Basic Income - Lessons From Around the Globe

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Post by - Sam Walby

After reading around the topic for a few years, it’s easy to think you know everything there is to know about Basic Income. Then along comes something like Citizen’s Basic Income Day and you have to admit you still have a lot to learn. From Milton Friedman’s famous negative income tax to unconditional BI models, it’s an idea that bridges the political divide like few others – one of the reasons it’s such a fascinating discussion topic.

Hosted at London School of Economics and Political Science as part of its LSE Festival: Beveridge 2.0 event series, the day set out to explore the nebulous boundaries of what constitutes Basic Income and spotlight past and future BI experiments across the globe, including the exciting feasibility studies currently taking place for BI trials in Scotland.

Hearing the arguments for and against BI from the perspective of the Socialist Left (Hartley Dean, LSE) and the self-described Neoliberal Right (Daniel Pryor, Adam Smith Institute), it became clear how BI carries the hopes and dreams of diverse political bedfellows. One audience member rightly pointed out that it’s no good saying we are in favour of BI – we need to be very clear about what kind of BI we are advocating for, and with what intentions.

Presentations about past and ongoing BI experiments were inspirational. In particular, Dr Sarath Davala (India Network for Basic Income) brought out the powerful human element of the Indian experiment with just some of the 100 case studies carried out across 18 months, while Dr Michael Cooke (GiveDirectly) showed the ease with which participants in Kenya receive regular payments using mobile phone money transfer services.

From the perspective of UBI Lab Sheffield and the hope of bringing a BI experiment to the North of England, it was particularly interesting to see a short presentation from Charlie Young, a researcher at the RSA. The RSA are taking the lead on feasibility studies for the upcoming Scottish BI experiments in Fife, North Ayreshire, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Though it’s clearly early days for this project, it shows what has been achieved with some political buy-in north of the border, with support coming from the Scottish National Party, Labour and the Conservatives.

Speaking to Charlie after the event, he told me about other like-minded BI projects across the UK and on the continent, and my attention was drawn to Circles, a European project exploring cryptocurrency as a novel way of distributing a universal basic income.

Less heartening were tales of how BI experiments had been stifled or completely derailed by central or local government intervention in various countries. Perhaps this can be taken as a sign that BI is no longer considered a pie-in-the-sky, utopian idea – but, conversely, an idea with legs which could pose a genuine threat to the status quo, at least in some quarters.

As advocates and campaigners, we need to be clear that BI is not a silver bullet. But with the world of work changing so dramatically and the social contract disintegrating before our eyes, we have to be open-minded about radical new approaches, explore them curiously, and test them rigorously.


More about the author


Sam Walby - Now Then Magazine Editor in Chief

Sam is editor-in-chief of Sheffield magazine Now Then, as well as a director at Opus Independents, its parent company. Now Then champions independence in art, trade and journalism, with all articles written by local people. 


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