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A basic income is a proposed system of social security, that periodically provides each citizen with a sum of money that is sufficient to live on. Except for citizenship, a basic income is entirely unconditional. Furthermore, there is no means test; the richest as well as the poorest citizens would receive it.
A basic income is often proposed in the form of a citizen's dividend (a transfer) or a negative income tax (a guarantee). A basic income less than the social minimum is referred to as a partial basic income. A worldwide basic income, typically including income redistribution between nations, is known as a global basic income.
The proposal is a specific form of guaranteed minimum income, which is normally conditional and subject to a means test.
The Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) describes one of the benefits of a basic income as having a lower overall cost than that of the current means-tested social welfare benefits. However critics have pointed out the potential work disincentives created by such a program, and have cast doubts over its implementability.
Examples of implementation
The U.S. State of Alaska has a system which provides each citizen with a share of the state's oil revenues. The USA also have the Earned income tax credit for low-income taxpayers. In 2006 a bill, written by members of the advocacy organization USBIG, to transform the credit into a partial basic income, was introduced in the US congress, but did not get passed.
In 2008, a pilot project with a basic income grant was started in the Namibian village of Otjivero. The city of Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada had an experimental basic income program ("Mincome") in the 1970s.
In Belgium, winners of the game Win for Life of the national lottery are awarded with a monthly basic income of EUR 1,000. Winners of a similar lottery in Virginia receive USD 1,000 on a weekly basis.
Methods of implementation
One proposed method of offsetting the cost to the Treasury of this tax expenditure lies in its coupling with a flat tax, a type of federal income tax in which all taxpayers are subject to a single tax rate. The current model of progressive income taxes used throughout the western world could be eliminated, but the system would still be progressive, since those at the lower end of the wage scale would pay less in taxes than they would receive in guaranteed income.
Many countries have political parties that advocate a basic income, such as the Green Party of Canada, Green Party of England and Wales, Vivant (Belgium), De Groenen (The Netherlands), the Scottish Green Party, and the New Zealand Democratic Party.
Worldwide, supporters of a basic income have united in the Basic Income Earth Network. BIEN recognizes numerous national advocacy groups.
The world's most noted advocate of a basic income system may be the Belgian economist Philippe van Parijs. Other advocates include Gunnar Adler-Karlsson (Sweden), Dieter Althaus (Germany), Saar Boerlage (Netherlands), Herwig Büchele (Austria), Andre Gorz (France), Charles Murray (USA), Keith Rankin (New Zealand), Daniel Raventós (Spain), Osmo Soininvaara (Finland)), Eduardo Suplicy (Brazil), Walter van Trier (Belgium) and Götz W. Werner (Germany).
In 1968, James Tobin, Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith and another 1,200 economists signed a document calling for the US Congress to introduce in that year a system of income guarantees and supplements. In the 1972 presidential campaign, Senator George McGovern called for a 'demogrant' that was very similar to a basic income. Mike Gravel, a former candidate for the 2008 Democratic nomination for President of the United States and a candidate for the 2008 Libertarian nomination for the President of the United States, advocates for a tax rebate paid in a monthly check from the government to all citizens.
In his final book Full employment regained? James Meade states that a return to full employment can only be achieved if, among other things, workers offer their services at a low enough price, that the required wage for unskilled labour would be too low to generate a socially desirable distribution of income, and that therefore a citizen's income would be necessary.
In his Robotic Nation essays, Marshall Brain argues that the growing amount of automation in the workplace will eventually displace a large percentage of workers, and that in order to be able to maintain the economy, an annual stipend will be needed. A similar argument was made by Jeremy Rifkin, in his book The End of Work.
In October 2011, the International Labour Organization, in cooperation with the United Nations, published a report advocating for a basic income security sufficient to live, guaranteed through transfers in cash or in kind.
Many different sources of funding have been suggested for a guaranteed minimum income:
- Income taxes
- Sales taxes
- Capital gains taxes
- Inheritance taxes
- Wealth taxes, e.g. property tax
- Luxury taxes
- Elimination of current income support programs and tax deductions
- Repayment of the grant at death or retirement
- Land and natural resource taxes
- Pollution taxes
- Fees from government created monopolies (such as the broadcast spectrum and utilities)
- Collective resource ownership
- Universal stock ownership
- A National Mutual Fund
- Money creation or seignorage
- Tariffs, the lottery, or sin taxes
- Technology Taxes
- Tobin Tax
- Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN)
- Basic Income Studies: An International Journal of Basic Income Research
- Avinus Magazine (several articles, some in English)