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Basic Income Revisited


Robert Skidelsky argues that a UBI is now a necessity: “…the idea of a UBI has made recurrent appearances in history – starting with Thomas Paine in the eighteenth century. This time, though, it is likely to have greater staying power, as the prospect of sufficient income from jobs grows bleaker for the poor and less educated. Experiments with unconditional cash transfers have been taking place in poor as well as rich countries.

UBI is a somewhat uneasy mix of two objectives: poverty relief and the rejection of work as the defining purpose of life. The first is political and practical; the second is philosophical or ethical.


A standard objection to UBI as a way to replace earnings from vanishing jobs is that it is unaffordable. This partly depends on what parameters are set: the UBI’s level, which benefits (if any) it replaces, whether only citizens or all residents are eligible, and so on.

But this is not the main point. The overwhelming evidence is that the lion’s share of productivity gains in the last 30 years has gone to the very rich. And that’s not all: 40% of the gains of quantitative easing in the United Kingdom have gone to the richest 5% of households, not because they were more productive, but because the Bank of England directed its cash toward them. Even a partial reversal of this long regressive trend for wealth and income would fund a modest initial basic income.


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