Political Theory of Basic Income — Short Introduction
The debate about basic income has in contemporary times shifted from focusing on “if it is possible” to “how it actually can be implemented”. One important case was the decision brought by the Finnish government in 2015 to run a 2-year basic income experiment during 2017 and 2018 which became the first one performed at the state level. The government granted 560 € (euros) per month to 2000 participants without imposing any special conditions and demands, something which is not usually a case in the welfare systems. The whole process has of course caused a higher level of media coverage as well as a lot of discussions regarding basic income around the globe.
One particular aspect, when it comes to basic income, is that it represents a set of ideas where interests of different political actors are converging. During discussions it has occasionally been stated that the basic income unites “the unholy alliance”, namely the various actors from both left and right. Such kind of statements depend on two important reasons. The first one is that politics is a multi-dimensional process where different actors can aspire for similar goals on the basis of different values, stories and ambitions. The second one is that the basic income actually debate much more than money and welfare.
For example, when public institutions gather statistics on work in general terms, they focus only on the paid work. Other activities such as helping neighbours, taking care of sick children or relatives, writing texts at home etc. are not regarded as a work in the official statistics. Therefore, proponents of basic income also promote new ideas and philosophical views on social, technological and ecological transformation on the basis of more inclusive and reciprocal views on society, labour and humans.
Schools of thought
Proponents of the basic income can be categorized into the three schools of thought and ideological directions:
- Economic -liberal
- Growth-critical (or Green)
As you can see on the following table, these schools and their respective actors in democratic processes have their similarities and differences when it comes to their views on individual, society and labour.
Beyond “Left and Right”
As the table is showing, the main similarity between the different political actors is that they mainly are progressive, while the main difference is the levels of progress and changes one wants to achieve. Basic income offers a middle ground between what “left-wing” and “right-wing” actors in general see as their “sacred values”, ideas and ambitions. For example:
Left-wing: High taxation, public steering of economy, socioeconomic equality
Right-wing: Low-taxation, free market economy, economic differences
Basic income: Medium taxation, social/green market economy, basic equality
Not only a topic of national politics
Historian Yuval Noah Harari argues in his latest book “21 lessons for the 21st century” that the term “universal” in the case of basic income actually means “national”, state-focusing promotion of such policies. Harari promotes the idea of a universal basic income, stressing its global meaning as a solution in order to handle the processes of automation and risks for “a global class” of people who could feel meaningless and unnecessary.
One example of a non-state or supranational basic income is regarding proposals for the European Union. Proposal made by professor and the basic income advocate Philippe van Parijs is based on providing 200 euros to all adult EU-residents. Among his proposals for funding are among others an EU-tax on CO2 emissions and transformation of the existing EU-funds. Ideas regarding a Euro-Dividend are also promoted by the Unconditional Basic Income Network Europe.
When it comes to the global dimensions, there are concrete proposals made by intellectuals and promoted by several organizations. However, in an absence of “a world government” or some kind of the global governance institution, there are existing non-state and local alternatives such as the aid organization Give Directly . They offers the possibility for individuals to create the basic income programs for each other , representing a more efficient way to reduce poverty by giving money directly to people comparing to the older, government-government aid policies which are often used for some other interests or affected by corruption.
If you want to read more of my work on basic income please take a look on the following links