Advocated (and attacked) by commentators across the political spectrum, paying every citizen a basic income regardless of their circumstances sounds utopian. However, as our economies are transformed and welfare states feel the strain, it has become a hotly debated issue. In this compelling book, Louise Haagh, one of the world's leading experts on basic income, argues that Universal Basic Income is essential to freedom, human development and democracy in the twenty-first century. She shows that, far from being a silver bullet that will transform or replace capitalism, or a sticking plaster that will extend it, it is a crucial element in a much broader task of constructing a democratic society that will promote social equality and humanist justice. She uses her unrivalled knowledge of the existing research to unearth key issues in design and implementation in a range of different contexts across the globe, highlighting the potential and pitfalls at a time of crisis in governing and public austerity. This book will be essential reading for anyone who wants to get beyond the hype and properly understand one of the most important issues facing politics, economics and social policy today.
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1 Basic Income in Time
Just a Fad?
Basic Income, Human Development and Citizen Equality
Modern Civilization and Social Incorporation
Unfreedom in Welfare – Crises of Incorporation
Pathways to Basic Income Reform
Basic Income and Development Goals
Income and Poverty
Autonomy and Human Development
Social Equality and Public Reform
2 Human Development Freedom
Social Policy and Market Justice
Human Development and Humanist Justice
Existential Need and Security
Cognitive Development and Stability
Dependence and Fellowship
The Unitary Self and Control over Time
The Competition Economy and the Process of Justice
3 Democratic Development
Democratic Equality and Public Effectiveness
Basic Income and State Feasibility
Economy and Democracy
Basic Income and Other Benefits
Basic Income or Services
Automation and the Future of Work
Governance and Public Norms
The Life of a Gentleman
End User License Agreement
An Illustrative Citizen’s Basic Income Scheme
The Effect on Means-Tested Benefits
Structure of Cooperative Public Finance: Public Revenue Scores and Levels
Public Spending on Human Development
Relative Employment and Income Returns to Education, Females
Relative Employment and Income Returns to Education, Females
Structure of Employment and Non-Employment Time
Structure of Control of Core Human Activities, Social Relations, and Forms of Ti…
Structure of Control of Core Human Activities, Social Relations, and Forms of Ti…
Public Revenue and Public Spending on Human Development, 2000 and Trend
Public Revenue and Public Spending on Human Development, mid-2010s and Trend
Human Development Freedom
Political Economies of Punitive and Humanist Governing
Control over Time, in Work and across Work, Early 2010s
World Income Concentration, 2000–2015
Human Development States: Labour Market Returns to Education, mid-1990s
Human Development States: Labour Market Returns to Education, mid-2010s
Unemployment Systems, 2007
Unemployment Systems, 2010
Unemployment Systems, 2014
Table of Contents
Sam Pizzigati, The Case for a Maximum Wage
Louise Haagh, The Case for Universal Basic Income
Copyright © Louise Haagh 2019
The right of Louise Haagh to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in 2019 by Polity Press
Polity Press65 Bridge StreetCambridge CB2 1UR, UK
Polity Press101 Station LandingSuite 300Medford, MA 02155, USA
All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Haagh, Louise, 1967- author.Title: The case for universal basic income / Louise Haagh.Description: Medford, MA : Polity, 2019. | Series: The Case for | Includes bibliographical references and index.Identifiers: LCCN 2018029800 (print) | LCCN 2018035479 (ebook) | ISBN 9781509522996 (Epub) | ISBN 9781509522958 (hardback) | ISBN 9781509522965 (paperback)Subjects: LCSH: Income distribution. | Welfare state. | Distributive justice. | BISAC: POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Economic Policy.Classification: LCC HB523 (ebook) | LCC HB523 .H33 2019 (print) | DDC 331.2/36--dc23LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018029800
The publisher has used its best endeavours to ensure that the URLs for external websites referred to in this book are correct and active at the time of going to press. However, the publisher has no responsibility for the websites and can make no guarantee that a site will remain live or that the content is or will remain appropriate.
Every effort has been made to trace all copyright holders, but if any have been overlooked the publisher will be pleased to include any necessary credits in any subsequent reprint or edition.
For further information on Polity, visit our website: politybooks.com
This book is the product of many people’s support. I especially want to thank the editorial team at Polity Press, above all George Owers, for his many wise suggestions, Ian Tuttle, for his incisive scrutiny, Julia Davies, for expertly overseeing the process of writing, and several anonymous referees, who commented generously on previous versions of this manuscript. All errors are mine.
The thoughts in these pages emerge from a diverse set of influences. Growing up in an egalitarian Nordic culture informed my perspective on substantive democracy. My work with local union leaders in Chile helped me understand the importance of local representation. Studying labour relations in East Asia and social protection in Latin America strengthened my sense of the importance of stable economic structures in human development. I became interested in basic income in 2002, and from the beginning perceived its key role in democratising the welfare state. After 2008 I became more preoccupied with the study of development in high income countries, a time coinciding with sustained crisis in the public sector, reinforcing in my mind a need to set basic income in a broader context of rethinking the civilisation project.
I am heavily indebted to the British Academy, the Nuffield Foundation, The Leverhulme Trust, and the Economic and Social Research Council, for funding research and fellowships over the years. I acknowledge the influence of my early mentors, Alan Angell, Laurence Whitehead, Samuel Valenzuela, and Gabriel Palma and Ha-Joon Chang.
My engagement with basic income debate is almost wholly down to the community of scholars and activists involved in the Basic Income Earth Network, including – in order that I met them - Eduardo Suplicy, Philippe van Parijs, Guy Standing, Rubén lo Vuolo, Lena Lavinas, Karl Widerquist, Jurgen de Wispelaere, David Cassasas, Ingrid van Niekerk, Michael Howard, Almaz Zelleke, Claus Offe, Annie Miller, Malcolm Torry, and Sarath Dawala, to mention only some of the names.
I am grateful to my colleagues who have hosted recent debates on basic income, including BIEN Denmark, and in Britain, Marc Winn of the Dandelion Foundation, Anthony Painter of the Royal Society of Arts, and Lord Liddle, Jeff McMahan and Peer Zumbansen, for workshops at Westminster, Corpus Christi, and King’s College, during 2017-2018. I have learnt a great deal from recent engagements with international organisations, in particular the groups led by Gilda Farrell within the Council of Europe, and by Christine Brown, within the World Health Organisation. My deepest gratitude extends to my close friends and family, including Ed, Mille, Neil, Ato, and Teddy. I dedicate this book to my sons, and to the memory of my mother and grandparents, whose guidance remain my inspiration today.
For Ato and Teddy, and in memory of Birte, Dagmar, Rigmor and Albert With love and gratitude
The idea of a basic income – to give all residents a modest regular income grant that is not dependent on means-tests or work requirement – has caught the attention of policy-makers and social activists across the globe. The proposal has been around for a long time. English radicals put forward a version in late eighteenth-century England: Thomas Spence as a dividend from communally owned land,1 and Thomas Paine as a payment from land rent to make up for the private appropriation of the commons with ‘a right, not a charity’.2 Basic income initiatives have appeared since in different guises. One variety discussed in the United States in the 1970s involved simplifying and reducing welfare services in favour of alleviating poverty.3 Basic income has recently resurfaced in Europe with a referendum in Switzerland in 2016, and in 2017 the Finnish government introduced a two-year official experiment investigating a partial form of this policy by lifting conditions on income support. Municipalities in a series of other countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark, France and Spain, have launched similar pilots. However, the idea remains controversial, with a British parliamentary enquiry concluding that the citizens’ income is ‘not the solution to welfare state problems’.4 If distributing money on a regular and life-long basis to everyone is desirable, why is the plan thought so controversial? And why has the idea not been pursued until now?
The first thing to note about basic income is the wide spectrum of support the scheme enjoys. Endorsements from varying ideological schools share a common claim from which this book takes its departure: whatever form you might think society ought to take, whether you support an enterprise or a cooperative economy, first, a society of individuals functioning on their own and together needs to come into being. Incorporation is a foundation for civilization, the market, human development, social equality and democracy. Postwar welfare states made strides in social incorporation, but their foundations were weak. Containing working-age adults within society was too reliant on one institution: the employment contract. This contract form lacked an independent underpinning. The result was bureaucratic intrusion into individuals’ decisions in the course of administering rights to subsistence. States which supported individuals’ freedom through health and schooling took it away in the marketplace. As employment became more precarious, the coercive implications of the lack of independent material security for all have only got worse.
Hence, this book argues for basic income as part of democratic reconstruction at a juncture of global crisis in governance. Capacity in the state and society for governing humanely – with regard for each individual’s trajectory – depends on the polity first acting in a society-constitutive role, defined as building individual capabilities, on the one hand, and cooperative capabilities, on the other. The case for basic income I make is therefore a case for democratic equality grounded in equal interests humans have in existential security. Basic income can be viewed in this context as a pivoting transformation, a form of institution-building that, by stabilizing the individual economy, can ignite other positive changes. The political scientist Bremner described states that gain strength and stability within the international system by not being reliant on any one other state as pivoting states.5 Basic income is grounding in a broader as well as deeper sense, in this case as stabilizing the lives of all individuals makes for more resilient communities, sub-nationally, nationally and globally. A civilized social order depends on not just strategic players but all constituent units enjoying a foundation of existential security.
Basic income may contribute to more stable and democratic societies in a number of ways: first, stabilizing the human condition by giving everyone some existential security, may support genuinely motivated activity, and unitary senses of self. Income support systems based in means- and behaviour testing that now predominate make crises in individuals’ lives a source of altered social status and therefore permanent. Currently, individuals in good jobs rely entirely on those jobs. Individuals on income support fear losing it. Neither group benefits from the status exclusions that define their mutual relation and station. Income security structures set up this way subvert the effect of other life-long guarantees, as represented in universal health. By instead converting divisive and unstable income security to unconditional communal property, basic income entails a stand against both moral and material destitution, helping to prevent individuals having to lean on one dependent relation or institution, and then another, angling for, yet never achieving, a sense of basic independence. The way that establishing or losing control over one’s life hangs on a form of constant support was understood by many who have supported basic income, including the postwar British economist James Meade, who used a path diagram of individual life histories to understand the progression of economic inequalities, and the British political philosopher Brian Barry, who saw basic income as a way to abate cumulative disadvantage.6 Basic income, however, also sets out a different way of thinking about the form of the most important institutions shaping the human life course. Economic security surveys show that mental states are positively affected by enjoying at once stability in education, external income security, and employment.7 In this context, the image of the pivot represents the way an individual standing upright – enjoying independence of self – is someone who has support from many sources, yet has reason to feel confident her basic status is unaffected by any one source of support.8
Second, by extension, basic income may contribute to greater stability and equality in social relations, thus generating a basis for cooperation in society. As basic income extends to all citizens – as well as a whole life – it enables a sense of community, whilst underpinning systems that respond to variation in needs.
Finally, at the level of systems, basic income may generate a stable monetary foundation on which other public development and social policies can build and support each other’s effects. Today, across Europe’s mature welfare states, emerging gaps in benefit access have been identified by public service providers – such as head-teachers, and leading medical professionals – as a chief cause of stunted growth and relative child poverty.9 A range of studies have documented adverse health impacts of anticipating benefit status assessment within different European countries,10 including in Norway,11 Denmark12 and Britain,13 despite different systems of application.
The Marmot review into health inequality in Britain identified barriers to income benefit access as a cause of grave concern,14 whilst also guarding against simply targeting specific groups, and promoting instead cross-sectoral approaches.15 However, what in practice does better policy coherence for human development require? On what does it rest? How is income insecurity a health issue of all groups in society? In this book I argue that insecurity in society is epidemiological. Not only does insecurity that affects some groups more visibly have shared structural roots. In addition, those secure today see in others their own insecurity tomorrow. Fear within social groups deepens division between them, and thus breaks down societal trust in immeasurable ways. In this context, I argue that a basic income is civilizing. Like basic health and schooling, basic income is a form of hybrid property in that it gives individuals rights while also belonging to and strengthening society. By weaving basic security into the fabric of society, basic income is a rising tide, lifting all boats, whilst bringing those stranded into common waters. At the same time, the way basic income is pitched in relation to other services in society and development policies matters. Deregulatory policies since the 1980s, culminating in the global crisis of 2008, and ensuing public austerity, and rising inequality, cast civil society as the marketplace, and social services as a last resort. In this altered context, misrepresentations of basic income as a singular distributive measure, including through usurpation by populist tides and narrow polemics, become more likely. Hence, despite having greater moral appeal in conditions of rising inequality, basic income may itself be both less likely and effective in this context. The upshot of this equality paradox is to place conditions for basic income in the foreground: the universal welfare state needs basic income – but basic income also needs the universal welfare state and the solidarity and regulatory systems on which it has rested.
On that basis, I set a civic model of basic income apart from two other contemporary models, an adapted version of basic income, such as the Negative Income Tax, which in effect targets the poor; and a libertarian model which favours direct transaction and hence competition in governing social life, normatively and practically. To further clarify how basic income forms part of wider debates about contemporary society, I will draw out why the balance between competition and cooperation in the economy matters. The Danish political scientist Ove Pedersen has argued that the emergence since the 1980s of so-called competition states – defined by a new imperative to ensure all units in the economy are used to advance economic efficiency – occurred surreptitiously, without being fully reasoned for.16 On the other hand, states today are only to varying and often a diminishing degree in charge of the process. Growing reliance on highinterest borrowing to fund public services,17 and – in Europe – tight restrictions on public budgets to help resolve the private finance crisis,18 are symptomatic of a weakened regulatory and fiscal state. Hence, a competition economy has grown as a force in its own right to the extent that public choice-sets are narrowed. Thus, if basic income always has been closely bound up with the development of the welfare state, today marks a watershed moment, at which rethinking the connection is critical. What this means of course has many elements, but in this book I focus on meanings I link with institutions of human development.
Accordingly, in this chapter I set out how the human development democratic case for basic income I make is distinctive and relevant today. I first address elementary confusions, and how the democratic and human development case can help answer them. Next, I briefly trace how this builds on the human development approach, and relates with other approaches, by explicitly connecting the case for basic income with addressing flaws in the postwar welfare state, as well as in the contemporary global competition economy. In the remaining chapters, I elaborate how the human development and democratic case is connected with freedom and justice, and with constructing governance capabilities in the state and society.
Because a basic income is paid regularly, without means-test or behaviour conditionalities, and to individuals, it is often compared with the public pension or child allowances. These provisions in turn are sometimes considered routes to basic income reform. In this context, the most common concern about basic income is that it is paid to all, including working-age adults and those with money and property. The case for doing so, however, is usually stated in terms of rights: the social theorist of the 1960s Richard Titmuss’s famous saying that ‘separate discriminatory services for poor people have always tended to be poor quality services’19 applies with equal force to income security. Like Paine, Titmuss wanted to put an end to charity, ‘to abolish the need to be moral’.20 An evident rationale for at least a certain basic level of permanent income security for all is that this guards against income security provision being used coercively, or dwindling into pithy handouts. An obvious case against basic income, on the other hand, is that it does not exist. If we have done alright until now without a basic income, why don’t we focus on improving things that have been shown to work? Can we really afford another costly experiment? Yet, before we dismiss basic income as just a fad, we need to consider a number of basic points.
First, the idea of unconditional rights to monetary security may be thought neither new nor radical when we survey the cross-cutting support the scheme has enjoyed. For people on the left, support for this proposition by market liberals, from Friedrich Hayek21 in the 1940s, to Milton Friedman in the 1960s, and Charles Murray22 and founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg,23 today, all protagonists of privatizing welfare, or of reducing the role of the state, is a concern. Yet, support for basic income has also been strong among left liberals and critical theorists, from Bertrand Russell24 in the 1930s, to the German social theorist Claus Offe25 in the 1980s. In their own way, all understood that modern states had failed to secure the basic independent status of citizens.
Second, basic income is already an electorally viable idea, notionally supported by half of the population of Europe.26 Although populations in high-welfare states are more sceptical, we should not assume this is connected with rejection of universal rights to security. The couching by the European Social Survey of basic income as a ‘replacement’ of other benefits may have contributed to a misperception that eradication of a whole class of benefits, rather than some of their cost, is at stake.27 The campaign for the 2016 referendum in Switzerland which basic income proponents lost – with only 23% in favour – had quoted a higher level of basic income than commonly discussed.28 Moreover, scepticism about basic income among societal actors may be tied to the way the proposal is sometimes connected with futuristic projections about artificial intelligence (AI) and a workless society29 rather than practical problems we face right now.
Finally, since libertarian proposals for basic income linked with a smaller role for the state are the best known, many people understand basic income as a transfer to compensate other forms of exclusion. This drives other common misunderstandings, including the idea that basic income will replace wage incomes or employment, that it is connected with ‘an ideology of idleness’,30 or that it is essentially a way to address poverty.
To understand how basic income is relevant for civilization and democracy, we need to ask a different set of questions: rather than being a displacement of the welfare state, formal employment or cooperation, is basic income important or even essential in some form, to make those work? If we are to make that case, on what grounds would it be? If basic income is clearly not the answer to all of the problems of the welfare state, can we afford not to implement a right to basic monetary security?
When we conceive of basic income in practical terms as a condition of modern society, its constitutive role as an enabler of human development and social cooperation comes into view. Among the many practical reasons for basic income, the most general is how basic income fills a gap in the infrastructure of modern democracies and economies. In this book, I tie a democratic and governance case for basic income to a case for human development in the understanding that the viability of economic and political systems depends on developmental trajectories of individuals succeeding. Basic income is, along with other institutions of social incorporation, essential to make this happen.
The debates and problems we have today grew out of the ideological wars of the 1960s, between those wanting to improve welfare, like Titmuss, and those wanting to minimize it, like Friedman. In this battle of ideas, the school of market economics could draw on the flaws in the postwar project, and did so successfully. The meaning of Titmuss’s comment about separate services is pertinent here. At stake in targeting services to the poor is not just stigma, the identification of ‘faults in the individual’ rather than ‘faults in society’, and ‘treating applicants as supplicants’.31 Titmuss foresaw the roots of this form of welfare in inequality. He anticipated consequently the damaging effects that an ideology of public austerity – defined as the notion that public spending is waste and must be cut to favour the market32 – would have. Austerity as an ideology of the market applied to the public is essentially about breaking down public costs into the smallest part – for everything that is spent must have a justified ‘cause’, not because this system saves for society as whole, but because the public sector is defined in narrow assistentialist terms. As Titmuss put it so aptly, conservative discourse about welfare is above all concerned with ‘unidentifiable causality’, defined as ‘waste’.33 The shared form of basic income contests this morality and definition of waste as ‘non-authorized’ spend, by suggesting that the attempt to identify causality, specifically the exact reasons people choose or not to work particular jobs, with the intent to reduce basic income security, also cannot be done without waste and coercion. Rather, security by definition is shared, and reduces overall waste by permitting a holistic programme of social and human development.
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