History of the UBI

Although it’s receiving a lot of attention lately Universal Basic Income is actually a very old idea.

The title of this blog comes from a quote by Bertrand Russell:

“A certain small income, sufficient for necessaries, should be secured to all, whether they work or not, and a larger income… should be given to those who are willing to engage in some work which the community recognizes as useful.”

This is from his 1918 book Proposed Roads to Freedom, but even before this, similar ideas had been suggested. Thomas Paine, one of the earliest supporters of human rights, wrote Agrarian Justice in the 18th century where he talked about a sum which “shall be paid to every person, rich or poor, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years.”

The idea, whether as ideology or as a serious policy proposal, keeps cropping up throughout history, usually at times with huge inequality or major change.

In the 1970s it received a lot of political attention and there were a number of pilot programs throughout the US and Canada. Unfortunately, after this it disappeared from the political agenda and did not resurface again until about ten years ago. In recent years there has been new attention and a bunch of trials in India, various parts of Africa, and Finland, but there’ll be more on this in a future post.

I hope this has provided a good starting point for anyone who wanted to know more about the history of this idea. Feel free to leave any thoughts or questions in the comments!

JD

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