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Whether justice requires, or even permits, a basic income depends on two issues: 1. Does justice permit taxation to generate revenues for distribution to others? 2. If so, does justice require, or even permit, equal and unconditional distribution for some portion of the tax revenues? I claim the following: 1. although all forms of libertarianism reject the nonconsensual taxation of labor and the products of labor, all but radical rightlibertarianism allow a kind of wealth taxation for rights over natural resources, and 2. some versions of libertarianism allow the equal and unconditional distribution of such revenues and some do not. Keywords basic income, justice, libertarianism, natural resources, property rights, taxation, universal welfare, welfare policy, welfare reform, welfare state I thank Dan Moseley, Karl Widerquist and an anonymous referee for helpful comments. DOI: 10.1515/1932-0183.1224 Copyright ©2012 De Gruyter. All rights reserved. 1. Background Our question concerns the justice, according to libertarianism, of a basic income. I understand a "basic income" to be periodic income provided by the state to all citizens unconditionally. Eligibility does not depend on need or willingness to work. "Libertarianism," as I use the term here, is the moral doctrine that individuals fully own themselves initially and have certain unilateral moral powers to appropriate unowned natural resources initially.1 For present purposes, this can be understood to include both the view that this is a matter of natural right and the view that this is derivatively true, based on theories such as rule consequentialism or rule contractarianism. Throughout this article, I focus on libertarianism in this specified sense. I do not address the implications of classical liberalism, a closely related view that holds that individuals have the two core libertarian rights, except that these are weakened to be compatible with an asserted enforceable duty to pay one's fair share of the cost of providing public goods (and perhaps also of the costs of overcoming other marketfailures). I suspect that the implications of classical liberalism for the justice of a basic income regime are the same as those for libertarianism, but I do not address that issue here. I examine what kind, if any, of libertarian theory can hold that state provision of a basic income is permitted, or even required, by justice. Philosophers, alas, use the adjective "just" to mean many things, including the following: 1. It is in accordance with morally permissible principles governing social and political institutions, 2. It is fair, in the sense of being compatible with the requirements of comparative desert, 3. It wrongs no one, in the sense of infringing no duty owed to someone (as opposed to an impersonal duty, which is owed to no one), and 4. It infringes on no enforceable duty, as opposed to those duties that one is not permitted to enforce (e.g., minor promises to one's mother). Libertarianism is typically defended as a theory of justice in one of the latter two senses. Given that almost all libertarians hold that all and only duties owed to others are enforceable, the two notions coincide with most libertarian views. For simplicity, I focus on justice as infringing no enforceable duty. A basic income is normally understood as being a payment provided by the state from tax revenues. Of course, an important question is whether For the sake of brevity, I consider here only versions of libertarianism that recognize, as almost all do, a unilateral moral power to appropriate (which does not require the consent of others). I thus set aside joint ownership leftlibertarianism, which holds that one can come to have private ownership of natural resources only with the collective consent of the members of society. This view is implausible and would not endorse a basic income. See Vallentyne (2000) for elaboration. libertarianism can judge any kind of nonconsensual state to be just. Although the most plausible version of libertarianism will judge a state to be just only if each of the governed individually validly consents to it (see also Simmons, 2001; 2005), something resembling a state can be just according to libertarianism if it enforces prohibitions only of activities that violate someone's libertarian rights (see also Vallentyne, 2007). Thus, if I have an enforceable duty to make a certain payment to you (e.g., to repay a loan), then the state may use force, with your consent, to ensure that I make the payment (just as you could, or someone else could on your behalf). Libertarianism recognizes no nonconsensual duty to make tax payments to a state, but if individuals have, as I suggest below, enforceable libertarian duties to make certain payments to others, then the state, like any individual, may use force to collect those payments and transfer them to the relevant individuals. If those payments take the form of a basic income, then libertarianism can recognize the justice of a basic income. Throughout this article, I focus on the justice a basic income in the absence of valid consent from those required to finance the basic income. All libertarians agree that justice permits, and indeed requires, a basic income when the financing individuals have consensually committed to provide it. The interesting case for libertarianism is the one where there is no such consent. 2. Financing a Basic Income All forms of libertarianism endorse full selfownership and full ownership of the products of one's labor (suitably understood). Nonconsensual wealth taxes, income taxes, or use taxes on artifacts or on personal internal endowments are deemed unjust. Thus, libertarianism rejects this way of financing a basic income. In addition to selfowning agents and the artifacts they produce, however, there are natural resources.2 These are those things that have no moral standing and that have not been transformed (e.g., improved) by any (nondivine) agent. Thus, land, seas, air, minerals, etc. in their original (unimproved) states are natural resources, whereas such things as chairs, buildings, and land cleared for farming are artifacts (composed partly of natural resources). Many forms of libertarianism hold that those who appropriate more than their fair share of natural resources Abandoned artifacts arguably revert to the commons and, if so, they have the same status as natural resources. owe a payment to others for their excess share. I examine whether this required payment could justly finance a basic income.3 Different versions of libertarianism result from differing views about the moral powers that agents have to appropriate natural resources. Radical right libertarianism such as that of Rothbard (1978, 1982) and Narveson (1988, pp. 79 93; 1999) holds that there are no fair share constraints on use or appropriation. The first person to stake a claim in the appropriate manner (e.g., with labor mixing) on specified natural resources fully owns them. This view rejects any duty to compensate others for any resulting disadvantage or to share with others the benefits that appropriation brings. Thus, there is no basis for the just financing of a basic income (or anything else). All other versions of libertarianism accept that there is some kind of fair share condition on appropriation and subsequent ownership of natural resources. After all, no human agent created natural resources, and there is no reason that the lucky person who first claims rights over a natural resource and the inheritors of those rights should reap all the benefits that the resource provides. The standard fair share condition is the Lockean proviso, which requires that "enough and as good be left for others." Indeed, as long as this clause is allowed to be interpreted loosely (as I do here), the Lockean proviso is simply the requirement that some kind of fair share condition be satisfied. Throughout this article, I interpret the Lockean proviso (following Nozick) to allow that individuals may appropriate and own more than their fair share of natural resources as long as they compensate others for their loss from the excess ownership. The Lockean proviso is a requirement that a fair share of the value of natural resources be left for others. Thus, it provides the basis for an enforceable duty to make payments to others. Although the proviso is usually interpreted as a proviso on appropriation, it is most plausibly understood as a proviso on ownership of natural resources. It imposes restrictions, not merely on the initial appropriation act, but also on on going ownership. Indeed, this is Nozick's own view (see also Vallentyne, 2011). Thus, it may require ongoing payments and not merely an initial payment at the time of appropriation. In any case, I assume this in my explanation below.4 3 For simplicity, I ignore one important issue here. The most plausible versions of libertarianism would deem national boundaries to be irrelevant to the duty to compensate those who do not have their fair share of natural resources. Thus, if they support a basic income, they support one for all citizens of the world and not just those within a given country. 4 For simplicity, I interpret the Lockean proviso as applying only to ownership of natural resources. However, the proviso also applies to mere use. For a defense of this, see Roark (2008). Whether this provides the basis for a basic income depends on whether an equal payment is owed to all citizens unconditionally. Let us turn to that issue. 3. Distributing Natural Resources Revenues Consider the main versions of libertarianism that accept a Lockean proviso on appropriation. Each interprets the proviso differently. Nozickean rightlibertarianism interprets the Lockean proviso as requiring that no individual be made worse off by one's ownership rights of natural resources compared with those resources remaining unappropriated (and subject to common use). It holds that those who possess such rights have an enforceable duty to compensate those made worse off by that. Although it recognizes a duty to make payments to others, the payments are only to those disadvantaged by one's possession of the rights over natural resources. Nonetheless, as I explain, Nozickean rightlibertarianism can judge, rather surprisingly, a basic income to be just. According to one version of Nozickean libertarianism, each person owes a tax equal to the gross total compensation owed to others for the disadvantage imposed on them by that person's ownership of natural resources. The total amount owed is then divided up based on the varying levels of disadvantage by individuals. The crucial point is that, under normal circumstances, everyone will be effectively owed some compensation for someone's ownership of natural resources. Even a large landowner can be disadvantaged by the ownership of land by others.5 Of course, someone's ownership of natural resources does not always impose a disadvantage on others. Often it provides valuable opportunities (for jobs, goods, or services). Still, typically, everyone will be effectively owed some compensation by at least one other person. If this is so, even though the fund will be divided up unequally, there is some positive amount such that everyone is entitled to a payment of at least that amount. Thus, Nozickean rightlibertarianism can judge the financing and provision of basic income to be just! Indeed, under the above conditions, it judges the basic income to be required by justice (and not merely permitted). Above, I consider a version of Nozickean rightlibertarianism for which the enforceable duty to make certain payments to others is the gross amount owed, The fact that the proviso is applied to ownership rights of each individual, keeping all else equal, is crucial. The proviso is sometimes applied to systems of ownership rights (e.g., one allowing private appropriation versus one in which all natural resources remain commonly owned), but this is not a libertarian idea since it does not suitably focus on the actions of individuals. prior to deductions for any amounts owed to the payer. However, another version appeals to the net amount (net of payments owed to the payer). To see the importance of this distinction, suppose that there are just two of us, that my ownership rights over natural resources impose $100 of disadvantage on you, and that your ownership rights over natural resources impose $50 of disadvantage on me. If our enforceable duty is to pay these gross amounts into a social fund, which is then divided up to give me $50 and you $100, then there is a basic income of $50 for all persons (with you owed a supplementary $50). If, however, our enforceable duty is only to pay the net amount owed, then I would owe $50 to the fund and you would owe nothing. Moreover, the social fund would give me nothing and you'd get $50. In this case, there is no basis for basic income. The two approaches produce equivalent outcomes. In both cases, we end up with the same ownership rights over natural resources, with a net transfer of $50 from me to you. There is a difference, however: If individuals only have an enforceable duty to make the net payment, then it is unjust for the state to force them to pay more than that (even if they will get a refund). It would be like a thug forcing me to give him some money, and then his returning it to me. So, the gross and net payment versions of Nozickean rightlibertarianism give very different assessments of the justice of a basic income, even though they lead to the same distribution of ownership rights and net payments. Similar implications are raised below for other forms of libertarianism. I'm fairly sure that most libertarians would endorse the net payment version of the theory they endorse, but the gross payment versions are possible and open the door to the libertarian justice of a basic income. Sufficientarian libertarianism interprets the Lockean proviso as requiring that others be left an adequate share of natural resources, on some conception of adequacy, to the extent that this is compatible with the owner of natural resources having an adequate share.6 Adequacy might require, for example, enough for basic subsistence or perhaps enough for minimally decent life prospects. Where several people have more than adequate shares, the duty to provide for those who do not have adequate shares is apportioned in some specified manner (here left open). The most natural version of sufficientarian libertarianism is the net payment version, and it judges a basic income unjust. This is because those who have excess shares of rights to resources pay only their fair share of the amount Simmons (1992, 1993) defends a position of roughly this sort although in a few respects his position is not strictly libertarian. needed to compensate those without adequate shares. Because it is the net payment version, only those who do not have adequate shares are entitled to payments from the fund. If there is any tax fund at all, then there must be at least one person with an excess share, and that person is not entitled to any payment from the fund. Moreover, if the adequacy level is set, for example, no higher than the average level in society, then there will typically be many people who are not entitled to any payment. Thus, the provision of a basic income is judged unjust. It is possible, although rather strained, to have a gross payment version of sufficientarian libertarianism. It might hold, for example, that 1. everyone owes rent on the full competitive value of the rights over natural resources that they have, and 2. the fund first compensates those who do not have adequate shares, and then refunds everyone else's payment less a prorated share of the compensation amounts (e.g., if 10% of the fund is used to compensate those with inadequate shares, then everyone else receives back 90% of their payment). Given that everyone will receive some positive amount from the fund, this version of sufficientarian libertarianism can judge, with one qualification, a basic income just. The qualification is that the rent fund is large enough to compensate fully those with inadequate shares. If it is not large enough, then there will be no refund and those making payments will not receive any distribution. The just distribution would not be a basic income. Let us now consider leftlibertarianism, which holds that the value of natural resources belongs to everyone in some egalitarian manner.7 There are two main versions: the equal share and the equal opportunity for wellbeing versions. Equal share leftlibertarianism (e.g., George, 1879; Steiner, 1994) interprets the Lockean proviso as requiring that one leave an equally valuable per capita share of the value of natural resources for others.8 Those who have rights to natural resources owe competitive rent for the value of those rights. As with Nozickean rightlibertarianism, we can distinguish between the gross payment view and the net payment view. According to the net payment view, payment is owed only for the competitive value of the rights over natural resources in excess of the equal per capita value. The payments are then distributed to those who have less than their per capita share of natural resources. Those who already have at least their per capita share receive no payments. Thus, this version of equal share left Leftlibertarian theories have been propounded for more than three centuries. For selections of historical and contemporary writings, see Vallentyne and Steiner (2000a, 2000b). 8 Van Parijs (1995) demonstrates roughly the same spirit as that of equal share leftlibertarianism. However, his requirement of undominated diversity moves his position somewhat toward the equal opportunity for well being version. Moreover, arguably, his position on the taxation of gifts and job rents disqualifies his position from being strictly libertarian. libertarianism judges a basic income unjust. In the gross payment version, by contrast, payment is owed for the entire competitive value of the rights to natural resources one has (and not merely for the excess share), and the payments are distributed equally to all. This directly and strongly justifies basic income.9 Indeed, a basic income is a requirement of justice according to this view. As with Nozickean rightlibertarianism, the gross and net views lead to the same results. The difference simply concerns the justice of forcing individuals to make gross, rather than net, payments. Finally, consider equal opportunity leftlibertarianism such as that of Otsuka (2003). It interprets the Lockean proviso as requiring that one leave enough natural resources for others to have an opportunity for wellbeing that is at least as good as the opportunity for wellbeing that one obtained in appropriating natural resources. Unlike the equal share view, those whose initial (nonnatural resource) endowments internal (personal) endowments (e.g., genes) and external social conditions (e.g., family environment, financial inheritance) provide less favorable effective opportunities for wellbeing are entitled to larger shares of the value of natural resources. Once again, we can distinguish between a gross payment version and a net payment version. The net payment view straightforwardly judges a basic income unjust. Since payments are owed only for one's excess share of rights to natural resources, those who owe payments do not receive any distributions from those payments. Hence, it judges a basic income to be unjust. By contrast, the gross payment view can judge a basic income just, under special circumstances. This will be so if the total of the competitive rents owed exceeds the minimum amount required to equalize opportunities for wellbeing. Where this is so, everyone will receive some distribution from the payments collected; hence, a basic income will be just. However, there is no guarantee that the rents owed will be sufficient to eliminate the inequality (and I suspect that they will be insufficient under actual conditions). The payments are based on the competitive value of the natural resources, and if people's initial opportunities for wellbeing are sufficiently unequal, the payments will reduce but not eliminate the inequality. Under such conditions, at least some of those with the most advantageous initial situations (genes, family environment, inherited financial wealth) will get no payment from the fund. Hence, a basic income will be unjust. For developed countries, the annual rental value of rights over natural resources is arguably 1520% of GDP (see Foldvary, 2006). However, this includes location value based on public goods (such as roads and police protection) provided by the state. Thus, the amount available for distribution as a basic income would be net of the efficient cost of providing such public goods. 4. Conclusion The net payment versions of the libertarianism discussed above judge a basic income unjust, but, with two qualifications, the gross payment versions judge a basic income just (indeed, as required by justice). The qualifications are the following: 1. Gross payment sufficientarian libertarianism will not judge a basic income to be just in extreme conditions where the competitive value of natural resources is not sufficient to give everyone an adequate share, and 2. Gross payment equal opportunity leftlibertarianism will not judge a basic income to be just where the competitive value of natural resources is not sufficient to equalize initial opportunities for wellbeing. In each case, no payments will be made to at least some individuals. My best, but uninformed, guess is that the competitive value of natural resources is sufficient to give everyone an adequate share, based on any reasonable minimal construal of adequacy, but it is not sufficient to equalize equality of opportunity for wellbeing (given the gross disparities). Most libertarians will endorse a net payment version, since it seems unjust for the state, or others, to forcibly take resources from someone, if they are only going to return them. This is certainly my view, although I don't argue for it here. If correct, then no endorsed version of libertarianism will judge a basic income to be just. There is also good reason to doubt that the most plausible version of gross payment libertarianism judges a basic income to be just. I believe this, because the most plausible version is equal opportunity leftlibertarianism and that the funds from the gross payments are insufficient to achieve equality of opportunity for wellbeing. Thus, at least some of the more advantaged individuals are not entitled to receive payments. However, I don't defend this view here. Throughout this article, I focus on the justice of a basic income. Even if the net payments versions of libertarianism judge a basic income to be unjust, they might still judge a basic income guarantee to be just. This is a guarantee of some positive level of income to all, although it may make payments only to those falling short of that level (e.g., as a negative income tax). Net payment versions of libertarianism will not judge even a basic income guarantee to be just, however, because they are concerned with the value of assets rather than income. Persons who have more than their fair share of the value of natural resources but who have no financial income (e.g., because they use the resources solely for personal enjoyment) are not entitled, according to libertarianism, to any payment. By contrast, almost all versions of libertarianism will judge some form of a universal basic capital program to be just, where this requires that everyone have some specified positive amount of capital. That issue is beyond this article's scope, however. I focus throughout this article on the objective justice of a basic income. This does not answer the practical question of whether, relative to our limited beliefs, a basic income is the best way of minimizing the degree of injustice in our society. Even if some people are not entitled to payment, we may not know who those people are. Giving everyone a payment even if some are not entitled to payment and, thus, some people will get less than that to which they are entitled may be expected, relative to our beliefs, to produce less injustice than does any alternative. This is an important issue, indeed, but I doubt that it will provide a practical justification for a basic income or even a basic income guarantee, on net payment libertarian grounds. As a practical matter, it seems that justice would be better served by excluding those who have assets above some specified level and who do not have a medically certified, costly disability. Obviously, the matter is complex, and I only mean to flag an issue for further investigation.
Basic Income Studies – de Gruyter
Published: Jan 19, 2012
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