18 December 2018

Universal Basic Income: Why should we (not) want this?

One of the most prominent debates of these times is concerned with the question regarding solutions for growing economic inequality and deteriorating social policy. Universal basic income is proposed as a radical solution for the extermination of poverty and the inspiration of economic fairness and freedom. Ingrid Robeyns, professor of Ethics of Institutions, presents the Ethical Annotation Universal Basic Income: Why should we (not) want this? Robeyns aims to equip the reader with tools to form sound judgement regarding universal basic income

Universal basic income is a monthly income for each citizen provided by the state. Universal basic income is unconditional, implying that one is not required to work, or even be prepared to work, nor has to meet specific characteristics, such as a handicap or living in poverty, in order to obtain it.

Robeyns argues neither for or against universal basic income, but she does aim for a debate based on grounded arguments. “It is wise to ask for the extent of the basic income, the ways it will be financed and what other services will be eliminated in order to pay for universal basic income.” According to the philosopher, it is also important to ask the question why we would want universal basic income. What are we aiming to achieve with universal basic income? The goals of universal basic income have implications for the question on how to finance it.

Prof. dr. Ingrid Robeyns
Professor Ingrid Robeyns


Who wonders whether universal basic income is a good idea, has to investigate alternative investments of the very same tax money, in addition to the preference of basic income over basic employment or the strengthening of the public sector. “For those aiming to make society better, more provident, or less rushed, universal basic income often seems like a sympathetic idea. But let’s take our duties as citizens in the public debate seriously and delve into the details and alternatives before being dragged along by rhetorical forces pleading for or against universal basic income,” says Robeyns.

According to the most probable expectation, the introduction of universal basic income will lead to a decrease in working hours for women.

Labour Market

One of the largest objections against universal basic income is the idea that it would eradicate labour stimulus. Acedemic literature, however, points towards little evidence that the labour market will change substantially. The expectation exists, though, that the number of working hours for women will decrease. “Based on what we know about differences in labour supply of men and women, as well as gender effects of other policy measures allowing citizens to acquire income without performing paid labour, the most probable expectation is that the introduction of universal basic income will lead to a decrease in working hours for women,” says Robeyns.

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Robeyns argues that we should question whether it is undesirable that a universal basic income can lead to a partial retreat of women from the labour market, and as an alternative increasingly focus on caregiving tasks, such as aiding children, parents, the handicapped or the sick. “One’s opinion may differ from another, but while establishing a careful evaluation, it is of importance not to ignore this effect.”


Fact and fiction regarding universal basic income in the Netherlands

Ingrid Robeyns and the University of Antwerp have published a report on universal basic income, with financial aid from the Gak Institute. The rapport Feit en fictie omtrent het basisinkomen in Nederland (Fact and fiction regarding universal basic income in the Netherlands), by hand of the Centre for Social Policy of Antwerp University, has made an informed speculation regarding the possible consequences of a universal basic income in the Netherlands. The researchers from Antwerp conclude that universal basic income for the Netherlands would not be a good idea.