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Has the pandemic revived debate over universal basic income?

4 episodes
  • 1
    Universal basic income: utopia or a fuss over nothing?
  • 2
    Would universal income eliminate ‘bulls**t’ jobs?
  • 3
    “Universal income is more than a new form of welfare state”
  • 4
    Examples of “universal basic income”
Épisode 1/4
Richard Robert, Journalist and Author
On October 13th, 2021
4 mins reading time

Key takeaways

  • Formalised in the 1980s, the idea of a “universal basic income” has long remained marginal, even utopian.
  • But recently, Kenya, India and Finland launched experiments, Switzerland organised a referendum and, in 2020, the United States distributed $1,200 per person to help households cope with the pandemic.
  • Advocates say it is simple, fair, and effective, referring to the fact that despite the huge sums spent on ‘social’ poverty has not disappeared from rich countries.
  • However, critics complain about how it would remove the incentive to work, making some jobs less attractive and others much more expensive.
  • The idea of a minimum universal income thus raises objections as serious as the justifications that support it.
Épisode 2/4
Richard Robert, Journalist and Author
On October 13th, 2021
4 mins reading time
Philippe Van Parijs
Philippe Van Parijs
Guest professor at the Universities of Louvain and Leuven

Key takeaways

  • The idea of a universal minimum income gained momentum in 2016 thanks to an experiment in Finland, a Swiss referendum and French presidential candidate Benoît Hamon.
  • Then, in 2020, during the pandemic it became a much less outrageous idea to pay everyone – albeit temporarily – an individual income.
  • For Philippe Van Parijes, a modest basic income that would not entirely replace pre-existing social welfare schemes could largely fund itself.
  • Moreover, he believes that an unconditional universal income could help to eliminate so-called ‘bulls**t’ jobs and encourage occupations that pay little or irregularly but are meaningful in themselves.
Épisode 3/4
Richard Robert, Journalist and Author
On October 13th, 2021
4 mins reading time
Juilen Damon
Julien Damon
Lecturer at Sciences-Po, HEC and En3s, columnist and director at Éclairs

Key takeaways

  • Advocates of universal income fit into various intellectual and political categories; some with the aim of reinforcing the welfare state as a universal base, whilst others push for universal income as way to even overpower said state.
  • Historically, even though social welfare is public, it remains a charitable or philanthropical service.
  • For Julien Damon, universal income is not a magic wand; if its objective is to fight poverty, it would not work because pre-existing social welfare schemes have never achieved that.
  • Rather, he says that as it is envisaged by its advocates, universal income has another objective: to allow freedom in a society where everyone will be able to choose between, for example, a boring but well-paid job or a meaningful but almost unpaid job.
Épisode 4/4
Richard Robert, Journalist and Author
On October 13th, 2021
2 mins reading time

Contributors

Richard Robert

Richard Robert

Journalist and Author

Editor of Telos and author, Richard Robert teaches at Sciences Po. He directed the Paris Innovation Review from 2012 to 2018. Latest books: Le Social et le Politique (dir., with Guy Groux and Martial Foucault), CNRS éditions, 2020, La Valse européenne (with Élie Cohen), Fayard, published in March 2021.