Basic income. Time for a radical rethink of work, well-being, citizenship

PERUGIA–Will western societies ever embrace the idea of a basic income? It could happen–and soon, said Guy Standing, a British economist at University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, speaking at the International Journalism Festival on Friday.

“We [who advocate for a basic income] were regarded as crazy, bad and dangerous. But now there’s what I call a perfect storm of factors which have suddenly made it relevant across the political spectrum,” said Prof. Standing. “I think we are in a very dangerous phase of a global transformation, a phase in which the neoliberal experiments of the past 30 years have created enormous inequality.”

The financial insecurity created by this equality has aroused interest in a basic income program, Prof. Standing said. He described a social program in which citizens would receive a guaranteed income from the government–which he suggests might start at about 30 percent of subsistence costs–meant to be supplemented by wages from work.

Prof. Standing answered questions from Alessandro Gilioli, a journalist with the Italian weekly magazine L’Espresso, including concerns about whether a basic income would encourage idleness, and whether it should be available to high-earning citizens as well.

“It’s an insult to say that if you gave everybody a modest social dividend we’d all become lazy,” Prof. Standing said, arguing that people would still feel motivated to earn more and improve their economic well-being. He argues basic income should be available to all citizens, because he says that schemes only aimed at the poorest people would “create a poverty trap” that disincentives people from working.

Prof. Standing’s book Basic Income: And how we can make it happen was published last year.

Patience Haggin