Sunday, May 10, 2015

Arguing for Basic Income

I had forgotten Robert Goodin’s elegant argument (Goodin himself describes it as ‘undeniably cheeky’) in favor of basic income schemes, having read it over twenty years ago. It runs as follows: “[S]chemes paying everyone an unconditional basic income are less presumptuous than more conditional programs of support [i.e., the two-tiered system—social insurance and social assistance—that characterizes our social security policies generally]. Not only are they less prying and intrusive, less demeaning and debasing…. [t]hey also make fewer assumptions and presumptions about those whom they are aiding. That in turn makes schemes of basic income support more efficient, in one important sense than more conditional schemes of support. [….] [Most conspicuously, basic income schemes are] less prone to sociological error and less vulnerable to social change than are alternative models of social security provision. [….] Efficiency as such is of no independent moral importance to us. So at root the reason we should cherish the target of efficiency of basic income strategies is simply that that guarantees we will, through them, be able to relieve human suffering as best as we can.”—Robert E. Goodin, “Basic Income,” in Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1995): 228-243, reproducing material from “Toward a Minimally Presumptuous Social Welfare Policy,” in Arguing for Basic Income, ed. Philippe Van Parijs (Verso: 1992): 195-214. 

Further Reading:

  • Ackerman, Bruce, Anne Alstott, Philippe van Parijs, et al. Redesigning Distribution: Basic Income and Stakeholder Grants as Cornerstones for an Egalitarian Capitalism. London: Verso, 2006. 
  • Birnbaum, Simon. Basic Income Reconsidered: Social Justice, Liberalism, and the Demands of Equality. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.  
  • Groot, L.F.M. Basic Income, Unemployment and Compensatory Justice. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2010. 
  • Iyer, Raghavan. “An Unfinished Dream,” in Iyer’s Parapolitics: Toward the City of Man. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979: 299-331. As Iyer writes, It is hardly surprising that the utopian proposal of ensuring a guaranteed annual income to every adult should be a recurring topic of controversy since [Edward] Bellamy wrote Looking Backward in 1888. Whether or not this proposal is politically feasible at present, it would be worthwhile to consider some of the drastic implications of the proposal for social theory and contemporary values, and for a daring vision of the future. [....] The unprecedented divorce of basic income from work, and of involuntary work from survival, would have significant repercussions on the level of income distribution, attitudes to work, social differentiation, social stratification, occupational ranking, and even the definition of success and failure.” This essay is indispensable for clear and courageous thinking about the notion of a Guaranteed Basic Income.
  • Robertson, James. Future Work: Jobs, self-employment and leisure after the industrial age. New York: Universe Books, 1985. An early argument for a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) based on the fact that structural (i.e., chronic and then permanent) unemployment in affluent, post-industrial societies, in others words, the likelihood that conventional full employment will never be restored, means there are too many people without a basic subsistence income, their basic needs no longer met by the traditional provision of social security in welfare-state capitalist societies. Robertson argues that the GBI “will lead to a liberation of work, helping to remove the existing divisions between people who are employed and people who are unemployed, between people of working age and people who are retired, and between men and women’s work.
  • Sheahen, Allan. Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 
  • Van Parijs, Philippe, et al. What’s Wrong With a Free Lunch? Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001. 
  • White, Stuart. The Civic Minimum: On the Rights and Obligations of Economic Citizenship. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 
  • White, Stuart, “Social Minimum,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Widerquist, Karl. Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No (Exploring the Basic Income Guarantee). New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 
  • Widerquist, Karl and Michael W. Howard, eds. Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend: Examining its Suitability as a Model (Exploring the Basic Income Guarantee). New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 
See too the posts on this topic the past several years at Crooked Timber.


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