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If just one single publication should be recommended for an enthusiastic basic income activist, journalist or starting scholar, Basic Income. An Anthology of Contemporary Research (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013) would be an obvious choice. This extensive collection of the most influential literature on basic income would have saved many basic income commentators reinventing the wheel again and again.The full articles, excerpts and book chapters (74 altogether) for this anthology have been selected with piety and knowledge. This is less surprising considering the editors’ long history with basic income studies. To guarantee that the reader will not have a delusion of being a basic income expert after reading this block, the editors have collected extensive further reading sections after every part of the book.The book has been divided into nine different parts shedding light on the most fundamental themes in basic income discussion: freedom, justice, reciprocity and exploitation, feminism, economics, post-productivism, implementation, institutions and politics. When reading this magnum opus it becomes clear how the old arguments are recycled once again in the current discussions with just a slightly updated framing.Even though “Digital Economy and Basic Income” would be a justified chapter for a revised edition, this book would already make particularly useful reading for many digital economy commentators who are currently discussing same topics as already in the 1960s. Part VI on post-productivism reminds the reader that the discussion on the end of work, and framing basic income as a necessity in this context, is not something unique that digital economy has brought with.The diversity of approaches emphasises the richness of the basic income literature, but also shows how theoretically biased the basic income discussion and research have traditionally been. The anthology involves some empirical material, calculations and a review of experiments carried out in the US and Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. Yet, empirically oriented readers may probably wish a little less conversation and a little more action from this BI bible.Excluding country specific studies is a justified decision considering the anthology’s international orientation. However, the anthology would have benefitted from a little more specific and empirically defended presentations on implementation of different basic income schemes. In order to convince the most reluctant and influential political actors, also known as mainstream economists, this book’s economics chapter may not be enough. For instance, advanced microsimulations on the effects of different models would have been a valuable empirical addition.Fortunately for us, politicians in Finland, the Netherlands, France, Iceland, Italy, Spain, Canada, the US, India, Kenya and Uganda (not forgetting a seed accelator Y Combinator and a NGO GiveDirectly) have noticed the theory bias and are either planning or have already implemented a basic income experiment. Even though representativeness and generalizability of experiment data depends completely on the research settings, the experiments have a unique opportunity to address to the theory bias. Most importantly, the experiments have an opportunity to answer at least partly to the most fundamental question in the basic income discussion: does unconditional money make people lazy.However, the Finnish and the Dutch experiments have shown that providing generalizable and reliable empirical data has loads of political and institutional obstacles (such as budget and time constraints) to tackle. Due to this unpleasant fact, a likely outcome of the experiment hype is that a revised edition of this book will have more valuable material for the Implementation, Institutions and Politics sections.In addition to the theory orientation, another clear bias in the selected literature is gender bias. Even though this is not the fault of the editors or basic income studies per se, one would hope to see female scholars not just under the chapter on feminism (there are 7 exceptions), but also discussing the theme in a wider sense.After this being said, it is necessary to mention that the chapter on feminism is one of the most stimulating ones and emphasises the problematic nature of a gender-blind basic income research.This book definitely offers “an equilibrium between well-known, classic or pivotal contributions to the Basic Income debates” (p. xxii). Even though there is a balance between advocates and critics, as the editors promise, one critical point should be made on the editors’ “How does it work?” introduction chapter.The editors write (p. xvi) “The Basic income system is structured to ensure that everyone who earns more market income has a higher disposable than everyone who earns less, helping to preserve incentives to work more and/or to develop a professional career.”Basic income has been often seen as a practical tool to make work always pay. In some institutional settings this may be the case, but in advanced welfare states diminishing economic disincentives by implementing a basic income scheme may not be as practical measure as many basic income advocates argue. According to microsimulations carried out in Finland basic income does not automatically improve incentives coherently since replacing the last resort social assistance, housing allowances or earnings-related benefits is politically challenging and socially questionable. In most cases the only options to remove economic disincentives are diluting the current level of social security or making the rich pay.Particularly the difficulty to cover housing costs with a basic income, due to regional differences, may constitute a fundamental obstacle for an implementation of a basic income. This kind of practical questions should be discussed in a more specific manner in the future research. A good example of this practical orientation is a basic income report by Anthony Painter and Chris Thoung published in 2015 and its discussion on Basic Rental Income; an additional basic income based on market conditions and continuous residency.The complex nature of economic disincentives should be more critically discussed, but that is not just the problem of this book. Making work always pay may not be the most influential argument in favour of a basic income, as this anthology reveals for its reader, but removal of poverty traps has certainly influenced basic income discussions in many countries which are trying to activate the unemployed and tackle the unemployment problem by increasing labour supply.Finland makes an illustrative case: the government’s main target with the basic income experiment is removing disincentives in social security. The discussion, whether basic income removes disincentives or not, has been an important topic among economists in Finland and might even hinder implementing a basic income scheme at state level.In the future discussions basic income advocates need to decide whether this is an argument that de facto enhance the political feasibility of a basic income instead of reducing it.I do not suggest buying this book for relatives who you want to convince that basic income is the most dazzling social innovation invented. For beginners, this book may probably cause confusion and anxiety due to its theoretical emphasis. However, advanced activists and scholars will most probably find this a good investment and addition to their reference library. This book has verifiably been used even for the preparations of the first nationwide basic income experiment.
Basic Income Studies – de Gruyter
Published: Apr 1, 2017
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