What it is
Basic income is a simple idea. It consists in giving everyone a minimum amount of money or resources which are sufficient for sustenance. This will end poverty, hunger, starvation. All the beneficiaries of basic income will have a minimum monetary welfare guaranteed, no matter what.
A way to combine capitalism and socialism
Is basic income a communist-type idea? Not at all.
Basic income con exist within a fully capitalist market economy. One could even argue that basic income is the capitalist alternative to the welfare state. While in welfare-state economies, the state provides its citizens with services (education, health care, pensions, etc.), a state which implements basic income will provide its citizens with a minimum amount of money, instead of pre-packaged services. This means that basic income is fully compatible with a minimum state endorsed by anarco-capitalists and libertarians such as Robert Nozick.
Interestingly enough, the idea of basic income has been endorsed by many economists and philosophers of very different political orientations. Let me name a couple. The Belgian philosopher Philippe van Parijs, who is a neo-marixist, endorses basic income. The right-wing, capitalist enthusiast, the economist Milton Friedman supports a set of ideas similar to basic income under the name of "negative income tax." Not surprisingly, the philosopher Bertrand Russell held that basic income is a way to combine the advatanges of capitalism and those of socialism. For basic income has a socialist flavour because it guarantees a minimum to everybody. At the same time, it is a capitalist idea because it does not hamper creativity and personal initiative. Besides, as seen above, basic income is fully compatible with the existence of a minimum state.
Open problems and objections
But if basic income is so great, then why don't we implement it right away? Basic income is not a panacea and its implementation is not without problems. Here are some open questions that deserve carefully consideration:
1. Who will be the beneficiaries of basic income? The citizens of a state or the citizens of the world? The latter option is currently impraticable, while the former leads to other problems. Read on.
2. If the beneficiaries of basic income are the citizens of a state, there will be massive migrations towards countries with higher basic income, or from countries with no basic income towards countries providing basic income. As a consequence, immigration laws will have to become even more restrictive than they are now. This means that economic inequalities between rich and poor countries will not cease.
3. How do we the determine what count as basic? The term 'basic' is reminiscent of forms of Communist planning. What counts as basic in one place might not be so in another place. How can a centralized authority determine the amount of basic income for everybody everywhere?
4. How should basic income be funded? Taxation? Printing money? Sharing revenues from the national resources?
5. If everybody will have the same, basic amount of money, wouldn't that basic amount of money become essentially worthless? For instance, if we all receive 100 dollars, wouldn't the prices of everything automatically go up beyond 100 dollars, thus making our allowance of 100 dollars completely worthless?
These are importan questions, but they should not detract us from looking at basic income as a fruitful idea to end the injustice of poverty and inequality.