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Basic Income

Updated on August 14, 2010

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. 

Do you like the idea of basic income?

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    • profile image

      Astute Reader. 6 years ago

      "This will end poverty, hunger, starvation."

      No, it won't. We already do it in the US and it just makes things worse. Poverty is no longer defined by not having enough to eat --- the poor in the US have cell phones and cable TV. They are hardly poor.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      I am opposed to this idea. All income is produced by people. To provide a basic income to those who refuse to work (or to make themselves employable) can only be accomplished by confiscating a productive citizen's earnings, which is theft by the state. Plus it puts too much power in the hands of the state, which leads to tyranny eventually. Everyone needs to contribute to the community or the community as a whole will have less and less as more people are paid to produce nothing. Nice idea but a recipe for failure. IMO :-)

    • thinkbefore profile image

      thinkbefore 7 years ago

      Fetty -- thanks for stopping by.

      I am not sure I understand your objection. The idea of basic does not consist in giving everyone the same, but in giving everyone the same minimum. There is plenty of room to get rich for those who want to get richer, much richer than others.

      I might be missing something of what you are saying but I don't think you are correct when you say that the 'plan' would reward everybody equally. Again, everybody would have a guaranteed monetary minimum, but everybody would still be free to work as much as he or she wishes and get richer than others. That's why I say that the idea of basic income is fully compatible with a capitalism mentality, the American dream and the like. Basic income isn't socialism.

    • fetty profile image

      fetty 7 years ago from South Jersey

      Anyone who is self-employed will never agree with this 'plan '. This plan rewards everyone equally when most people do not work equally. It is similar to the plan where a group of students are supposed to divide up the work equally to complete a project. There are always the children that do most of the work , then there are the pupils that do some of the work and there are the slackers who sit back and waste time and money. The economic engine in America has always been the brilliance, tenacity and work ethic of the small business man. The guy who puts in 12 hour days to complete the task he loves to do. There is no room in this plan for him.