What's Wrong With a Free Lunch? (New Democracy Forum)
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Our politicians insist that we live in a time of unprecedented prosperity, yet more and more Americans are pointing out that the richest 1% of our society holds more wealth than the bottom 90% put together. In this timely book, economist Philippe Van Parijs has a simple plan for addressing not only poverty but other social ills: everyone would be paid a universal basic income (UBI) at a level sufficient for subsistence. Everyone, including "those who make no social contribution-who spend their mornings bickering with their partner, surf off Malibu in the afternoon, and smoke pot all night."
Van Parijs argues that a UBI would reduce unemployment, improve women's lives, and prevent the environmental damage caused by overproduction and fast growth. At the heart of his proposal is the intention to secure real freedom for all, because it offers the greatest possible opportunity to those with the least opportunities. He acknowledges that an idle surfer might not deserve a UBI, but that the surfer's good luck would be no different than the good fortune enjoyed by those who benefit from the current distribution of resources.
Responses to this controversial proposal vary: Some are in favor of a basic income, but only if it's tied to work. Others find the entire proposal unrealistic and unaffordable. Almost all agree, however, that it is time for us to talk about this issue.
NEW DEMOCRACY FORUM: A series of short paperback originals exploring creative solutions to our most urgent national concerns. The series editors (for Boston Review), Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers, aim to foster politically engaged, intellectually honest, and morally serious debate about fundamental issues-both on and off the agenda of conventional politics.
idea of a UBI taken seriously. Here, as elsewhere, Van Parijs struggles with the tension between his ideal vision of a UBI and a version of the UBI that would be politically and economically feasible. His procedure for resolving this tension is the weakest part of his argument. In his ideal vision, receipt of the UBI is not conditioned by the individual’s behavior, household status, or other sources of income, and the amount to be received is greater than a subsistence level. Behind this emphasis
Founded in , BIEN held its eighth congress in Berlin in October . It publishes an electronic newsletter (email@example.com), and maintains a web site that carries a comprehensive annotated bibliography in all EU languages (http:// www.etes.ucl.ac.be/BIEN/bien.html). For a recent set of relevant European essays, see Loek Groot and Robert Jan van der Veen, eds., Basic Income on the Agenda: Policy Objectives and Political Chances (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, ). . Federal
). Elaboration is provided by Tony Atkinson, a member of that commission, in his ‘‘The Case for a Participation Income,’’ Political Quarterly (): –. . ‘‘Roughly,’’ because exact payments depend on household structure, and so does the ‘‘poverty line’’; but it is the flavor of the program rather than the details that matter here. . In Australia, for example, the unemployment benefit (‘‘Newstart Allowance’’ or ‘‘Youth Allowance’’) is subject to a ‘‘mutual obligation’’ activity test
individual, noncontributory basic pension as full substitutes for existing means-tested benefit schemes for the young and the elderly. Indeed, some of these countries already have such age-restricted UBIs for the young and the elderly. Contributory retirement insurance schemes, whether obligatory or optional, would top up the basic pension. As for the working-age population, advocates of a universal minimum income could, in the short term, settle for a ‘‘partial’’ (less-than-subsistence) but
subsidies to employers, or paying subsidies to employees. A first option, particularly fashionable in France at the moment, consists in a social redefinition of ‘‘full time’’— that is, a reduction in maximum working time, typically in the form of a reduction in the standard length of the working week. The underlying idea is to ration jobs: because there are not enough jobs for everyone who would like one, let us not allow a subset to appropriate them all. On closer scrutiny, however, this