When is a Basic Income a Basic Income?

Posted on July 22, 2022

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At first glance it appears to be a simple question with a straightforward answer. We can use the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) definition: A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.

However two recent articles of BIEN members raise important questions about the question and explain that the answer may not be straightforward. Toru Yamamori asks in his article ‘Is a Penny a Month a Basic Income? Revisiting the historiography of the concept of a threshold in Basic Income’. The author presented an earlier version at the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Congress 2021 and has published the final document here at the Basic Income Studies journal. Should a Basic Income reach a threshold or minimum amount, before it can be called a Basic Income? Unfortunately his final analysis is behind a pay barrier and therefore not easily acccessible to the interested public. In order to give a wider audience an opportunity to participate in this discussion, you can read an earlier version of the paper here.

Malcolm Torry has presented a related paper during a conference in Braunschweig in March 2022: ‘Basic Income: A brief history of the idea‘. The paper reveals some interesting and hardly known historical facts about the Basic Income debate. Moreover he discusses whether a Basic Income should be at least at subsistence or poverty level or we can speak about a partial Basic Income below this level. He mentions the important question whether an adequate or sufficient Basic Income is affordable or feasible in society. Unfortunately the terms affordability or feasibility are hardly ever clearly defined in these discussions.