option of a basic income to reduce economic disparity. Featured speakers will
include Richard Wilkinson, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the
University of Nottingham Medical School and co-author of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better;
and John Rook, Chair of the National Council of Welfare and Senior Associate
with Housing Strategies, Inc.
The North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress is a joint Conference of the U.S. and Canadian Basic Income Guarantee Networks. It takes place in Canada and the United States on alternating years. The call for proposals for the 2012 Congress will be released shortly.
government of Mongolia is taking steps to make good on promises made in the
2008 election to introduce an Alaska-style resource dividend. Mongolia is a
large, sparsely populated land-locked country sandwiched between Russian and
China. About half of its citizens still live as nomadic herders. Most of the
land in the country is unowned: herders can camp anywhere they find a spot. But
the country has recently discovered some of the world’s most valuable mineral
deposits, including gold, copper, coal, and other resources. International
mining companies, under contract from the Mongolian government are already well
on their way to begin exploitation of those resources. Revenues from
exportation of those resources have the potential to more than double
The Mongolian government is moving toward implementation of three methods to ensure that every Mongolia receives a financial benefit from that sale. The first method—proposed in the coalition government’s draft budget for 2011—is the distribution of a dividend of 21,000 Mongolian Tughrik (about US$17) per person per month. Reports are sketchy, but if adopted, that would amount to about $204 per person, or $816 for a family of four by the end of the year. This is a large sum in such a poor country. Mongolia currently has a per capita GDP of about $3600 per year (less than one-tenth of U.S. GDP).
The second method is to make every Mongolian a shareholder in the state’s mining enterprise. The initial plan calls for 50 percent of the enterprise to be owned by the state; 30 percent by international investors; 10 percent by domestic investors; and the remaining 10 percent to be divided equally among all Mongolia citizens. That plan would make each Mongolian the owner of about 550 shares of stock. Initially citizens will be prohibited reselling their shares, and it is unclear whether this prohibition will be relaxed later. Government officials hope that the shares will eventually start paying dividends. Apparently this would mean a second source of basic income from the mining industry, which might replace or supplement the first.
The third method is the creation of a Sovereign Wealth Fund designed after studying the operation of the Alaska Permanent Fund, the Alberta Heritage Fund, and other existing Sovereign Wealth Funds. This fund could pay regular dividends like the Alaska fund but government officials indicated that it might only pay occasional dividends like the Alberta fund.
Government officials hope that once these policies take shape, they will relieve the abject poverty experienced in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbataar, without interfering with the traditional nomadic lifestyle half of Mongolians practice. Terence Ortslan, Managing Director of a Canada-based mining research firm called TSO & Associates, said, “Mongolia should recognize and preserve nomadic lifestyle of its people but in modern level of quality of life that they deserve. I would call it ‘Modern nomadic lifestyle.’” For example Mongolian nomads could use their share of wealth to obtain devices to generate electricity from solar and wind energy.
These policies are just at the stage of transition from planning to implementation, and the form they will eventually take remains to be seen.
More information about these policies in Mongolia is online at the following links:
David Stanway and Khaliun Bayartsogt, “Mongolia frets as giant coal mine launch looms,” Reuters, Mon Aug 8, 2011
MDNews, “From January, every citizen will get MNT 21,000 per month”
Dale Choi, market commentator of Frontier Securities, “Mongolia is to Set Up a Sovereign Wealth Fund,” UB Post, September 15, 2009 (Source: Bloomberg, Frontier Securities, September 11, 2009)
D. Jargalsaikhan, “Ulaan Qatar” MongolNews. Friday, 25 February 2011 12:44
P. Shinebayar “Coalition Government Makes Historical Decision” April 5, 2011
Although barely reported in the media, two basic income
pilot projects have been underway in India since January 2011. One pilot is
being conducted in part of Delhi and the other in eight small rural villages in Madhya Pradesh. The Self
Employed Women's Association (SEWA) began planning and raising money for the
rural project in 2008. The Delhi government eventually joined in, working with
SEWA to organize an urban pilot project in Delhi.
Publicity about the project has been deliberately kept low because opponents have been using scare tactics to disrupt and to discourage participation in the project. They have spread rumors that the pilot would lead to the reduction or elimination of existing government support for the poor.
Families participating in the urban project receive 1000 Rupees per month (about US$22). Some participants have reduced access to other government transfers; some participants receive the grant all with full access to other government transfers. In the rural project, adult receive 200 Rupees a month (about US$4.40) and each child under the age of 14 receives 100 Rupees a month (about US$2.20). The project organizers will compare the consumption, expenditure, and nutrition of the different groups of participants to a “control” group receiving no additional transfers to determine the impact of cash transfers.
These projects are similar to the Namibian basic income pilot project and to the U.S. and Canadian governments’ Negative Income Tax experiments conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, but the rural project adds an important new innovation to the method: the project is being conducted on the village, rather than on the individual, level. All residents of eight Indian villages will receive the basic income, and their behavior will be compared with residents of twelve “control” villages. This method will allow project designers to study village-wide effects of the transfer.
Guy Standing, professor of economic security at Bath University (UK) and an honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network, helped to conceive and organize the project. He argues that it needs to be conducted with scientific dispassion. But he’s hopeful of the outcome. Asked about the results of the Namibian pilot project—which he was also a part of—Standing said that organizers documented many positive effects: “Child school attendance went up dramatically, use of medical clinics went up. Those with HIV/ AIDS started to take ARTs (Antiretroviral Therapy drugs) because they'd been able to buy the right sort of food with the cash. Women's economic status improved, and the economic crime rate went down. Income distribution improved.”
For more about the projects see an interview with Guy Standing in The Times of India:
And Guy Standing’s report on his involvement in the project in the opinion section of BI News:
Permanent Fund (APF) ended its fiscal year on June 30, 2011 with a total value
of over $40 billion. The APF is the Sovereign Wealth fund that finances
Alaska’s partial basic income, known as the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). The
fund made back all its losses since the 2008 financial meltdown and realized a
gain of more than 20 percent for the year. This was the highest yearly
percentage increase for the APF since 1986. The high, year-end value of the
fund ensures that a healthy PFD will be distributed this fall. Experts predict
it will be slightly lower than last year’s dividend of $1,281.
Unfortunately, following the end of the APF’s fiscal year, stock markets around the world suffered major losses, and many of the APF’s assets suffered as a result. The total value of the APF has fallen from a high of over $41 billion in July to $37.5 as of August 26, 2011. Fund managers credit the APF’s overall success to long-term investment strategy, and so they would be likely to say that a large short-term downturn, like this one, is not as important as long-term trends. Mike Burns, CEO of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, has spent a great deal of time lately telling the media just that.
In the midst of the financial downturns this August, Burns was interviewed by National Public Radio’s Melissa Block about Wall Street volatility. Block asked, “So you're coming at this from a position of strength, … but still, if you lose a billion dollars in one day, that's gotta hurt.”
Burns replied, “Well, it certainly does hurt, and obviously it gets your attention. But the most important words that you just said were one day. I mean, the greatest strength of this fund is our ability to take a very long term view of the markets. These days are difficult. Tuesday was a nice day. Wednesday was another bad day. The markets are up strong today. But it's the long view and it is the very long view that we like to take.”
Burns went on to say that in light of that long view, the APF was buying stocks when they were down in early August. He also told the Anchorage Daily News, “The discipline of rebalancing your assets is, and this is hard to do, but you take money out of what’s working and put it where it isn’t working. That forces you to buy when things are down.”
Recent stories about the APF and PFD can be found online at:
Editorial Board, “Permanent value: Fund’s long-term view pays off for Alaskans,” Fairbanks Daily News Miner, Aug 3, 2011
Becky Bohrer, “Alaska oil wealth fund reports close of $40.1,” Associated Press – Aug 2, 2011
Alaska Dispatch, “Alaska Permanent Fund tops $40 billion, but PFD yield is down,” Alaska Dispatch, Aug 03, 2011
Pat Forgey, “Permanent Fund finishes rebound,” Juneau Empire, August 2, 2011 (Contact Pat Forgey at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Dermot Cole, “Volatility costs Alaska Permanent Fund $2 billion,” Fairbanks Dailey News-Miner, Aug 09, 2011
Alex Ferreras, “Permanent Fund Loses $1 Billion in One Day,” LoanSafe.org, August 10, 2011
Barry B. Burr, Timothy Inklebarger, and Rob Kozlowski, “Returns at 25-year highs for Alaska, Illinois, Idaho funds,” August 3, 2011
Ted Land, “Permanent Fund Can Wait Out Market Plunge,” KTUU-TV, August 5, 2011
Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute. “The Alaska Permanent Fund Gains 20.6% in FY 2011,” Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute Aug 3, 2011
ReCivitas, the Brazilian organization that distributes a
privately-funded basic income in a small village in Brazil, now has a pro-bono
partnership with the biggest tax law office in Latin America, Mattos Filho, Veiga
Filho, Marrey Jr. and Quiroga. This partnership will give ReCivitas legal support
for contracts for people who invest in the BIG Bank that supports the
initiative. The BIG Bank, started by ReCivitas only a few weeks ago, already
has 500,000 Brazilian Reals (About
US$310,000)—thanks to donations and investments from as far a way as
Japan. A small part of the interest to this fund will support the Basic Income,
but the amount of investments in the fund is already enough to ensure that the
project is sustainable at its current level. The organizers of ReCivitas say
that the fund is very conservative and ethical and that the fund manager is one
of the biggest in Brazil, Credit Suisse Heding-Griffo.
The organizers hope soon to use some of the money to support the basic income
pilot project in Namibia, and they plan soon to expand to Germany.
For more information about ReCivitas, go to their website at:
Or, email the organizers at:
On Thursday, August 11, the Future European Network Academy
for Social Movements in Freiburg, Germany held a workshop to discuss a European
Citizens Initiative (ECI) for the introduction of the guaranteed Basic Income
in Europe. Organizers hope to produce a text in a special meeting in October
2011 in Vienna and then begin gathering the signatures of persons who want to
sign the text. The start for the ECI is planned for Sept 2012 during the Basic
Income Earth Network (BIEN) congress in Munich. Organizers hope to obtain
signatures from 1 million persons.
Information about the initial meeting is online at:
Anyone who wants to support the planned ECI, can do so online at:
According to “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” (NZZ), the
National Council of Switzerland has rejected an unconditional Basic Income. On
Friday, June 10, 2011, the Council overwhelmingly rejected the parliamentary
initiative of Josef Zisyadis and Katharina Prelicz-Huber. The majority had the opinion that an
unconditional Basic Income would have too many risks: The social security
system would offer a good safety net, while a Basic Income would reduce or take
the incentive to work, said Ruth Humbel in the name
of the pre-advisory commission.
More information about this vote is available on the NZZ website at:
Stuart Alexander, a candidate for the presidential
nomination of the Green Party, the Socialist Party, and the Peace and Freedom
Party has endorsed basic income. According to Lynn Lomibao,
of indybay.org, “Alexander is proposing the creation of a Universal Basic
Income (UBI) to help eliminate poverty and to meet the basic needs of working
people and the long term needs for seniors.”
For more information about Alexander’s campaign see:
Lynn Lomibao. “U.S. Election 2012: Alexander Proposing “A Better Deal” for Economic Recovery,” Indybay.org. Thursday Jun 9th, 2011:
The BIG debate in Namibia continues as the Permanent
Secretary of Environment and Tourism, Kalumbi Shangula, criticized the BIG coalition’s recent arguments
for BIG. Shangula, surprisingly argued that the size of the BIG coalition’s
proposed Basic Income Grant of 100 Namibian dollars is too small. He said that
a grant of that size could only “alleviate” rather than “reduce” poverty. He
also questioned some of the BIG coalition’s findings from their recent pilot
project in Otjivero-Omitara. Members of the coalition
replied with counter-arguments and editorials. Henry Platt, executive director
of the Church Alliance for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, argued that BIG
could make an important difference to the lives of orphans and vulnerable
children in Namibia.
Stories about the debate are online at the following links:
Irene !HoaĎs, “BIG debates rages on,” New Era, August 16, 2011
Claudia and Dirk Haarmann, Hilma Mote, and Herbert Jauch, “The BIG Debate in Context: Facts and Fiction about Otjivero,” New Eria July 15, 2011
Johanna Absalom, “BIG can benefit orphans and vulnerable children,” July 8, 2011
The Governor of Anambra State in
Nigeria has announced the creation of something like a selective basic income to be given to 1,050 people in the state for
one year to be followed by one lump sum payment at the end of the year. It is
hoped that this program will help recipients to get out of poverty and
establish themselves in business. This program is not a true basic income
guarantee, of course, because it is selective. A basic income guarantee ensures
that every member of a political
community has some small income. The extreme selectivity of this program brings
up many possible issues of fairness and corruption. However, if successful,
this program could lead to wider distribution of cash benefits.
More information about the program is online at:
Chukwujekwu Ilozue, “Nigeria: Obi Pledges to Alleviate Poverty,” Daily Independent (Lagos) June 19, 2011
The German BIG
Network (Bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen)
now has more than 50,000 followers for its Facebook page (see New Links below).
This is just a small sign of the extent to which the BIG movement is taking off
in Germany from the grass roots to the highest levels. Five of the six major
parties in Germany have Basic Income factions. Dozens of members of the German
Parliament have endorsed Basic Income. The national German BIG network is a
large and growing organization. It will host the 2012 BIEN Congress in Munich.
And Germany has something that few other countries have: local Basic Income
groups with regular activities in many German cities.
For more info (in German) about the German BIG network, go to their website:
The Bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen Facebook is online at: http://www.facebook.com/bedingungsloses.grundeinkommen.
CORRECTION: On April 27th, 2011, members of BIEN’s Japan affiliate (The Basic Income Japan
Network—BIJN) held a “meeting at the parliament building” to demand basic
income (BI) to people who were affected by the earthquake, tsunami and the
nuclear accident. A “meeting at the parliament building” is a Japanese term for
an official meeting in a government building (though not literally in the
parliament building) and at which at least one member of
parliament (MP) attends. Several MPs and secretaries from both governing
and opposition parties attended the meeting, as well as nearly 100 participants
from the general public. Members of BIJN helped to prepare and present the
statement demanding BI. BIEN supported the initiative with a solidarity
messages signed by its co-chairs, supporting the demand for a BI for those who
have been affected by the tragic events in Japan this year.
This is a correction of an earlier version of this article (Spring 2011), which mislabeled the meeting as a “parliamentary meeting.”
write a lot about the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG)—about its labor-market
effects, its use as cushion against instability, and so. In this essay I want
to explain in simple terms why I believe it is so worth talking about. The main
reason I support BIG is that it is time to get serious about the elimination poverty. Most, if not
all, the countries of the world today have the technical capacity to eliminate
poverty and economic destitution. The more industrialized countries of the
world have had this capacity for decades, and I believe it is now possible on a
worldwide basis. In a world with so much wealth we must no longer force people
to live with poverty, fear, destitution, and extreme economic uncertainty. We
need to reach a state of economic maturity in which any poverty in our midst is
If we’re ready to talk about the elimination of poverty, BIG is the policy that can do it best, and it may be the only policy that can do it comprehensively. Because BIG is universal and unconditional, it has no cracks to fall through. It puts a floor beneath everyone’s income. If that floor is above the poverty line, poverty is eliminated universally.
Although BIG might have radical effects, it is not such a radical move. It streamlines and strengthens the welfare system to make it more effective and more comprehensive. Most nations of the world are already spending a substantial amount of money on poverty relief, but too much of that money is going to overhead costs, supervision of the poor, the creation of hoops for the poor to jump through to prove they are worthy, and so on.
Economic destitution is the biggest threat to freedom in the democratic nations of the world today. To be destitute is to be unfree. Economically destitute people are unfree to sleep undisturbed, unfree to urinate, unfree to wash themselves, and unfree to use the resources of the world to meet their own needs. (Jeremy Waldron has an excellent essay on this issue, “Homelessness and the Issue of Freedom,” in this book, Liberal Rights.) The destitute are unfree in the most liberal, negative sense of the word: the destitute are not unable to wash themselves or unable to use the resources of the world to meet their needs, they are unfree to do these things. Because our government enforces a property rights regime that says some people control natural resources and other people do not, someone will interfere with them if they try to do these things that they are very capable of doing.
Poverty is not a fact of nature. Poverty is the result of the way our societies have chosen to distribute property rights to natural resources. For millions of years no one interfered with our ancestors as they used the resources of the world to meet their needs. No one failed to wash because they were too lazy to find a stream. No one urinated in a common thoroughfare because they were too lazy to find a secluded place to do so. Everyone was free to hunt and gather and make their camp for the night as they pleased. No one had to follow the orders of a boss to earn the right to make their living. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were not rich, but they were not poor as we know it today. Our laws today make it illegal for people to satisfy the most natural and simple bodily needs, and our laws make homelessness such a fact of life that we can believably pretend that it’s all their own fault. There are billions of people today who are more poorly nourished than their hunter-gatherer ancestors. It cannot be simply their own fault. We have chosen one way to distribute rights to natural resources; we can just as easily choose a system that does not create poverty as a side-effect.
Many writers have argued BIG has a very good work incentive built into its structure, but the most common objection to BIG is not so much about work incentives as it is about a moral obligation to work. The argument I have in mind goes as follows. BIG is something-for-nothing, and something-for-nothing is unacceptable. People have a moral obligation to work. Lazy people who will not work should not be rewarded with anything. Therefore, any social benefits should be conditional on at least the willingness to accept employment. Even if BIG has better work incentives than conditional welfare programs, we must reject it because it allows some able people to receive something for nothing and shirk their obligation to work. I believe this is a common argument in everyday political discourse, and versions of it have appeared in the philosophical criticism of BIG.
This argument has several problems. I’ll discuss two of them. The first problem with it is that BIG cannot be accurately characterized as something for nothing. All societies impose many rules on every individual. Consider the discussion of homelessness above. Why can’t homeless people build their own shelter and their own latrine? Why can’t they drink out of a clean river? Why can’t they hunt, gather, or plant and harvest their own food? They cannot do these things because the state has made rules saying they don’t have the right to do these things. The state has imposed rules saying that almost all the resources of the Earth belong to someone else. Those of us who benefit from the rules by which our society distributes ownership of the Earth’s natural resources benefit every day from the state’s interference with the propertyless, and we pay them no compensation. A state without BIG is the state that has something for nothing.
BIG is (and should be seen) not as something for nothing but as the just compensation for all the rules of property and property regulations society imposes on individuals. Democracies, hopefully, make these rules with the consent of the majority. But even the best democracies cannot obtain everyone’s consent. No government can function unless it imposes its rules on the willing and unwilling alike. Governments, therefore, have a responsibility to make sure that their rules are not an undue burden on anyone.
Governments can live up to this responsibility by applying a simple principle in which each person pays for the parts of the Earth they use and receives a share of the payment for the parts other people use. One person’s assertion of ownership of some of the Earth’s resources necessarily involves interference with anything anyone else might want to do with those resources. Under a resource-tax-financed BIG, those who (directly or indirectly) pay more in resource taxes than they receive in the BIG are paying for the privilege of enjoying more resources than the average person. They are paying compensation for the interference they impose on everyone else. Those who receive more in BIG than they pay in resource taxes are being compensated for having less access to the Earth’s natural resources than everyone else. BIG is most distinctly not something for nothing. Furthermore, those who pay more than they receive do so voluntarily and willingly. They obviously think it is worthwhile to pay what they do for resources they hold or they would choose to hold fewer resources and become a net recipient.
The second problem with the work-obligation argument against BIG is that it conflates two different senses of the word “work”—one that means toil and one that means employment or time spent making money. In the toil sense, work simply means to apply effort whether it is for one’s own or for someone else’s benefit. In the employment sense work means to work for someone else—such as a client or a boss. Anyone with access to resources can meet their needs by working only for themselves or with others of their choosing. But people without access to resources have no other choice but to work for someone else, and they have to work for the same group of people whose control over resources makes it impossible for the propertyless to work only for themselves.
Working for someone else entails the acceptance of rules, terms, and subordination, all of which are things that a reasonable person might object to. There is nothing wrong with working for someone else and accepting the conditions of work as long as the individual chooses to do so. But because we deny people access to resources they need to stay alive until they work for someone who has some control over resources, we deny their natural ability to refuse. We force them, not to work, but to work for at least one member of a particular group of people.
We can create an economy based on truly voluntary trade and voluntary participation by applying the principle described above in which each person pays for the parts of the Earth they use and receives a share of the payment for the parts other people use. With a sufficient BIG to draw on, each person has the power to decide for themselves whether the offers in the job market are good enough to deserve their participation. Nothing protects a person better than the power to refuse. This power will protect not only the poor and marginal but all of us.
-Karl Widerquist, written mostly in Morehead City, North Carolina, August 2011
I discuss most of the arguments in this essay in greater detail in the following articles:
Widerquist, Karl. 1999. “Reciprocity and the Guaranteed Income,” Politics and Society 33: 386-401. http://works.bepress.com/widerquist/12.
Widerquist, Karl 2006. Property and the Power to Say No: A Freedom-Based Argument for Basic Income. Doctoral Dissertation. The University of Oxford.
Widerquist, Karl. 2010. “The Physical Basis of Voluntary Trade,” Human Rights Review 11: 83-103. http://works.bepress.com/widerquist/12.
Widerquist, Karl. 2010. “What Does Prehistoric Anthropology have to do with Modern Political Philosophy? Evidence of Five False Claims.” USBIG Discussion Paper no. 206. http://works.bepress.com/widerquist/19.
Widerquist, Karl. Forthcoming. “Is Universal Basic Income Still Worth Talking About?” The Economics of Inequality, Poverty and Discrimination in the 21st Century. Robert S Rycroft (ed.)
Basic Income News is a new website presenting news and
opinion about the basic income guarantee (see the Spring 2011 Newsletter). It
is a joint project of BIEN, USBIG, and several other BIEN affiliates. The
organizers are in need of people to help make it into a bigger and better site.
Right now, we are mostly in need of people to put existing content from past
newsletters in the right format for posting. We will eventually need people to
translate content, gather news, write up news stories, and prepare content from
old newsletters for publication.
If you have time to help, please contact Karl Widerquist <email@example.com>.
BI News is online at: www.BInews.org.
In this new book,
Guy Standing develops a theme that has underpinned his advocacy of a basic
income since the 1980s. There are many rationales for supporting a basic
income, but effective political pressure may emanate from the emergence of a
new mass class, the precariat. It is a dangerous
class; not yet a class-for-itself, in the Marxian sense, but a
class-in-the-making, in which distinctive groups are torn politically in
Those in the precariat – and the millions who fear they could fall into it – are characterised by having insecure lives, in and out of short-term jobs, with volatile and generally low incomes. What stands out most is that they lack a secure occupational identity, and have no sense of control over their work, labour, recreation and leisure.
The relevance for basic income arises because the precariat’s economic insecurity is chronic and is mostly uninsurable. In a globalising market economy, the precariat faces systemic uncertainty and exposure to threatening hazards and shocks. Social insurance cannot provide basic economic security in such circumstances. But in any case governments have increasingly resorted to means-tested social assistance, ‘targeting’ on the so-called deserving poor. Even with tax credits, this has generated well-known poverty and unemployment traps, whereby those in the lower echelons of labour markets face marginal tax rates close to 100%, prompting moral and immoral hazards.
It has also led to a proliferation of precarity traps, whereby anybody losing a job or income must enter a debilitating process of trying to obtain state benefits, during which time they have no income and build up debts. If they do obtain benefits, they will be disinclined to take a temporary low-wage job in case they have to start the process all over again.
The precariat consists of three groups. First, there are progressives, mostly consisting of frustrated educated youth, intellectuals and others who resent the insecurity and lack of occupational opportunity. They embrace various non-conformist lifestyles. It is this group that has been filling the squares in protests against the austerity programmes that have followed the financial crisis. They reject old-style social democracy while looking for a redistributive strategy that would give people like themselves basic economic security in which to build their lives. They openly support a basic income, even if some have to be alerted to the feasibility of it.
The second group in the precariat is anomic, politically detached, including many morally defeated people, as well as migrants keen not to be noticed by the authorities, many of the so-called disabled and many who have been criminalised. This group could be mobilised to support a basic income, but would have to feel they were moving from a denizen status to citizens in order to feel it would be something for them.
The third component of the precariat is what makes it the dangerous class. It consists mainly of those falling from the old working class and the partially educated condemned to a life of insecurity. This disparate group listens to populist politicians offering variants of neo-fascism, a far-right agenda depicting government as against them and strangers, notably migrants, Muslims and ‘liberals’, as the cause of their insecurity.
The far-right is gaining ground in country after country, often at the expense of social democrats. The trouble is that the latter has not offered the precariat an attractive vision, and are paying the political price, deservedly. But here, paradoxically, there is reason for some optimism. Increasingly, we may see that those wishing to be centre-left politicians will have no alternative to offer other than a universal basic income, if they want to foster an economically secure citizenry and to reduce inequality.
That is why the book ends on a mildly optimistic note. However, it goes one stage further, which may be controversial for basic income supporters. The argument is that the commodification of politics combined with the growth of an increasingly angry and active precariat have accentuated the thinning of democracy and the erosion of deliberative democracy. In that context, it advocates a basic income in which every adult on establishing eligibility makes a moral commitment in writing – not a legally binding one – to vote in general elections and to attend at least one local public political meeting each year.
Strengthening deliberative democracy will surely be a vital part of a new progressive politics in which the precariat would feel an integral part of society. According to Standing, that is consistent with the values that have guided BIEN for the past twenty-five years. Guy Standing, The Precariat – The New Dangerous Class, has just been published by Bloomsbury, and can be ordered online.
of The Times of India recently
interviewed Guy Standing and asked him about his new book The Precariat and about India’s new basic income pilot project,
which Standing is helping to organize. In the interview, Standing explains why
a universal basic income is preferable to targeted transfers especially in
developing countries like India.
The full text of the interview is online at:
In this opinion piece, Diane Pagen
argues that the U.S. government has become obsessed with job training as the solution
to every social and economic problem. She shows how some states even offer job
training for retirees who perhaps instead should be enjoying retirement and
helping to care for grandchildren. Pagen argues why
job training is often wasteful, costly, and ineffective. She argues that a
direct cash transfer would be more effective in fighting poverty.
The full text of her article is online at:
In this article, C.A. L’Hirondelle
does not advocate either that women have more or fewer babies. She makes four
points: 1. If we do not change from the goal of economic growth, there will always
be a required goal of population growth - ergo - the economy depends on women
having babies; 2. Because of this, women in countries with falling fertility
rates may face coercive or repressive pro-natal policies; 3. Overpopulation
alarmism leads to an implied 'let them die' sentiment directed against the
world's poor (easy target) because it takes attention away from the economic
drivers of environmental destruction (hard target); 4. A universal Guaranteed
Livable Income addresses these problems and is most likely to create population
The full text of the article can be found online at: http://www.livableincome.org/agli-population.htm.
This policy brief is written by Isobel Frye, Director,
Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute and Bob Deacon, UNESCO-UNU Chair in
Regional Integration, Migration and Free Movement
Abstract: This policy brief puts forward the case for a regional taxation on the extraction industry to fund a regional basic income grant as a form of a social protection floor that meets the needs of citizens and migrants. Given the increase in the interest around social protection programmes to address vulnerability in developing countries, the authors believe that it is an extremely opportune time to undertake a feasibility study on the development of a SADC-wide basic income payment to all residents, a form of social protection floor which has already been experimented with in a few localities in the region, funded from ring-fenced proceeds from extractive commodity operations within each country, with transparent operations and portable accessibility.
It can be found online at: http://www.wahenga.net/node/2140
The full title of this posthumous book by Jay Hammond is Diapering The Devil: How Alaska Helped
Staunch Befouling by Mismanaged Oil Wealth; A Lesson for Other Oil Rich Nations.
The metaphor in the title refers on one of the founders of OPEC who called oil
“the devil’s excrement” because of the “resource curse,” which often leaves oil
producing nations worse off than they were before they discovered oil. In the
book, Hammond argues that Alaska avoided the resource curse in part by saving
some of the state’s oil money in the Alaska Permanent Fund and distributing the
returns to that fund as the Permanent Fund Dividend. The fund obviously
contributes to preventing the resource curse by transforming a short term oil
boom into a permanent stream of investments. But Hammond argues that the
dividend was also essential to avoiding the curse. He writes, “To put it
crudely, I wanted to pit collective greed against selective greed. In the past,
those who knew how to play the game were able to secure subsidies for their pet
projects, many times at the collective expense of all other Alaskans.”
The book is edited by Lauren Stanford, Jackie Pels, Pam Brodie and Mary Maly and published by Larry Smith and Pam Brodie of the Kachemak Research Institute in Homer. The book is currently on a small print run, available only at libraries in Alaska, but the publisher is planning a larger print run later.
A review of the book by Naomi Klouda, recently published in the Homer Tribune is online at:
For more information about the book contact Larry Smith of the Kachemak Research Institute: LEstate@GCI.net.
Michael Howard is a professor of philosophy at the
University of Maine and co-editor with Karl Widerquist of the forthcoming
books, Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend:
Examining its suitability as a model and
Exporting the Alaska Model: Adapting the Permanent Fund Dividend for reform
around the world (Palgrave MacMillan). This opinion piece discusses some of
the lessons from the book. Howard argues for the value of a universal resource
dividend. The full text of the article is online at:
This discussion paper by Kari Polanyi Levitt, of McGill
University, Montreal, Canada is subtitled, “Karl Polanyi and
Basic Income.” In it, Levitt responds to a question put to her by
Senator Eduardo Suplicy (of Brazil): What would her father, Karl Polanyi, author
of The Great Transformation, have
thought about basic income? She says that this question forced her to reread
many of her father’s writings because he never addressed the subject and,
perhaps, he had never heard of it. She begins the paper with a brief summary of
Karl Polanyi’s social philosophy. She concludes that basic income would be a
good tool to realize some of the goals that were important to him.
The full text of the paper is online at: http://www.proac.uff.br/cede/sites/default/files/TD46_0.pdf
This book makes the case for a post-work society and one of
its five chapters is devoted to basic income. According to the publisher, “In
The Problem with Work, Kathi Weeks boldly challenges
the presupposition that work, or waged labor, is inherently a social and
political good. While progressive political movements, including the Marxist
and feminist movements, have fought for equal pay, better work conditions, and
the recognition of non-paid work as a valued form of labor, even they have
tended to accept work as a naturalized or inevitable activity. Weeks argues
that in taking work as a given, we have "depoliticized" it, or
removed it from the realm of political critique. Employment is now largely
privatized, and work-based activism in the United States has atrophied. We have
accepted waged work as the primary mechanism for income distribution, an
ethical obligation, and a means of defining ourselves and others as social and
political subjects. Taking up Marxist and feminist critiques, Weeks proposes a
post-work society that would allow people to be productive and creative rather
than relentlessly bound to the employment relation.”
Dr Gareth Morgan
is CEO of Gareth Morgan Investments portfolio manager, and a director of
economics consultancy Informetrics Ltd which he
founded in 1982. He has been discussing his idea of the “Big Kahuna” reform to
New Zealand’s tax and welfare system since 2009. This reform would involve a 30
percent flat tax on all income (including capital gains) and an unconditional
basic income of NZ$11,000 (About US$9,000) after tax for all adults and
NZ$8,500 (about US$7,000) after tax for all 18-20 year olds. He and Susan
Guthrie have now released a full-length book on the idea. Several reviews and
opinion pieces have been written about the Big Kahuna in the New Zealand press.
More information about the book, and a link to ordering the book is online at the Gareth Morgan Investments website:
An introduction to the book is online at:
An opinion piece about the book by Bernard Hickey and an interview with the author are online at:
An opinion piece by the author in the New Zealand Herald is online at:
Papers and video presentations from last May’s international
workshop on Universal Basic Income as a European Alternative are now online.
The workshop was held on May 16th-17th, 2011 in Tampere,
Finland. Johanna Perkiö organized it for the Left
Forum and the University of Tampre as the kick-start
of a joint international research project, entitled, ‘Basic Income as a Roadmap
for a Social Europe.’ In this project, cultural and institutional conditions
and possibilities for implementing a basic income system in Europe, as well as
its potential economic and labor market effects will be studied. A more
far-reaching goal of the study is to provide information on what kind of a
basic income system could be feasible in the European Union, on how it could be
(institutionally) implemented and on what its (cultural and economical) effects
would be. Organizers are still looking for new research partners in the
project. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although the main website is in Finish, most of the papers and presentations are in English.
The workshop papers are online at:
Videos of workshop presentations are online at:
This editorial in
IRIN argues that cash transfer are a better option for
humanitarian relief aid to Somalians.
It can be found online at:
KARL WIDERQUIST TO SPEAK ON BIG IN SEVERAL GERMAN CITIES
Karl Widerquist (visiting associate professor of political philosophy, Georgetown University-Qatar, co-chair, BIEN, and editor, this newsletter) will speak on the Basic Income Guarantee in several Germany cities this fall. The tentative schedule is:
September 25. Eichstatt: University of Eichstatt
September 26. Treuchtlingen: FH Treuchtlingen
September 27. Hamburg: the Hamburg Basic Income Network
September 29. Cologne: BI Initiative in cooperation with the University of Cologne
September 30. Duesseldorf: University of Duesseldorf
Details about topics and venues will be released soon. For more information, contact Karl Widerquist <Karl@widerquist.com> or Dorothee Schulte-Basta <email@example.com>.
The German Basic
Income Network (Bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen)
has a Facebook page with more than 50,000 followers. The content is in German
only. It is online at: http://www.facebook.com/bedingungsloses.grundeinkommen.
Fourteen new members have joined the USBIG Network in the
last six months. The USBIG Network now has 238 members from 34 U.S. states and
30 other countries. Membership in USBIG is free and open to anyone who shares
its goals. To become a member of USBIG go to www.usbig.net, and click on
The new members of the USBIG Network are:
Theo Tsavousis, Nassau, Bahamas; Joerg Drescher, Kiev, Ukraine; Edwin Wang, Lake Oswego, OR; Edward Malmstrom, Berkely, CA; Allan White, Tacoma, WA; Julian Menzie, Coral Springs, FL; James D. Gall, Bolingbrook, IL; Kimberly Rowlett, Clevelan, TN; Danielle D McNamee, Takoma Park, MD; Alexander Jones, South Elgin, IL; Katie Conklin, Houston, TX; Earl Wilborn, New York, NY; Elizabeth Weckhurst, Boston, MA; Craig Detheridge, Wappingers Falls, NY; Earle L. Bailey, Bridgeport, CT; Joe Clement, Portland, OR.
For links to dozens of BIG websites around the world, go to
http://www.usbig.net/links.html. These links are to any website with
information about BIG, but USBIG does not necessarily endorse their content or
The USBIG Network Newsletter
Editor: Karl Widerquist
Copyeditor: Mike Murray and the USBIG Committee
Research: Paul Nollen
Special help on this issue was provided by: Jill Locke, Chandra Pasma, and Juanita Cassellius
The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee (USBIG) Network publishes this newsletter. The Network is a discussion group on 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. More news about BIG is online at BInews.org.
You may copy and circulate articles from this newsletter, but please mention the source and include a link to 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: Karl@Widerquist.com.
As always, your comments on this newsletter and the USBIG website are gladly welcomed.
-Karl Widerquist, editor