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Abstract

The idea of a universal basic income is one of the most powerful and resonant policy proposals in contemporary public debate, and has received fresh impetus from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the intellectual roots of the idea remain under-explored, and the prevailing narrative of the history of UBI mainly reflects its supporters’ efforts to establish a historical lineage for their proposals. This introduction considers what a more rigorously historical approach to UBI might look like. It argues that historical understanding of UBI would benefit from greater sensitivity to the language and context of different schemes, the diverse objectives of basic income supporters, the ways in which political cultures and existing welfare structures mediate the reception of UBI proposals, and the role of networks in the development of a global basic income movement.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Pope Francis, Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2020), p. 131; Pope Francis, 2020 Easter message, delivered at the Vatican, 12 April 2020, and available online at https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/full-text-pope-francis-easter-sunday-urbi-et-orbi-blessing-43012.

  2. 2.

    Peter Sloman, ‘Universal Basic Income in British Politics, 1918–2018: From a “Vagabond’s Wage” to a Global Debate’, Journal of Social Policy, 47, no. 3 (2018): 625–642.

  3. 3.

    Joseph Hanlon, Armando Barrientos, and David Hulme, Just Give Money to the Poor: The Development Revolution from the Global South (Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press, 2010); James Ferguson, Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015).

  4. 4.

    Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (London: Verso 2015); Rutgar Bregman, Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There (London: Bloomsbury, 2017); Annie Lowrey, Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World (New York, NY: Crown, 2018).

  5. 5.

    Louise Haagh, The Case for Universal Basic Income (Cambridge: Polity, 2019).

  6. 6.

    Daniel Zamora, ‘The Case Against a Basic Income’, Jacobin, Dec. 2017, available online at https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/12/universal-basic-income-inequality-work.

  7. 7.

    Walter Van Trier, Every One A King: An Investigation into the Meaning and Significance of the Debate on Basic Incomes with Special Reference to Three Episodes from the British Inter-War Experience (Leuven: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 1995).

  8. 8.

    This phrase has been used very widely: see, for instance, Gideon Haigh, ‘Basic Income for All: A 500-Year-Old Idea Whose Time Has Come?’, The Guardian, November 10, 2016.

  9. 9.

    Bregman, Utopia for Realists, p. 33.

  10. 10.

    Guy Standing, Basic Income: And How We Can Make It Happen (London: Penguin, 2017), p. 10.

  11. 11.

    Ibid., p. 10.

  12. 12.

    John Cunliffe and Guido Erreygers, eds., The Origins of Universal Grants (New York, NY: Palgrave, 2004), xiii.

  13. 13.

    Quentin Skinner, ‘Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas’, History and Theory, 8, no. 1 (1969): 3–53, at 10, 11.

  14. 14.

    Ibid., 10.

  15. 15.

    Van Trier, Every One A King, pp. 417, 427.

  16. 16.

    Martin Ravallion, The Economics of Poverty: History, Measurement, and Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

  17. 17.

    José Harris, ‘From Poor Law to Welfare State? A European Perspective’, in The Political Economy of British Historical Experience, 1688–1914, eds. Donald Winch and Patrick K. O’Brien (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 409–37.

  18. 18.

    John Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies (second edition, New York, NY: Longman, 1995), pp. 122, 128.

  19. 19.

    Alice O’Connor, Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the Poor in Twentieth-Century US History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

  20. 20.

    Juliana Uhuru Bidadanure, ‘The Political Theory of Universal Basic Income’, Annual Review of Political Science, 22 (2019): 481–501.

  21. 21.

    Adrian Little, The Political Thought of André Gorz (London: Routledge, 1996).

  22. 22.

    See especially Jurgen de Wispelaere and José Antonio Noguera, ‘On the Political Feasibility of Universal Basic Income: An Analytic Framework’, in Basic Income Guarantee and Politics: International Experiences and Perspectives on the Viability of Income Guarantee, ed. Richard K. Caputo (New York/Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 17–38, and Jurgen de Wispelaere, ‘The Struggle for Strategy: On the Politics of the Basic Income Proposal’, Politics, 36, no. 2 (2016): 131–41.

  23. 23.

    Antti Halmetoja, Jurgen de Wispelaere and Johanna Perkiö, ‘A Policy Comet in Moominland? Basic Income in the Finnish Welfare State’, Social Policy & Society, 18, no. 2 (2019): 319–30, at 321.

  24. 24.

    This is, of course, the founding insight of both standard political economy models of redistribution (such as the Meltzer-Richard model) and the literature on the difficulties of welfare state reform associated with scholars such as Paul Pierson.

  25. 25.

    Brian Steensland, The Failed Welfare Revolution: America’s Struggle over Guaranteed Income Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), x.

  26. 26.

    Luke Martinelli and Nick Pearce, ‘Basic Income in the UK: Assessing Prospects for Reform in an Age of Austerity’, Social Policy & Society, 18, no. 2 (2019): 265–75, at 270.

  27. 27.

    Van Trier, Every One A King, p. 20.

  28. 28.

    Anne G. Miller, ed., Basic Income. Proceedings of the First International Conference on Basic Income, Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium, 4–6 September 1986 (Antwerp, 1986).

  29. 29.

    Samuel Moyn, ‘On the Nonglobalization of Ideas’, in Global Intellectual History, eds. Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2015), p. 201.

  30. 30.

    Jamie Peck and Nik Theodore, Fast Policy: Experimental Statecraft at the Thresholds of Neoliberalism (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), xxxi.

  31. 31.

    James Midgley, ‘Colonialism and Welfare: A Post-Colonial Commentary’, Journal of Progressive Human Services, 9 (1998): 31–50; Frederick Cooper, Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

  32. 32.

    Jean Drèze, ‘Famine Prevention in India’, in The Political Economy of Hunger, Vol. 2: Famine Prevention, eds. Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990); Jos Mooij, ‘Food Policy and Politics: The Political Economy of the Public Distribution System in India’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 25 (1998): 77–101.

  33. 33.

    Nick Cullather, ‘The Foreign Policy of the Calorie’, American Historical Review, 112 (2007): 337–64; Vincent Bonnecase, ‘When Numbers Represented Poverty: The Changing Meaning of the Food Ration in French Colonial Africa’, Journal of African History, 59 (2018): 463–81; Poornima Paidipaty, ‘Testing Measures: Decolonization and Economic Power in 1960s India’, History of Political Economy, 52 (2020): 473–97.

  34. 34.

    Frederick Cooper, ‘Afterword: Social Rights and Human Rights in the Time of Decolonization’, Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development, 3 (2012): 473–92, at 481.

  35. 35.

    Grace Davie, Poverty Knowledge in South Africa: A Social History of Human Science, 1855–2005 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

  36. 36.

    Daniel Zamora and Anton Jäger, ‘Historicizing Basic Income: Response to Daniel Zeglen’, Lateral, 8, no. 1 (spring 2019), available online at https://csalateral.org/forum/universal-basic-income/historicizing-basic-income-zamora-jager/; see also Daniel Zamora and Anton Jäger, ‘One Question: Universal Basic Income’, State of Nature blog, 30 July 2018, available online at https://stateofnatureblog.com/one-question-universal-basic-income/.

  37. 37.

    Ferguson, Give a Man a Fish.

  38. 38.

    Peck and Theodore, Fast Policy, 85–129.

  39. 39.

    For the social protection floors, see Bob Deacon, Global Social Policy in the Making: The Foundations of the Social Protection Floor (Bristol: Bristol University Press, 2013); for the concept of an instrument constituency, see Daniel Béland and Michael Howlett, ‘How Solutions Chase Problems: Instrument Constituencies in the Policy Process’, Governance, 29, no. 3 (2016): 393–409.

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Sloman, P., Zamora Vargas, D., Ramos Pinto, P. (2021). Introduction. In: Sloman, P., Zamora Vargas, D., Ramos Pinto, P. (eds) Universal Basic Income in Historical Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-75706-9_1

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