Monday, April 15, 2019

Universal Basic Income (UBI): Theory and Praxis

Basic Income book
The following is from the beginning of an extensive article, “Eyes on a city’s test of basic income,” found on the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times: 

“Young, sincere and raised on the edge of poverty, Sukhi Samra has a mother who worked two minimum-wage jobs when she was a kid — days at a gas station and nights at a Subway. Her father is disabled. She knows what an extra $500 a month would have bought her family. ‘I spent a lot of 5th and 6th grade just, like, in those tables at Subway so that I could keep my mom some company and spend some time with her,’ Samra said. ‘Five hundred a month would have meant that my mom spent a couple more hours at home with us every night.’

At 23, Samra is now head of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, a pilot program to test a universal basic income. For the next year and a half, 130 residents of this struggling Central Valley city will get $500 every month, with no strings — such as employment or sobriety requirements — attached, in a social experiment that is as much public relations as rigorous research. 

Although its organizers have promised transparency, so far, much of the program has been a closely guarded secret. The identities of the recipients have remained confidential while organizers plan a media strategy. Multiple requests by The Times to conduct interviews were denied.
Still, what happens in Stockton is likely to inform the national political conversation in the years ahead. Universal basic income — also called guaranteed income — has become an unexpectedly hot topic among presidential candidates, as economic anxiety and income inequality continue to plague voters on both sides of the political spectrum. The pilot program also could create a road map for implementing future basic income policies in other cities or on a national scale. 

‘We are in a moment where big ideas are important and politically people are ready for them,’ said Natalie Foster, co-chair of The Economic Security Project, a Silicon-Valley organization that provided $1 million in initial funding for the $3.1 million program. ‘The stories coming out of Stockton will put a real name and a face on what that economic insecurity looks like and what it looks like to make a different political decision.’” [….] The full article is here. 

*           *           * 

Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) proposals are not intended to address the entirety of anarchist and Marxist or socialist critiques of capitalism. Instead, UBI speaks to specific negative features of capitalism, such as the “proletarianization of labor,” and chronic if not extreme egalitarianism. With regard to the former, it is an expression and embodiment of the belief that the abstract property in capitalism known as “labor power” is not the constitutive or defining property of our humanity. In the words of Michael Luntley, “[W]hen we live in an economy organised under the aristocracy of Capital, our labour power must become our defining property on pain of failure of that economy.” UBI is but one of a large number of historical and creative Leftist endeavors to expand and deepen the meaning of democratic praxis so as to both build upon and transcend capitalism’s impressive historic achievements on behalf of human emancipation while remaining true to the triune character of French revolutionary motto: liberté, égalité, fraternité. The UBI also is also an urgent reminder of the principled desirability and concrete possibility of placing the values and interests of people (both as individuals and members of groups) beyond the interests of capital and capitalists (the ‘aristocracy of capital’). Finally, the UBI cannot alone displace the Welfare State of liberal democratic capitalism, although it is capable of significantly decreasing citizen and government reliance on same.

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. 

The basic income experiment in the city of Stockton that is the subject of the article is quite modest as such things go, and should be examined in light of similar experiments around the world.
Basic Income book 2
Suggested 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.
  • Goodin, Robert E. “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.
  • 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.*
  • Rogers, Brishen. “Basic Income in a Just Society,” Boston Review, April 30, 2017.
  • Rogers, Brishen, et al. “Work, Inequality, Basic Income,” Boston Review, Forum 2, April 25, 2017: 11-92.
  • Sheahen, Allan. Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
  • van Parijs, Philippe, ed. Arguing for Basic Income. London: Verso, 1992.
  • van Parijs, Philippe, et al. What’s Wrong With a Free Lunch? Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001.
  • van Parijs, Philippe and Yannick Vanderborght. Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.
  • 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, Michael Anthony Lewis, and Steven Pressman, eds. The Ethics and Economics of the Basic Income Guarantee. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005.
  • 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.
  • Widerquist, Karl, Jose Noguera, Yannick Vanderborght, and Jurgen De Wispelaere, eds. Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
  • Wright, Erik Olin. Envisioning Real Utopias. London: Verso, 2010.
* An early argument for a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) based on the premise 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 (be they Liberal, Corporatist or Social Democratic). Robertson argues, among other things, 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.” 

Related Bibliographies:


Post a Comment

<< Home