essays in this collection were first given as papers at the first
congress of the United States Basic Income Guarantee (USBIG) network.
his foreword Guy Standing distinguishes between those who see a Basic
Income (BI) as facilitating an efficient market economy, 'allowing for
greater labour market flexibility and making for a society of greater
individualism and economic rationality' (pp.xiii-xiv) and those who
believe that a BI 'must be part of an egalitarian strategy, not to be
seen in isolation' (p.xiv).
the Basic Income of the Foreword is only one possible example of the
Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) which the book and USBIG are about, as a
BIG is defined as 'a public policy that unconditionally ensures that
the income of every citizen reaches some minimum level. Its guarantee
is unconditional in the sense that every citizen receives it without
any obligation to work, to have children, to get married, or to perform
any socially mandated task' (p.1). The problem with this definition is
that both a Citizen's Income and the UK's means-tested Pension Credit
and Income Support can fit into it and that 'basic income guarantee'
can either mean that an unconditional equal income is paid to all
citizens or that the State ensures that no-one's income falls below a
certain level. These are very different ideas. When the editors list
the possibilities they have in mind (negative income tax (NIT), BI and
Basic Capital (BC)) they omit the means-tested options, suggesting that
the definition on p.1 should read 'a public policy which by some means
or other pays to every citizen an income the amount of which is not
affected by the citizen's other income' (a definition which with a
small stretch of its literal meaning can include NIT by counting an
income tax allowance as a cash payment).
the reader keeps in the mind the terminological difficulties then the
papers collected here will be of great interest.
2 to 5 relate some important history.
2 revisits the Speenhamland experiment of 1795, finds that 'while it is
theoretically possible that a floor under incomes would be transformed
into a ceiling, this certainly did not happen during the Speenhamland
period, and there is little evidence that it has ever happened' (p.43),
and concludes that 'if an income guarantee were in place, employers
would become even more cautious about imposing wage cuts' (p.43) - but
only, of course, if such an income guarantee were non-means-tested.
Chapter 3 discusses the idea of a capital endowment paid for by
inheritance tax; and chapter 4 the recent history of American income
maintenance policy: the New Deal, food stamps (means-tested), the
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and workfare. Chapter 5 returns to US
NIT experiments, in which work disincentive effects were found to be
interestingly small (though the press at the time treated the existence
of any such effect as serious) and in which the major effect was found
to be higher divorce rates - which is what brought the experiments to
II is entitled 'Debate', and here some significant ideas are discussed:
'citizenship' in chapter 6, 'liberal neutrality, socialism and work' in
chapter 7, 'exploitation' in chapter 8 (i.e. a BI recipient's ability
to exploit others' work effort - Widerquist finds the case unproven),
and 'freedom' in chapter 9.
third part of the book seeks 'evidence' for an equity-efficiency
trade-off (the trade-off is small), for whether the EITC has made a BI
unnecessary (though the conclusions are about lack of evidence for a
link between short- and long-run employment incentive problems), and
for the risks of cumulating income sources (a 'universal social wage'
would be better).
The final section contains descriptions of particular proposals for a BI in South Africa, Brazil (where Senator Eduardo Suplicy prefers a BI to other proposals), Belgium and Holland (back-door strategies), Canada (means-tested) and the UK (Negative Income Tax: feasible).
the quality of the papers is uneven (it always is at conferences) and
they are very different from each other in style, length, depth of
analysis, scientific rigour and terminology (see above), a cumulative
case emerges for a non-means-tested BIG, preferably a BI, with NIT as a
close runner-up and BC as an interesting outsider.
For anyone researching a Citizen's Income this book is essential reading; and for anyone interested in the subject there will be chapters which will be of interest.
We look forward to further collections from the USBI(G) network.