Basic Income

History and examples

Mine this for premodern examples: Scialabba, George. “The Free Banquet: The Case for Universal Basic Income.” Commonweal. April 25, 2017.

  • 1516: Thomas More's Utopia published, including a reference that it might be better, rather than punishing thieves, to “provide everyone with somne means of livelihood” (source)
  • 1526: Johannes Ludovicus Vives publishes De Subventione Pauperum, Sive de humanis necessitatibus, or On the Assistance to the Poor, which includes some figments of a basic income proposal.
    • Vives was of a Spanish “New Christian” family, moved to Louvain, wrote the book as a letter to the mayor of Bruges.
    • The proposal is mainly means-tested, requiring the poor to show their willingness to work.
    • A divine sanction: “All these things God created, He put them in our large home, the world, without surrounding them with walls and gates, so that they would be common to all His children.”
  • 1797: Thomas Paine calls for a social insurance system based on payouts in “Agrarian Justice.” One payout at age 21 and then annual payments starting at age 50. He saw it as a reparation for the enclosure and sale of national land, and it would be funded through inheritance taxes.
  • Consider 18th and 19th century homestead acts, which provided land to those willing to farm them. Also, the “40 acres and a mule” doctrine.
  • 1879: Henry George's Progress and Poverty propses a land-value tax that could be used to support a basic income.
  • 1918: Bertrand Russell writes, in Proposed Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism, “a certain small income, sufficient for necessities, should be secured for all, whether they work or not. A larger income … should be given to those who are willing to engage in some work which the community recognizes as useful.”
  • 1930s: Huey Long's Share Our Wealth movement called for a guaranteed income of $5,000 for every family.
  • 1940s: Juliet Rhys-Williams, a British politician, invented the concept of a negative income tax.
  • 1962: Milton Friedman advocated a minimum guaranteed income via a negative income tax in his book Capitalism and Freedom, based on a 1956 lecture. In his 1980 book Free to Choose, he wrote: “We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash — a negative income tax. It would provide an assured minimum to all persons in need, regardless of the reasons for their need, while doing as little harm as possible to their character, their independence, or their incentives to better their own conditions.”
  • 1965: Sargent Shriver advises a negative income tax
  • 1966: Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward argue for basic income in The Nation.
  • 1967: Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1967 SCLC speech, “Where Do We Go From Here?”: “Now we must develop progress, or rather, a program—and I can't stay on this long—that will drive the nation to a guaranteed annual income.” Discussed Henry George, etc.
  • 1968: Economists Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith, Robert Lampman, Harold Watts, and James Tobin publish letter calling on Congress “to adopt this year a national system of income guarantees and supplements.”
  • 1968: Christian ethicist and Methodist minister Philip Wogaman publishes Guaranteed Annual Income: The Moral Issues. Argues: “ Guaranteed income as a secure economic floor will make it possible for men to become what God intended them to become by free response. The fact that many will doubtless abuse this freedom is a risk which God has taken in creating man in the first place. /n/nThis right to be is one which God has given to each of us regardless of our undeserving. Guaranteed income will be a recognition, in economic terms, of what God has done.”
  • 1968: Margaret Mead writes in a column in Redbook: “The danger that we would be underwriting the failures is trivial compared with the benefits the guaranteed annual income would provide us. It would provide dignity for every citizen and choice for every citizen.”
  • Buckminster Fuller writes in Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, “we must give each human who is or becomes unemployed a life fellowship in research and development or in just simple thinking.”
  • 1969: President's Commission on Income Maintenance Programs recommended a guaranteed income.
  • 1969: Nixon proposes a guaranteed income to replace welfare - really a means-tested welfare reform. Th Family Assistance Plan passed the House in 1970, but was killed in the Senate.
  • 1973: Daniel Patrick Moynihan's book The Politics of a Guaranteed Income describes the development and death of the Family Assistance Plan.
  • 1973: Friederich Hayek endorsed guaranteed minimum income in Law, Legislation and Liberty: “There is no reason why in a free society government should not assure to all, protection against severe deprivation in the form of an assured minimum income, or a floor below which nobody need descend.”
  • George McGovern suggested a guaranteed annual income of $1,000 in 1972 campaign, and the idea was part of the Democratic platform that year. Gailbraith supported it.
  • 1976: Alaska Permanent Fund established, began distributing in 1982. See current dividend here.
  • 2001: The NGO GiveDirectly made cash transfers to villagers in impoverished Kenyan villages, both in lump sumps and monthly installments
  • 2006: Charles Murray's book In Our Hands called for a $10,000 cash grant to replace all welfare programs
  • 2006: Democratic Rep. Bob Filner proposed the Tax Cut for the Rest of Us Act of 2006
  • 2008: Small basic income experiment began in Brazilian town of Quatinga Velho organized by the organization ReCivitas
  • 2008-09: Basic income experiment begins in Namibia.
  • 2011-13: Basic income experiment in villages in India, which resulted in the Indian government replacing aid programs with direct cash transfers
  • 2013: Breunig and Stoker's proposal
  • 2014: The Research Division of the St. Louis Federal Reserve produces a working paper on “Universal Basic Income versus Unemployment Insurance.”
  • 2015: In San Francisco, the first Basic Income Create-a-Thon was held
  • 2015: US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tells Ezra Klein “I am absolutely sympathetic to that approach.”
  • 2016: Finland will consider a national basic income proposal
  • 2017: Hawaii's legislature votes to explore basic income

Types and variants

Current Advocacy

International discussion

Tech culture

  • Altman, Sam - President of the seed accelerator Y Combinator.
    • Moving Forward on Basic Income.” Y Combinator Posthaven. May 31, 2016.
    • Basic Income.” Y Combinator Posthaven. January 27, 2016.
      • “We’d like to fund a study on basic income—i.e., giving people enough money to live on with no strings attached. I’ve been intrigued by the idea for a while, and although there’s been a lot of discussion, there’s fairly little data about how it would work.”
    • Technology and wealth inequality.” Sam Altman (blog). January 28, 2014.
      • “there’s been increasing talk about a “basic income”—i.e, any adult who wanted it could have, say, $15,000 a year.”
      • “we’d end up helping truly poor people more and middle class people less, and we’d presumably cut a ton of government bureaucracy. We could perhaps end poverty overnight (although, no doubt, anything like this would cause prices to rise). And likely most of this money would be spent, providing some boost to the economy. We could require 10 hours a week of work for the government, or not. A big problem with this strategy is that I don’t think it’ll do much to address the feeling of inequality.”
      • “Many people have a visceral dislike to the idea of giving away money (though I think some redistribution of wealth is required to reasonably equalize opportunity), and certainly the default worry is that people would just sit around and waste time on the Internet. But maybe, if everyone knew they had a safety net, we’d get more startups, or more new research, or more novels.”
      • “But this still doesn’t address the fundamental issue—I believe most people want to be productive. And I think figuring out a much better way to teach a lot more people about technology is likely the best way to make that happen.”
  • Andreessen, Marc.
    • Roose, Kevin. “In Conversation: Marc Andreessen. New York. October 19, 2014.
      • On basic income: “It is a very interesting idea. There are even libertarians who believe in UBI. They say basically the problem of welfare is you have this massive state apparatus, and you have all this bureaucracy that determines where it goes, and you have all these paternalistic tests by the government to decide what you should be able to, like, eat and what you can buy with food stamps and all this stuff. Forget having that giant government machine. “Just give people the money and let them figure it out on their own” is actually a libertarian argument. Then there is an argument on the other side which is, if you just give people money and they don’t have to work, what ­percentage of them do you think are actually still going to work? And that depends on your point of view.”
    • Founder of HowStuffWorks.com, teaches entrepreneurship at North Carolina State University. Has a book coming out on How God Works
    • In ”Robotic Freedom,“ calls for a $25,000 basic income for every citizen.
    • Why and How Should We Build a Basic Income for Every Citizen?“ Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. September 14, 2014.
      • “Where can the idea of the Basic Income take us as a society? This question underpins the bookManna, and by reading the book you can see for yourself how far a Basic Income can go. \n\n Ultimately, as I have previously discussed in this article and in my forthcoming book, our goal should be to apply the Basic Income concept worldwide, so that every human being on the planet receives its benefits, in a process I call Heaven on Earth.”
  • Diamandis, Peter - of the X Prize and Singularity University
    • In July 11, 2014 Reddit AMA: “First let me start by saying I would describe myself as a libertarian capitalist. The idea of creating a socialist state where people are getting supported and not having to work, goes against my grain in many ways. Having said that, I recently had a series of conversations, debates and discussions on this very subject with a group I assembled at Singularity University. I was amazed how the data – in particular, from experiments done in India – show that a basic income provided to an entire village in India positively transformed their lives in an extraordinary fashion that gives me great hope. I also believe, as I have written in my book Abundance, that the cost of meeting the basic needs of every man, woman and child on this planet will be significantly reduced by technology over the next few decades.”
  • Dvorsky, George. ”How Universal Basic Income Will Save Us From the Robot Uprising.“​ i09. October 31, 2014.
    • Twitter account, @dvorsky, describes him as “Chair of Board at IEET, futurist, bioethicist,​ animal rights advocate, history buff, Buddhist, CrossFitter,​ Burner, and music freak.”
    • “​it'​s absolutely inevitable.”​ — “Given the ever-increasing concentration of wealth and the frightening prospect of technological unemployment,​ it will be required to prevent complete social and economic collapse. It's not a question of if, but how soon.”
  • Hawkins, Chris and Andrew - of Hawkins Ventures
    • It Is Time for Basic Income.“ March 21, 2014.
      • “It is the most efficient possible form of wealth redistribution because there is no bureaucratic overhead needed. More money reaches the poor directly.”
      • “There is no fundamental reason that humans should have to work after automating most of life. We should prefer to live in a world where nobody has to work to survive. Enabling most of our race to live a life of leisure should be something we strive for. People are passionate, with diverse interests. We expect to see a flourishing of culture, science, and progress in a world after Basic Income.”
      • Quotes Oscar Wilde: “It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.”
      • “We propose the easiest way to assess the amount of Basic Income needed to satisfy the criteria we set out above is to do a grounds up analysis of what we think the minimum standard that everyone should be given if you are unemployable.”
      • Proposes hovering it around the average Social Security payment, around $10K, based on cost of living and poverty levels.
      • Starts out quoting from Marshall Brain's Manna.
      • “Workforce automation will drive away the need for humans to work, allowing us to enter a new era of post-abundance society with Basic Income. We are going to discuss why this is something that is possible today, easy to accomplish in 20 years, and necessary in 40 years.”
      • They anticipate this replacing all means-tested welfare programs, including VA benefits.
      • “We only look at providing Basic Income for adults in this particular discussion. Providing for children will be addressed at a later time.”
      • “in general our opinion is that Basic Income for children does introduce some negative incentives, but Basic Income for adults is a no-brainer.”
      • “Within 40 years, $1,000 machines are expected to have computing power comparable to the human brain, and the service industry will be dramatically impacted by automation. At this point, assuming productivity growth continues, we calculate Real GDP to be approximately $114,263.”
  • Ford, Martin. A participant in the 2014 Singularity meeting on basic income.
    • Organizer of June 29-30, 2014, Singularity University discussion on technological unemployment
  • Hughes, Chris - Facebook co-founder
  • Manjoo, Farhad. ”A Plan in Case Robots Take the Jobs: Give Everyone a Paycheck.“ The New York Times. March 2, 2016.
    • “If the dislocating effect of technology turns out to be really severe this time, governments might consider offering a universal basic income, just sufficient to live on, to which all working-age adults would be entitled. A basic income for all is an old idea receiving new attention because of the recent labour-market upsets.”
  • Page, Larry
    • Several times has talked about massive technological unemployment, and about the need to be less attached to work, but hasn't proposed basic income as such.
    • Waters, Richard. ”FT interview with Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page.“ Financial Times. October 31, 2014.
      • “Even if there’s going to be a disruption on people’s jobs, in the short term that’s likely to be made up by the decreasing cost of things we need, which I think is really important and not being talked about.”
  • Santens, Scott. “Member of the USBIG Network and mod of /r/BasicIncome.”
      • Frames as an issue of economic democracy: “We love to use the term, “voting with our dollars”. So is the outcome of that daily election accurate? Does everyone have a voice for bread? No, they don’t. There are people with no voice, because they have no dollars.”
      • “And that’s basic income. It’s a win-win for the market and those who comprise the market. It’s a way to improve on capitalism and even democracy, by making sure everyone has the minimum amount of voice.”
      • “Some of the best work happening right now, is the stuff being done in our free time—that is unpaid—like Wikipedia and our many other open-source community creations, not to mention all the care work performed for our young and elderly. Basic income is a means of recognizing this unpaid work as having great societal value”
  • Snowden, Edward
    • In 2014 interview in The Nation, Snowden said, “As a technologist, I see the trends, and I see that automation inevitably is going to mean fewer and fewer jobs. And if we do not find a way to provide a basic income for people who have no work, or no meaningful work, we’re going to have social unrest that could get people killed. When we have increasing production—year after year after year—some of that needs to be reinvested in society.”
  • Waldman, Steve Randy.
    • VC for the People.“ April 16, 2014.
      • Begins with a presentation Larry Summers gave: that “economists really need to rethink the standard “labor / leisure tradeoff”. Almost no one prefers a life of pure “leisure”. Human beings like to regard themselves and to be regarded by others as “productive”. They like to “make a contribution” or “pay their own way” or “kick ass” or “dominate others”, to do something that they believe confers value and status.”—“Wealth is better understood as conferring upon individuals a greater freedom of choice over what kinds of work they wish to do than as endowing lives of “leisure”.”
      • “In effect, the state could provide venture capital to the people. If ordinary citizens had a small but reliable annuity, too modest to live comfortably but enough to prevent destitution, then at the margin, we’d expect people who currently seek or accept unfulfilling, underpaid work to opt for entrepreneurship, or education, or art, or child-rearing, or just hold out for a better gig.”—“A straightforward way to preclude that is to ensure that everyone has the means to refuse those jobs and take chances on more meaningful and ultimately more valuable work.”
      • ““VC for the people” would reduce market discipline, but it would certainly not eliminate it. People do not require the threat of destitution to cultivate ambition. It is much better to supplement ones modest annuity with a vigorous market income than to crouch inertly in a hovel.”
      • ““VC for the people” has a more common name. It is called a universal basic income.”
      • Arguing with Max Sawicky, who considers UBI a distraction from other more acheivable goals for the working class.
      • Identifies with the left, but considers old-style unionism unfeasible
      • “I think that UBI — defined precisely as a periodic transfers of identical fixed dollar amounts to all citizens of the polity — is by far the most probable and politically achievable among policies that might effectively address problems of inequality, socioeconomic fragmentation, and economic stagnation.”
      • “UBI is the least “statist”, most neoliberal means possible of addressing socioeconomic fragmentation. It distributes only abstract purchasing power; it cedes all regulation of real resources to individuals and markets.”
      • UBI possibly more politically feasible than means-tested welfare because it unites the poor and middle-class in a common benefit.
      • “Means-tested programs cannot provide that foundation. Means-tested programs may sometimes be the “least bad” of feasible choices, but they are almost never good policy.”
      • “A universal basic income diminishes resentment of “people on the dole”, however, because workers get the same benefit as the shirkers. Workers choose to work because they wish to be better off than the basic income would allow.”
      • “Like the excellent Ed Dolan, I favor a basic income large enough to matter but not sufficient for most people to live comfortably.”
  • Walker, Mark. ”BIG and Technological Unemployment:​ Chicken Little Versus the Economists.“​ Journal of Evolution and Technology 24, no. 1 (February 2014).
    • The journal of the IEET, techie think tank. Argues that basic income is “a minimal remedial measure to mitigate the worst effects of technological unemployment.”​
  • Webb, Rick, ”The Economics of Star Trek.“
      • Jobs are optional, no money except Federation Credit
      • Not a basic income scheme but an alternative to it based on abundant private currencies
      • “Imagine there’s some level of welfare benefits in every country, including America. That’s easy. That’s true. Imagine that, as the economy became more efficient and wealthy, the society could afford to give more money in welfare benefits, and chooses to do so. Next, imagine that this kept happening until society could afford to give the equivalent of something like $10 million US dollars at current value to every man, woman and child. And imagine that, over the time that took to happen, society got its shit together on education, health, and the dignity of labor. Imagine if that self-same society frowned upon the conspicuous display of consumption and there was a large amount of societal pressure, though not laws, on people that evolved them into not being obsessed with wealth. Is any of that so crazy? Is it impossible? /n/n I think that is basically what’s going on on Star Trek.”
      • “I believe the federation is a proto-post scarcity society evolved from democratic capitalism. It is, essentially, European socialist capitalism vastly expanded to the point where no one has to work unless they want to.”
      • “It is massively productive and efficient, allowing for the effective decoupling of labor and salary for the vast majority (but not all) of economic activity. The amount of welfare benefits available to all citizens is in excess of the needs of the citizens. Therefore, money is irrelevant to the lives of the citizenry, whether it exists or not.”
      • “I sort of love that Star Trek forces us to think about a society that has no money but still operates with individual freedom and without central planning. I love that democracy is still in place. I love that people can still buy and sell things. It’s real. It’s a more realistic vision of post-capitalism than I have seen anywhere else. Scarcity still exists to some extent, but society produces more than enough to satisfy everyone’s basic needs. The frustrating thing is that we pretty much do that now, we just don’t allocate properly. And allocating properly cannot be done via central planning.”
      • “we’re going to have to reckon with, I believe, in my lifetime. If robots do all the dirty work, and the US is hugely rich, does every single person really need a job? Are we going to let all of that money pile up in the 0.1% ruling elite, or can it be distributed to everyone? Does wealth being distributed to the people in an equal manner mean communism absolutely? Of course it doesn’t.”
  • Wenger, Albert - Delicious president and partner at Union Square Ventures

Blockchain projects

Bibliography

Technological unemployment

Gender and feminism

  • Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) - Leading organization advocating for basic income in India.
  • Weeks, Kathi. The Problem with Work.
    • Includes a strong argument for a basic income demand.
  • Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own.
    • On the power of income in making possible a creative life.

Business

  • McKinsey Quarterly. ”The Great Decoupling.“ September 2014. - An interview with Erik Brynjolfsson and Jeremy Howard.
    • “The rapid advance of machine learning presents an economic paradox: productivity is rising, but employment may not.”

Left-wing politics

Right-wing politics

Recent discussions ordered by date.

  • Feeney, Matthew. ”Scrap the Welfare State and Give People Free Money.“ Reason. November 26, 2013.
  • Friedman, David. ”Libertarian Arguments for Income Redistribution.“ December 6, 2013.
    • A response to Matt Zwolinski.
    • Attracted by the argument about reparations because current property is often the result of past rights violations.
  • Dolan, Ed. ”The Economic Case for a Universal Basic Income (Part 1 of a series).“ EconoMonitor. January 3, 2014.
  • Gobry, Pascal-Emmanuel. ”Progressives' hot new poverty-fighting idea has just one basic problem: Science.“ The Week. July 21, 2014.
  • Frum, David. ”A Rule for Conservative Anti-Poverty Plans: Keep It Simple.“ The Atlantic. July 31, 2014.
    • The general trend of new conservative proposals for welfare reform: keep it simple
  • Zwolinski, Matt. ”The Pragmatic Libertarian Case for a Basic Income Guarantee.“ Cato Unbound. August 4, 2014.
    • For more, see this paper
    • Argument for “Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) as a replacement for the current welfare state”
    • “I will use the phrase “Basic Income Guarantee” quite broadly to refer to a wide range of distinct policy proposals, including Milton Friedman’s Negative Income Tax (NIT), Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott’s proposal for a Stakeholder Grant, the Thomas Paine / Henry George inspired idea of a citizen’s dividend, the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, and Charles Murray’s 2006 proposal for the government to write a $10,000 each year to every American citizen over the age of twenty-one.”
    • “Such a revolutionary overhaul of the welfare state would almost certainly require a constitutional amendment, both to insulate debate somewhat from the pleas and protests of special interests, and to make it considerably more difficult to renege on the deal afterwards”
    • Main arguments:
      • “Less Bureaucracy” - Both for the government and for would-be welfare beneficiaries”
      • “Cheaper” - In at least some cases, theoretically
      • “Less Rent-Seeking” - Harder to corrupt politically
      • “Less Invasive / Paternalistic”
      • “Utopia is Not an Option” - Considers this second-best to libertarian utopia, and it might even be necessary in one
    • More unemployment not necessarily bad if it's voluntary!
    • concerned about how a BIG would handle children and immigrants
  • Gordon, Noah. “The Conservative Case for a Guaranteed Basic Income.” The Atlantic. August 6, 2014.
    • Notes the trend toward “simplification” in conservative welfare proposals: Frum, Rubio, Ryan.
      • Crucially: this connects the logic of basic income to the latest wave of proposals from “the party of ideas.”
  • Konczal, Mike. “The Pragmatic Libertarian Case for a Basic Income Doesn't Add Up.” Next New Deal. August 4, 2014.
    • Contests Zwolinski's claim that there are 126 welfare programs. He argues that only 7 are really welfare, and the rest are common-good incentives that mainly support non-profit organizations, not gov't bureaucracy.
    • Also shows that the benefit programs are highly efficient and cost very little in terms of state/federal bureaucracy — less than for non-profits. (He doesn't address the claim that the benefit money would be easier to access and perhaps more efficiently used by recipients than existing programs.)
    • Argues that the programs libertarians propose to gut like Social Security and Medicare are not what people normally think of as welfare, and would end up making people rely on less efficient private markets
    • Ed Dolan's plan for wiping out tax expenditures would increase the tax that the top 20 percent pay, which they'd likely react against
    • “The case for the BIG needs to be made from firmer ground. … what won’t make the case is the idea that the government already does this, just badly. When push comes to shove, the numbers won’t be there.”
  • Spross, Jeff. “Why reform conservatives should embrace a universal basic income.” The Week. August 12, 2014.
    • He's giving advice to conservatives, but he's a reporter for Think Progress and The American Prospect.
    • Aimed toward the “reformocons” who are on the rise
    • UBI and Paul Ryan: “This design comes with two immediate strengths that anyone who's read Ryan's plan will recognize. One, it's simple for Americans to use, as opposed to the smorgasbord of assistance programs they face now. And two, because there's no cutoff after a beneficiary reaches a certain level of income, a UBI doesn't create a disincentive for people to keep earning more.”
    • Sees this as possibly increasing workers' bargaining power for better conditions — “By providing a little financial breathing room, a UBI would combat labor market slack and let more workers say “no” to jobs that don't come with decent pay and sane schedules.”
    • “reform conservatives should embrace the UBI's modest reductions of work effort. One of the reformocons' primary concerns is for the “mediating institutions” of civil society; the families, neighborhoods, churches, community groups, charities and so on that make up the fabric of American social life”
  • Flanigan, Jessica. “Political Authority and the Basic Income.” Bleeding Heart Libertarians. September 11, 2014.
    • “Once we concede that the imposition of a property system on all people is unjust, we should still ask the further question of how that unjust property system should be structured to not commit further injustices. It shouldn’t further violate peoples’ natural rights, it shouldn’t benefit some people enormously while leaving others to suffer from deprivation and domination, and it should refrain from additionally disrupting people’s ability to plan their lives as they choose.”
    • “Though redistribution cannot justify forcing everyone to join a property system, it can at least compensate people who are very badly off partly because they were forced to join that property system. Some people will do very well under a property system that nevertheless violates their rights. But it is not a further rights violation if a property system doesn’t benefit the rich as much as it possibly could.”
  • See also: Flanigan, Jessica. “BHL’s & UBI’s.” Bleeding Heart Libertarians. April 30, 2012.
    • “I support a Universal Basic Income (UBI), and I think that other libertarians ought to as well.” — “When I say ‘social justice,’ I mean UBI.”
    • She identifies as a philosophical anarchist
    • A collection of market-libertarian reasons for UBI

Bibliography