basic income textbook.jpg

Basic Income

Philippe Parijs & Yannick Vanderborght

There is a feature that the basic income utopia possesses more than any other: that its implementation would facilitate many other utopian changes. It would support the realization of many ideas, both individual and collective, both local and global, that increasingly find themselves crushed under the pressure of market-imposed competitiveness.
— Parijs & Vanderborght

A lot of talk about Basic Income is unmoored, ungrounded in the mechanics of what’s possible. So, I looked for the most academic, rigorous book written on the feasibility of UBI, and this is what I found.

It’s published by Harvard University Press and written by two academics who’ve spent the better part of their careers studying Basic Income- Philippe Van Parijs & Yannick Vanderborght.

They cite Virginia Woolf:

“Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own.”


What’s true for women here applies to working class folks on the whole - there is little intellectual freedom in a 9-5 job taken on merely for the money. It becomes the gravitational, ecological center of the worker’s life, and they don’t even find it particularly interesting.

Or, quoting Andy Stern, head of one of the largest labor unions in the US:

"According to the new American Dream, we’ll each have the freedom to choose and create the life we want for ourselves and our loved ones, according to our deepest values, without ever having to worry about our basic human needs for food, shelter, and security…[he proposes we] institute an unconditional, universal basic income of $1,000 per month for all adults between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four.”

The book ultimately proposes that we begin with a partial basic income, funded primarily through income tax and supplemented by public assistance and social insurance top-ups. They find this the best way forward “in the context of a developed welfare state”.

I’m now thinking of Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend proposal, funded by VAT taxes. This book did address funding UBI through VAT taxes, and while they didn’t choose it for their support, neither did they find it a fundamentally misguided way to move forward.

They write: “There is no fundamental reason for rejecting a VAT or another form of sales tax as a way of funding a basic income, but no fundamental reason for adopting it, either.”

So, take that as you will. But the book is full of real, analytically grounded considerations on the policy as a whole.