Workshop announcement: Universal Basic Income’s Social-Ecology? Theory and Evidence revisited

In face of the growing ecological, social and economic crisis we are witnessing, it is timely to revisit universal basic income theory and evidence on the instrument’s contested social and ecological consequences.

To do this, and as a kick-off event to the UBITrans’s lecture series on this topic (2022/2023), the UBITrans Team has organized a one-day workshop bringing into dialogue experts from the fields of economy, political science, sociology and psychology to critically examine some of the core hypotheses and its underlying assumptions in the debate on basic income’s potential social and ecological consequences.

The workshop will take place at Freiburg University (room R 01 012, Rempartstr. 16, 1st floor), on Tuesday, 25th October 2022, 9:00-16:30.

FRIBIS at the BIEN Congress 2022: Basic Income in Times of Crisis and Transformation

From September 26 to 28, 2022, the 21st Congress of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) will take place in Brisbane (Australia). Numerous members of FRIBIS will participate as speakers at the congress, which will be dedicated to the theme “What can basic income offer in a time of crisis and transformation?”.

The FRIBIS Gender and Universal Basic Income and Gender (UBIG) team will give a dedicated panel session on “Re-envisioning a feminist basic income framework” (27/09/22). Team coordinator Jessica Schulz and team members Toru Yamamori (Doshisha University), Almaz Zelleke (New York University, Shanghai), and Chloe Halpenny (University of Cambridge) will be participating, as well as Clem Davies, who works at the Götz Werner Chair for Economic Policy and Constitutional Economic Theory (GWP).

FRIBIS Director Bernhard Neumärker and Jette Weinel (FRIBIS team Basisgeld) will speak on “The Implications of UBI on Utility Functions and Tax Revenue” (9/27/22). Bernhard Neumärker will also give a talk on “The Net Basic Income: Towards A Resilient Governance and Welfare State Reform during a Crisis” (9/27/22) and participate in the Götz Werner Tribute Panel (9/28/22). The latter panel will also feature talks by FRIBIS Executive Director and GWP staff member Enno Schmidt and GWP Visiting Professor André Presse.

Gudrun Kaufmann, a member of the care team at FRIBIS, will discuss “Narrative Economics as an Approach to Universal Basic Income?” (9/26/22). Simon März, coordinator of the Expedition Basic Income team, will provide “A critical analysis of a proposed extensive UBI pilot study in Germany: is it advisable and how can municipalities finance it” (09/27/22).

The conference is not open to the public, but only to registered conference participants.

Philippe Van Parijs about BIEN: The precarious beginnings of a worldwide network

Image: BIEN founding conference, Louvain-la-Neuve, September 1986. Facing the lecture room, from left to right: Bill Jordan, Claus Offe, Philippe Van Parijs, Nic Douben, Annie Miller, Greetje Lubbi, Riccardo Petrella

Basic Income Earth Network has made a crucial contribution to the worldwide awareness of the idea of an unconditional basic income. For this to happen, perseverance was key. But also technology.

Philosopher Philippe Van Parijs reflects on current events and debates in Brussels, Belgium and Europe

A striking — and moving — initiative was taken last month by the executive committee of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN). They wanted to meet BIEN’s founders, or at least those of them who were still alive and who they could trace. The first question that came up was how the founders managed to find one another. Good question. In pre-internet times, this was not a straightforward matter. Nor was the running of an international network.

The idea of a universal, unconditional income had occurred to me in December 1982, as a clever way of addressing the problem of structural unemployment without relying on endless growth. I called it “allocation universelle”. The idea was so clever, I thought, that it must have occurred to others before me. How can I find them? Long before Google search, tips from colleagues were the best bet.

It did not take long for a friend at the OECD to send me a working paper published in 1979 at the University of Aston (UK) under the title “Can a social wage solve unemployment?”. The name was different, but the idea was the same and the argument similar. I immediately wrote to the author, a certain Stephen L. Cook. Alas, the letter came back. The addressee had just died, and his paper did not contain a single reference. Later tips proved more fruitful. They led to a Dutch trade union leader, a Capri-based Swedish aristocrat, the editor of a French magazine defending a “social income” since the 1930s and a handful of others.

I sent them all a personal letter inviting them to “the first international conference on basic income”, which was held in Louvain-la-Neuve in September 1986. Most of the participants did not know of one another beforehand, but their convergence and enthusiasm far exceeded what was needed for the wish to create an association to emerge. The Basic Income European Network was born, with an irresistible acronym: BIEN.

But then the real work had to start. A network cannot exist without a newsletter. In English only, we decided, but with the firm resolve to minimize the under-representation of what was written or happening in other languages: not an easy job. Three times per year, the newsletter had to be printed, stapled, slipped into an envelope on which a stamp had to be stuck before the pile of newsletters was taken to a post box. To cover the cost, an annual membership fee had to be collected, often in cash and by post so as to avoid prohibitive (pre-euro) bank charges.

A network cannot thrive without personal meetings. Every two years, BIEN organized a conference. Announcement, programme and registrations were sent by (quite often unreliable) post. In most cases, if you wanted copies of your paper to be available to other participants, you had to print them yourself and bring them along in your suitcase. And before the rise of low-cost flights, traveling to the conference could take a long time.

Despite all these logistic hurdles, BIEN reached the 21st century with more and more newsletter subscribers and conference participants coming from outside Europe. They soon started a campaign for turning BIEN into a global network. Forget it, was my first reaction. Operating on a European scale was already overstretching our modest human resources. Moreover, it seemed to me that an unconditional basic income could only make sense in countries with a developed welfare state. On both counts, I was proved wrong.

Firstly, the rapid spread of internet made it possible to reach a fast-growing number of BIEN members very cheaply by e-mail, to send them the newsletter electronically and to set up a website. The idea of a viable global network was no longer ludicrous. Secondly, in January 2004, Senator Eduardo Suplicy, chief campaigner for the globalization of BIEN, managed to convince president Lula to sign a law that committed Brazil to the gradual introduction of a universal basic income. I attended the ceremony — and capitulated.

In September 2004, at its 10th congress held in Barcelona, BIEN became the Basic Income Earth Network. Since then, it has done far more than just survive. It now has affiliate networks in 30 countries, runs a website with tens of thousands of visitors and has switched to organizing a congress every year rather than every two years. The next one, for the first time in hybrid format, will be held in Brisbane, Australia.

All this is due in the first place to a wonderful succession of executive committees made up of committed and competent volunteers, not least to the committee currently in charge, which the founders had the pleasure to meet last month. But technology also play an important part in the story. Just one final example.

Where did I attend last month’s meeting? In a car driven by my wife on a French motorway, with one of my grandsons taking part in his own way from the back seat. I could not only hear, but also see on a screen I held in my hands both my fellow founders and our successors, the latter in places as far apart as India, California and Japan. Totally unimaginable when we founders first met 36 years ago. Mind-boggling.

(This text was originally published in The Brussels Times, Wednesday, 17th August 2022. We share it here with kind permission by the author Philippe Van Parijs.)

NetFi team coordinator Teodoro Criscione co-authored two papers on community currencies

Both papers are available online:

E. S. Mattsson, T. Criscione and W.O. Ruddick, Sarafu Community Inclusion Currency, 2020-2021. Scientific Data 9:426, Nature Publishing Group, 2022. Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41597-022-01539-4

We describe a dataset of account information and detailed transaction records for a digital complementary currency in Kenya. This “Sarafu system” initially encompassed several local, physical community currencies, which began transitioning to a feature-phone mobile interface in 2017. One unit of “Sarafu” is roughly equivalent in value to a Kenyan shilling. The published data includes anonymized account information for around 55,000 users and records of all Sarafu transactions conducted from January 25, 2020 to June 15, 2021. Transactions totaling around 300 million Sarafu capture various economic and financial activities such as purchases, transfers, and participation in savings and lending groups. So-called “chamas” are key to the operation of the Sarafu system and many such groups are labeled in the data. Describing this data contributes to research on the operation of community currencies, monetary systems, and economic networks in marginalized, food insecure areas. The observation period includes the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic and several documented pilot projects and interventions.

E. S. Mattsson, T. Criscione and F.W. Takes, Circulation of a Digital Community CurrencyarXiv preprint2207.08941, 2022. Link: https://arxiv.org/abs/2207.08941 (in review!!!)

Circulation is the characteristic feature of successful currency systems, from community currencies to cryptocurrencies to national currencies. In this paper, we propose a network analysis methodology for studying circulation given a system’s digital transaction records. This is applied to Sarafu, a digital community currency active in Kenya over a period that saw considerable economic disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Representing Sarafu as a network of monetary flow among the 40,000 users reveals meaningful patterns at multiple scales. Circulation was highly modular, geographically localized, and occurring among users with diverse livelihoods. Network centrality highlights women’s participation, early adopters, and the especially prominent role of community-based financial institutions. These findings have concrete implications for humanitarian and development policy, helping articulate when community currencies might best support interventions in marginalized areas. Overall, networks of monetary flow allow for studying circulation within digital currency systems at a striking level of detail.

Basic Income and Sustainability: Perspectives from Constitutional Economics and Cultural Studies (Tandem Lecture)

On July 6, 2022, Bernhard Neumärker, Director of the Götz Werner Chair for Economic Policy and Constitutional Theory and head of FRIBIS, and Sebastian Kaufmann, Research Center “Nietzsche Commentary” of the Heidelberg Academy Of Sciences and Humanities and member of the FRIBIS team “Participation and UBI“, gave an interdisciplinary tandem lecture on the connection between UBI and sustainability.

In the first part of the lecture, Bernhard Neumärker discussed the connection between Basic Income and social sustainability from an economic perspective. In the second part, Sebastian Kaufmann explored from a cultural studies perspective the interconnections between the narratives surrounding UBI and ecological sustainability. The lecture was given as part of the event series “Alles im Blick? Interdisziplinäre Vortragsreihe Nachhaltigkeit“, in which sustainability is discussed as a shared topic between different disciplines (in German).

You can find the lecture on our YouTube channel.

02 August 2022: “Permissionless Innovation, Freedom, and Basic Income” by Dr. Otto Lehto

On Tuesday, 02 August 2022, the Basic Income Workshop Series continues with a contribution of Philosopher & former FRIBIS visiting scholar Dr. Otto Lehto: „Permissionless Innovation, Freedom, and Basic Income. He is going to present his input and subsequently have a discussion with the audience, Prof. Dr. Karl Widerquist & Prof. Dr. Bernhard Neumärker.

Time: 4pm – 5pm (CEST)

YouTube-Livestream: https://youtu.be/89QqLIbQ2kg

Do you wish to participate in the Zoom-Meeting directly? Send an E-Mail with your request to eventmanagement@fribis.uni-freiburg.de.

Basic income has been tied to real freedom for all (Van Parijs), capitalism and freedom(Friedman), freedom as the power to say no (Widerquist), and many other conceptions of freedom. All of these theories of freedom, despite their differences, involve an institutional structure of rights that gives people the right (both formal and substantive) to experiment with new things, to deviate from the expectations and demands of other people, and otherwise to innovate in a myriad ways. In my talk, I interrogate the relationship between the notion of freedom inherent in such popular
conceptions of basic income and the theories of innovation proposed in evolutionary political economy. (Schumpeter, Hayek, Hogdson, Beinhocker) I will argue that basic income could be seen as a tool of permissionless innovation, which grants people, especially poor people, the right to innovate without having to ask anybody for permission. I will normatively justify this right, not in terms of justice or equity, but in terms of a utilitarian theory of evolutionary welfare enhancement. I will argue that radical innovation is a compelling justification for a liberal implementation of basic income, and innovation should be encouraged in order to more effectively solve the problems of the poor. Crucially, socioeconomic innovation, in this technical sense, extends beyond the economic realm of goods, services, and technologies, to the cultural realm of habits, ideas, and social norms. However, the innovation perspective only justifies certain models of basic income that a) are tied to an extensive regime of market and civil freedoms and b) pass a comparative cost benefit analysis of institutional alternatives. This consequentialist conception challenges several prominent justifications, models, conceptualizations, and implementations of basic income, especially those that see UBI more as a means of stabilizing, equilibrating, or decelerating modernity.