Basic Income

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search


A Basic Income is a monetary sum allocated unconditionally to citizens of a government. Guaranteed Minimum Income requires more than citizenship as it is provisional and may require a means test or contribution to community service.

Basic Income can be compatible with Peer-to-Peer philosophy by providing a sense of economic equality that suites the voluntary nature of peer networks. A secured standard of living can help develop even richer economic foundations for existing and as yet developed peer networks.

Material below may relate loosely with the two political economic conceptions of Basic Income and Guaranteed Minimum Income, including the many shades thereof.

See also:


Basic Income Guarantee

Allan Sheahen:

"A Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) is a government-ensured guarantee that all citizens will receive an unconditional income on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement – enough for food, shelter, and basic necessities." (

Citizen's Dividend

"Citizen's dividend or citizen's income is a proposed state policy based upon the principle that the natural world is the common property of all persons (see Georgism). It is proposed that all citizens receive regular payments (dividends) from revenue raised by the state through leasing or selling natural resources for private use. In the United States, the idea can be traced back to Thomas Paine's essay, Agrarian Justice, which is also considered one of the earliest proposals for a social security system in the United States. Thomas Paine best summarized his view by stating that "Men did not make the earth. It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds."

This concept is a form of basic income, where the Citizen's Dividend depends upon the value of natural resources or what could be titled as "common goods" like seignorage, the electro-magnetic spectrum, the industrial use of air (CO2 production), etc.

The State of Alaska dispenses a form of citizen's dividend in its Permanent Fund Dividend, which holds investments initially seeded by the state's revenue from mineral resources, particularly petroleum. In 2005, every eligible Alaskan resident (including their children) received a check for $845.76. Over the 24-year history of the fund, it has paid out a total of $24,775.45 to every resident." ( Wikipedia)

Negative Income Tax

"In economics, a negative income tax (abbreviated NIT) is a progressive income tax system where people earning below a certain amount receive supplemental pay from the government instead of paying taxes to the government. Such a system has been discussed by economists but never fully implemented. It was developed by Juliet Rhys-Williams in the 1940s and later by United States economist Milton Friedman in 1962 in Capitalism and Freedom. Negative income taxes can implement a basic income or supplement a guaranteed minimum income system.

In a negative income tax system, people earning a certain income level would owe no taxes; those earning more than that would pay a proportion of their income above that level; and those below that level would receive a payment of a proportion of their shortfall, which is the amount their income falls below that level.

Typically, this is proposed to be implemented as a flat tax combined with a fixed government payment. For example, if the flat tax rate is 25% and a government payment of $10,000, then:

  • A person earning $40,000 per year would be at the break-even point. They pay no taxes, because their tax payment equals their government payment.
  • A person earning $1,000,000 would pay close to the full 25% tax, as the government payment would be negligible compared to the $250,000 in tax payments.
  • A person earning only $4000 per year would pay $1000 in taxes but receive $10,000 in payment, for a net income of $13,000, or $9,000 in net government payments. The net payment is 25% of the difference between their income and the break-even income."

( Wikipedia)

Asset-Based Egalitarianism

"Asset-based egalitarianism is a form of egalitarianism which theorises that equality is possible by a redistribution of resources, usually in the form of a capital grant provided at the age of majority. Names for the implementation of this theory in policy include universal basic capital, basic capital and stakeholding, and all are generally synonymous within the equal opportunity egalitarian framework." ( Wikipedia)


A Brief History of Basic Income in the United States

* 1964-1996

"In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” in America. He said we have a moral responsibility to end poverty. Four decades later, that war has yet to be won.

In 1969, a Presidential Commission recommended that America adopt a Guaranteed Income – often called a Negative Income Tax – with no mandatory work requirements, for all citizens in need. The idea was endorsed by Martin Luther King, the National Council of Churches, the California Democratic Council, the Republican Ripon Society, the 1972 Democratic Party platform, and several Nobel-prize-winning economists.

In his 1972 Presidential campaign, Senator George McGovern proposed giving $1000 to every needy American. During the 1970s, Congress debated four guaranteed income bills, but none of them passed.

However, some good things came out of these struggles. In 1974, Congress passed Supplemental Security Income, a negative income tax for people over age 65. In 1976, Congress adopted the Earned Income Tax Credit, which gives money to low-income workers.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the trend turned to cutting social programs. Homeless people reappeared for the first time since the Depression. Food banks and soup kitchens sprang up. This trend culminated in the 1996 welfare reform bill.

The new law was sold as a way to get people off welfare, and it did. Welfare rolls in the United States are down more than 50 percent from 1996. But it didn’t reduce poverty. That’s because welfare reform dumped many recipients into low-paying jobs – with no benefits or ability to move up.

A better strategy is available. In 1980, the state of Alaska began distributing revenues from state oil revenues to every resident. The Alaska Permanent Fund gives about $1000 to every man, woman and child in the state each year. There are no work requirements. It is not enough to eliminate poverty, but it is a model on which to build a simpler and more effective system of social protection."

(Allan Sheahen, It’s Time to Think BIG! How to Simplify the Tax Code and Provide Every American with a Basic Income Guarantee)

* The Tax Cut for the Rest of Us Act of 2006

"On May 2, 2006, the first-ever Basic Income Guarantee bill, written by USBIG members Karl Widerquist and Al Sheahen, was introduced in the U.S. Congress by California Congressman Bob Filner."

"If we think USBIG should just stick to our annual conferences and remain nothing more than a discussion group, okay. We can all just write papers and schmooz with each other every year. If we think promoting a bill in Congress is too much for our little group, we should admit that to ourselves and I should probably tell Filner to forget about it; that we’re just too small to be effective.

But if we think we should keep at it and try to use the bill to advance what we are spending a good deal of our time on, then I feel each one of us has to do something to help out. A couple of us can’t do this alone. We need each one of us to somehow persuade our respective legislators to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill (which will be given a new number in the 110th Congress). Or we should write some op-ed pieces. Or write a letter to the editor. Or get on talk radio. Or give a talk to the Rotary Club or Lions Club and have them write their legislators. Or do something that we can take back to Filner to show him we’re not dead in the water. Otherwise, it is a certainty this will be our last shot and our credibility will be zero.

And it won’t be easy. The House of Representatives adopted a pay-go budget rule on January 5. Under this rule, a bill cannot be considered on the House floor if it changes tax and entitlement programs in a manner that increases the deficit. In other words, any entitlement spending increase must be offset by either tax increases or entitlement spending cuts of the same or greater magnitude.

Our bill has no such pay-go in it. It will cost $186 billion a year. I’ve been saying: “Well, we can pay for it by reversing the Bush tax cuts of 2001-03.” (Those cuts amounted to a $224 billion, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.) But that’s about as vague as you can get.

What we need is for a legislator to co-sponsor the bill just because he/she feels it’s the right thing to do, and the cost be damned; that it’s an investment in America, not just an expense." (Al Sheahen [1] The Rise and Fall of a Basic Income Guarantee Bill in the United States Congress)

The bill, considered a small BIG rather than a big BIG, provides $2,000 for each legal adult and $1,000 for others per year. See Text of H.R. 5257: Tax Cut for the Rest of Us Act of 2006 for details in finely woven governmental prose.


  • Frase, Peter. Do they owe us a living? Activist. 2010 Feb 3.

Available from: Accessed 2012 Jun 2. Archived by WebCite at [anchor]

"Frase advocates a guaranteed minimum income, also called Universal Basic Income (UBI), as a “non-reformist reform”, implementable under capitalism but setting the stage for further radical transformation of society. Both UBI and the general concept of non-reformist reforms are associated with the Marxist theorist André Gorz. Even a small UBI has the potential to reduce the dependence of individuals on the labor market for survival. UBI is often criticized on the ground that if no one needs to work in order to live, certain unpleasant but essential types of work will not be done at all, even for high wages. Frase responds that only a minority of socially useful types of work will fall into this category, and such cases can be addressed with ad hoc solutions as they arise. Much socially useful work needs little or no “material incentive”. Other forms of work that are common in capitalist societies are socially harmful, and removal of their incentives would actually be beneficial. UBI minimizes the need for top-down micro-management of decisions about the social usefulness of work. It also helps to dispel the illusion that all forms of work are socially beneficial, which tends to be common in a capitalist system without UBI, because without UBI any job helps someone to survive." (

It can be done

Excerpts from various proposals demonstrate the ability to redistribute financial wealth.

Allan Sheahen, It’s Time to Think BIG!:

"In 1997, Irwin Garfinkel of Columbia University and Chien-Chung Huang of Rutgers University produced a comprehensive paper which became the foundation of Leonard Greene’s 1998 book: The National Tax Rebate. Using 1994 government data, Garfinkel and Huang calculated that the U.S. could afford an annual BIG of $4000 per adult, $2175 per child, and $8000 per senior by eliminating 115 federal welfare programs, abolishing the income tax personal exemption, and taxing BIG benefits.

In 2004, Charles Clark of St. John’s University estimated the U.S. could afford a BIG at the 2002 poverty level of $9359 for an adult and $3500 for a child by eliminating some federal welfare programs and by replacing the individual income tax rates with a flat tax of 35%.

Those studies followed on previous work done by Michael Murray of Drake University, in his 1997 book: …And Economic Justice for All. Murray judged that a 35% flat tax could pay for a mid-ranged BIG of $6000 per adult and $2000 per child."

Critiques of the Basic Income from the left


  • Frase, Peter. Category errors [Internet]. Jacobin. 2012 May 22.

Available from: Accessed 2012 May 23. Archived by WebCite at [anchor]

"Frase cites socioeconomic research showing that the psychological stress resulting from unemployment is considerably reduced when the unemployed are socially recategorized as “retired”. He infers that the unhappiness of the unemployed is largely due to the social stigma attached to their condition, and that the Left should make it a high priority to “combat the ideology that equates working for wages with contributing to society.” Frase also advocates the adoption of a “Basic Income” or UBI policy that guarantees everyone a minimum income independently of work:

- 'In the short term, job creation may be a necessary response to our immediate crisis. But the longer term project is to disconnect waged work from its associations with material well-being and with social prestige'." (


  • Ackerman, Seth. The work of anti-work: a response to Peter Frase [Internet]. Jacobin. 2012 May 22.

Available from: Accessed 2012 May 23. Archived by WebCite at

"Ackerman responds to Peter Frase’s “Category errors” with a defense of full employment as an important goal for the Left and a critique of Frase’s project of destigmatizing unemployment. According to Ackerman, the stigma attached to unemployment is not an arbitrary prejudice or a manifestation of a simplistic work ethic that holds labor to be intrinsically desirable; it is a consequence of the Left’s fundamental concern with equality. Fairness demands equal sharing of the burdens (including labor), as well as the rewards, of the collective social enterprise of production. The Communist Manifesto had called for “equal liability of all to work.” Even privileged elites throughout history have recognized that evasion of work is ethically questionable, and have freely chosen to work in the absence of economic necessity, or have tried to justify refusal of work by claiming that they offer other benefits to society. Normalization of unemployment with a guaranteed income, if possible at all, will embitter and divide the working class. The ultimate elimination of wage labor for all remains a fundamental goal of the Left, but can only be achieved through gradual reduction of working hours under conditions of full employment." (


Belgium: Debate on the Basic Income

"On the occasion of the publication of "L'allocation universelle", an introductory book on basic income by Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght (see NewsFlash 32), the Belgian media seem to be paying renewed attention to the idea, at least in the French-speaking part of the country. On Sunday June 12, 2005, both authors were invited to talk for one hour about basic income in a live broadcast of the public radio RTBF. On June 22, 2005, one of the main Francophone daily newspapers, "La Libre Belgique", published a double-page debate on the topic.

Van Parijs and Vanderborght restated some of the arguments presented in their essay, and tried to show their relevance in the Belgian context. Three intellectuals were asked to give their opinion on the feasibility and desirability of the proposal. Claudine Leleux (University of Brussels) argued in favour of basic income and explained why she feels most attracted by a version of the idea defended by Jean-Marc Ferry, a French but Brussels-based philosopher. The two others were much more skeptical. Jean-Marie Harribey (University of Bordeaux IV and member of the Scientific Council of ATTAC) criticized the idea of disconnecting work and income, arguing that the left should rather go for full employment. Paul Palsterman (scientific council of Belgium's main trade-union CSC-ACV) argued that basic income proponents were too skeptical about the remaining possibilities of collective action in the field of welfare.

Finally, on July 9, 2005, the picture of the front cover of the popular weekly "Télé Moustique" featured a typical manager in his three-piece suit, lounging on the beach. It ran as a title: "Tomorrow, paid to do nothing?" While in a long piece a journalist presented the basic income idea and the international debate, including a reference to the Alaskan Permanent Fund Dividend, in a short interview unionist Paul Palsterman restated again some of his main objections. "The BI proponents", he said, "might be good science-fiction authors, but they are bad philosophers."


The basic income and the Commons sphere

Vasilis Kostakis, from

"The need of adopting a new environmental policy is imperative, but there is a common understanding that whatever we do, we can’t eliminate pollution. It is a part of the system’s entropy that, fortunately or unfortunately, will always exist. The reduction of the level of environmental pollution to a viable frame is our responsibility. In addition, whether they pollute the environment or not, many financial activities use our common wealth for producing services and goods and making profit (while this profit is not re-distributed back to society-even a part of it-and it is accumulated by a few people, despite the fact that for its creation a part of the field of the Commons was used as a means of production). The radio station uses air frequencies for its operation, whereas hydroelectric companies use water wealth for electric energy production, which will be later sold to consumers. Coming back to one of the questions of this special issue, I will try to answer tentatively how can environmental policy become connected to the fight against world poverty.

Based on all the above hypotheses, I argue that a new environmental policy that will include the institutionalization of the field of the Commons, can contribute to the fight against local and world poverty, through the establishment of a universal income. Enterprises, states, and even individuals, that pollute the environment through various ways (waste, nuclear tests, etc.) or television stations and telephone companies that use the air (the air consists a means of production for them) for the transmission of their signals, will pay a large amount of money to a Commons fund, as they use or affect, directly or indirectly, part of our common wealth. The money that will be raised through this process, will create a reserve fund, which will support the distribution of the basic universal income targeting poorer social groups. An example of environmental protection (it has to do with the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions) and, at the same time, of fundraising for the universal income is the cap and dividend system, that is being developed by the Onthecommons Organization. The idea behind this method is relatively simple: a limited number of pollution licences is issued (according to official reduction objectives), and then sold through auction to the pollutants through, while the money raised are not spent by governments, but distributed equally to all citizens. As the poorer social groups are those who pollute less, they benefit more by such a policy measure, according to Barnes. In a few words, the cap and dividend system is a way for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and protecting household incomes with one stroke. The pillar of this system is the creation of a trust that can be run either by the government, or by a non-profit company. This trust will issue pollution licences and will distribute the money raised through their auction to all citizens."

More Information

Resources in English


Article by Andrea Fumagalli (not available online yet):



  • WIDERQUIST, Karl, LEWIS, Michael Anthony & PRESSMAN, Steven (2005). The Ethics and Economics of the Basic Income Guarantee. Aldershot: Ashgate, ISBN (Hardback).

"Governments in the US, the UK and other nations around the world routinely consider and, in some cases, experiment with reforms of their income support systems. The basic income guarantee, a universal unconditional income grant, has received increasing attention from scholars as an alternative to the kinds of reforms that have been implemented. This book explores the political, sociological, economic, and philosophical issues of the basic income guarantee.Tracing the history of the idea, from its origins in the late eighteenth century through its political vogue in the 1970s, when the Family Assistance Plan narrowly missed passage in the US Congress, it also examines the philosophical debate over the issue. The book is designed to foster a climate of ideas amongst those specifically interested in the income support policies and more widely for those concerned with public, welfare and labour economics. Its coverage will enable readers to obtain an in depth grounding in the topic, regardless of their position in the debate." Publisher's website:


RAVENTOS, Daniel (2007), Basic Income: The Material Conditions of Freedom, London: Pluto Press, 240pp., ISBN: 9780745326290 (Paperback), ISBN: 9780745326306 (Hardback),

Basic Income is a policy idea that could help us revolutionise the way we organise society, Daniel Raventós argues. Raventós is chair of the Spanish Basic Income Network, and Professor at the University of Barecelona. His book is a first-class introduction to basic income - what it is, how we can organise it, and how it can benefit the majority in different spheres of their lives. Basic Income is simply the idea that everyone in a given society has a right to a minimal income. This is paid by the state out of taxation. Unconditionally set at a subsistence level, it would take the place of unemployment and other conditional benefits, and enhance effective freedom. This would bring profound social changes, Raventos argues. The campaign in favour of basic income is growing and governments are beginning to take notice. This is a clear, concise guide to the principles and practicalities of this revolutionary idea.

According to Philip Pettit, L.S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Human Values, Princeton University, Raventos' book is 'The best introduction. It offers a first rate history of the idea, develops a powerful case in its support, and explores all its implications'. In his endorsement, Philippe Van Parijs, Professor of Economic and Social Ethics at the Université Catholique de Louvain and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University indicates that "in several countries, no one has contributed more to the public emergence of [basic income] than Daniel Raventós.'


Three books based on American movements are listed here at


  • Arneson, Fred Block, Harry Brighouse, Michael Burawoy, Joshua Cohen, Nancy Folbre , Andrew Levine, Mieke Meurs, Louis Putterman, Joel Rogers, Debra Satz, Julius Sensat, William H. Simon, Frank Thompson, Thomas E. Weisskopf, Erik Olin Wright. Edited and introduced by Erik Olin Wright (Volume II, Real Utopias Project Series, London: Verso, 1996)
  • Redesigning Distribution: basic income and stakeholder grants as cornerstones of a more egalitarian capitalism, by Bruce Ackerman, Ann Alstott and Philippe van Parijs, with contributions by Barbara Bergmann, Irv Garfinkle, Chien-Chung Huang , Wendy Naidich, Julian LeGrand, Carole Pateman, Guy Standing, Stuart White, and Erik Olin Wright (Volume V of the Real Utopias Project Series, London: Verso, in press 2005)



Two documents from Eric Olin Wright:

A 35-page summary from Philippe Van Parijs


Basic Income Studies (BIS)

(the website below doesn't exist anymore, description left for reference)

Basic Income Studies: An International Journal of Basic Income Research (BIS) is a new international journal devoted to the critical discussion of and research into universal basic income and related policy proposals. BIS is published twice a year by an international team of scholars, with support from Red Renta Basica, the Basic Income Earth Network and the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network.

The inaugural issue of BIS will appear in 2006 with articles by Joel Handler, Stuart White and Yannick Vanderborght, and a retrospective on Robert van der Veen and Philippe Van Parijs's seminal article on "A Capitalist Road to Communism". The retrospective includes a reprint of the original article and a set of specially written comments by Gerald Cohen, Erik Olin Wright, Doris Schroeder, Catriona McKinnon, Harry Dahms, Gijs van Donselaar and Andrew Williams.

BIS is currently inviting contributions from academic scholars, researchers, policy-makers and welfare advocates on a wide variety of topics pertaining to the universal welfare debate. The editors are interested in publishing research articles, book reviews, and short, accessible commentaries discussing aspects of basic income or a closely related topic. BIS accepts research from all main academic disciplines, and welcomes research that pushes the debate into previously uncharted areas. BIS aims to promote the research of young scholars as well as seasoned researchers, and the editors particularly welcome contributions from non-Western countries.

For more information, please visit our website at or contact the editors, Jurgen De Wispelaere and Karl Widerquist. Scholars who want to have their books considered for review or who would like to review a book for BIS should contact Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon.


Basic Income Earth Network is a global resource.

The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (The USBIG Network) is an informal network promoting discussion of the basic income guarantee in the United States.

The Citizen Policies Institute is a Basic Income advocacy group in the United States.

Basic Income Advocacy Organisations : website of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network. : website of the Basic Income Earth Network. : website of the Citizen's Income Trust, U.K. : website of Basic Income Guarantee Australia : website of the Basic Income Japanese Network : website of Red Argentina de Ingreso Ciudadano : website of Red Mexicana Ingreso Ciudadano Universal : website of Red Renta Basica, Spain : website of Basic Income Network Italy : website of Netzwerk Grundeinkommen und sozialer Zusammenhalt, Austria : website of Netzwerk Grundeinkommen, Germany : website of Borgerlønsbevægelsen, Denmark : website of Vereniging Basisinkomen, Netherlands : website of the Global Basic Income Foundation