Our politicians insist that we live in a time of unprecedented prosperity, yet more and more Americans are pointing out that the richest 1% of our society holds more wealth than the bottom 90% put together. In this timely book, economist Philippe Van Parijs has a simple plan for addressing not only poverty but other social ills: everyone would be paid a universal basic income (UBI) at a level sufficient for subsistence. Everyone, including “those who make no social contribution-who spend their mornings bickering with their partner, surf off Malibu in the afternoon, and smoke pot all night.”
Van Parijs argues that a UBI would reduce unemployment, improve women’s lives, and prevent the environmental damage caused by overproduction and fast growth. At the heart of his proposal is the intention to secure real freedom for all, because it offers the greatest possible opportunity to those with the least opportunities. He acknowledges that an idle surfer might not deserve a UBI, but that the surfer’s good luck would be no different than the good fortune enjoyed by those who benefit from the current distribution of resources.
Responses to this controversial proposal vary: Some are in favor of a basic income, but only if it’s tied to work. Others find the entire proposal unrealistic and unaffordable. Almost all agree, however, that it is time for us to talk about this issue.
NEW DEMOCRACY FORUM: A series of short paperback originals exploring creative solutions to our most urgent national concerns. The series editors (for Boston Review), Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers, aim to foster politically engaged, intellectually honest, and morally serious debate about fundamental issues-both on and off the agenda of conventional politics.