Peter Abrahamson 
Ph.D. Associate professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen. 

Basic Income – Completion of Social Citizenship or Acceptance of Marginalization?

The presentation falls into two parts. The first one recalls my scholarly encounter with the ideas, discussions and practices surrounding the concepts of negative income tax, guaranteed minimum income and basic income from the 1970s into the 1990s with three focal points: The War on Poverty in the USA in the 1960s and early 1970s (Johnson & Nixon administrations); Danish debates following the Oil Crisis of the mid-1970 inspired by Revolt from the Center (1978), André Gorz (1981-83) and Erik Christensen (1990); European debates triggered by the fear of social dumping and social tourism following from the European Union project (Guaranteed minimum income recommendation network 1990-92; BIEN 1983[86]). In all three cases Basic Income (or the functional equivalent) was viewed as the solution to a major societal crisis of social integration (welfare dependency, mass unemployment and jobless growth) . During this period I came to appreciate the idea, perhaps rather intuitively and motivated by great sympathies and admiration for the Left leaning colleagues that promoted it. During the period of prosperity and post-neoliberalism from 1997 and onwards I continued to work on marginalization and social exclusion in an environment where the discussion on basic income had suddenly become very silent.

The second part of the presentation outlines my reflections on Basic Income provoked by an overwhelming and encompassing resurfacing interest in the idea currently everywhere from Latin America to East Asia, and now Norden, in part provoked by a fear of lack of jobs because of technological development (robots, AI) and contemporary relative high rates of youth and new graduates’ unemployment. It focuses on three elements: the welfare regimes and the polities which in the main promote the idea – neoliberals and conservatives in liberal regimes; the seemingly inevitability of setting the basis very low –  the ‘law’ of less eligibility; and, most importantly, the implicit acceptance of marginalization from the labor market and exclusion from consumer society. This sums up to viewing Basic Income as perhaps not such a good idea because it on the one hand does not address the problem of an increasingly inhumane work environment (the precariat [Guy Standing]) and on the other hand does not avoid the negative (exclusive) consequences of a life – temporarily or permanently – outside work society.

The presentation concludes, firstly and pragmatically that in societies with little inequality and relatively low levels of unemployment like the Nordic countries Basic Income can be an improvement as a substitution for means- needs- and work- tested social assistance, but not for sickness- and unemployment benefits and disability and early retirement pensions. Secondly, and more ideally, it is suggested to return to Gorz and the young Karl Marx with their emphasis on work as creation, fighting for humanizing the work environment and making it an inclusive one, where there is space for everyone, instead of adopting Basic Income as a way of administrating the poor outside of main stream society. 


Marina Gorbis

Margina is a social scientist and at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) in Silicon Valley. Her current research focuses on how social production is changing the face of major industries, a topic explored in detail in her book, The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World. 

Universal Basic Assets

Reflecting on decades of income data, Thomas Piketty and colleagues recently concluded that: “policy discussions about rising global inequality should focus on how to equalize the distribution of primary assets, including human capital, financial capital, and bargaining power, rather than merely discussing the ex-post redistribution through taxes and transfers.”  In other words, UBI may have great value but by itself it cannot serve as a solution to the vast and growing problem of extreme income inequalities.  When 8 men own as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the world population, we need more drastic measures in order combat extreme inequality but to also maintain a level of social cohesion required for functioning democratic societies.

Institute for the Future has been advocating the notion of Universal Basic Assets, policies and finance mechanisms to equalize access to various types of assets—private, public, and open.  Marina Gorbis, Executive Director of IFTF will share the latest thinking on the subject and the range of innovative efforts the Institute and others are engaged in to pursue Universal Basic Equity.  


Øyvind SteensenØyvind Steensen

Øyvind is a visual arts designer and the chair of BIEN Norway.

The welfare model in Norway

UBI in Norway as a natural continuation of the Norwegian/Nordic welfare model and what has worked here. UBI in light of the history of the welfare state, current developments and the society we are entering into.


Karl Widerquist

Karl is an American political philosopher and economist at Georgetown University-Qatar.

The Political Economy of Basic Income Trials

This presentation argues that trials aimed at raising the level of debate have an exceedingly difficult task. UBI almost defies testing. Researches end up studying something close to but not quite UBI or UBI along with other factors that won’t be present when the policy is introduced on a large scale. Some of the most important questions in the debate cannot be addressed by a trial. Others can only be investigated indirectly. Implementation trials are particularly vulnerable to the “streetlight effect”—in which less important questions receive exaggerated attention simply because they are easy to investigate—and to “spin”—in which some results are given a biased and perhaps overemphasized importance to achieve a political objective. No matter how well the study is conducted, its findings are vulnerable to misunderstanding.

If the trials are going to be valuable, decision makers involved will have to understand the political economy of the UBI debate and the relationship of trials to it. People designing trials need to begin with an understanding of what is being debated, and craft trials to address the most important questions as well as a trial can. People reporting and writing about the trials findings need to understand the extent to which those results answer the questions actually being debated so that they can relate the findings to those questions. People reading about results need to understand the ways in which they’re vulnerable to spin. This presentation discusses the political economy of UBI trials—and all the difficulties involved in conducting one that raises the level of debate—in an effort to draw lessons about how best to design trials and interpret their results.