The idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI) is simple: Everyone should have an income. And that they should have it whether they work or not. Indeed, its simplicity has made UBI an attractive policy suggestion for many on both the left and the right. But sometimes the practical virtues of UBI can distract us from the deeper significance of this idea.
Karl Widerquist is an economist and political philosopher who has campaigned for UBI since the 90s. And he thinks that it is a practical idea. But he also thinks that it can remedy something deeper than government bureaucracies. He thinks that it can remedy our social contract. For Widerquist, UBI is our best tool to navigate the difficult waters between elitist liberalism and oppressive communism. Yet somewhere beyond those waters lies a genuinely free society. And he thinks we can get there very soon.
This is an important argument. But it is also a very stimulating one. Indeed, Widerquist‘s treatment of the topic takes us from the biases of John Locke to the hunting grounds of medieval peasants.
In this discussion, Dr Widerquist and Ilari discuss topics such as:
- Why UBI has friends on both sides of the political divide
- Why UBI is needed for a (genuinely) free society
- Modern poverty and the problem with "negative vs positive freedoms"
- Why modernity is not a land of the free (or how the masses lost access to the means of food production)
- The freedoms of our ancestors, from hunter-gatherers to peasants
- The problem with "owning" natural resources
- John Locke's mistake
- The role of the enclosure movements (in Europe) and colonialism (outside of Europe)
- Why Widerquist is not a Marxist
- UBI vs the Nordic welfare state
- What happened in Finland when the government tested a UBI
- Why UBI promotes respect, kindness, and unselfishness.
Technical terms mentioned
- Universal basic income or UBI (also known as basic income guarantee)
- Negative income tax (similar in outcome to a UBI)
- Positive vs negative freedoms
- The enclosure movement
Milton Friedman (20th Century American economist)
Isaiah Berlin (20th Century philosopher)
Thomas Paine (18th Century philosopher)
Henry George (19th Century economist)
Herbert Spencer (19th Century philosopher)
Gerald Allan Cohen (contemporary Canadian philosopher)
Michael Otsuka (contemporary philosopher)
John Locke (17th Century philosopher)
Thomas Hobbes (17th Century philosopher)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (18th Century philosopher)
David Hume (18th Century philosopher)
Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Theory (Widerquist & McCall 2017)
Prehistory of Private Property (Widerquist & McCall 2021)