The Centre for Ethics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs
University of St. Andrews
Deryn Thomas – University of St. Andrews/University of Stirling
Maria Koumenta – Queen Mary University of London
Guy Standing – SOAS University of London
Tom Parr – University of Warwick
Angie O’Sullivan — University of Edinburgh
The Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown has provided new momentum for the advocates of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), spurred on by decisions of various governments to pay an income to their citizens with no work requirement attached. This comes on the heels of 30 years of pro-UBI scholarship, culminating in the launch of several small-scale real-world UBI trials in various countries and municipalities over the last decade. Discussions of the UBI are now very much part of the policy mainstream.
The UBI is seen as a way to 1) respond to the job losses and casualisation that are seen as a likely result of increasing automation, 2) redistribute the wealth that is now concentrated in the hands of the super-rich and 3) force employers to offer better working conditions. This workshop will be focused on the philosophical underpinnings of the UBI and a general consideration of the meaning of work in the context of a labour market. It will follow a presentation-and-commentary format.
To register for the workshop, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration is free, but you need to register in order to receive information on how to join the online event. If you have any questions please use that same email address.
Guy Standing, “From Coronavirus to Economic Slump: Basic Income, and the Struggle for Resilience”
The coronavirus pandemic is leading into the biggest economic slump since the Great Depression. But the virus was the trigger of a crisis waiting to happen. This presentation will explain that paradox, and explain why a basic income would be a more effective response than the job retention and wage subsidy schemes introduced by the government, which will worsen the Eight Giants blocking progress towards a Good Society.
The presentation will draw on two recent books, Battling Eight Giants: Basic Income Now (Bloomsbury, 2020); The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers thrive and Work does not pay (Biteback, second edition, 2021).
Tom Parr, “The Significance of Employment”
A familiar argument for policies whose purpose is to eliminate involuntary unemployment appeals to the idea that employment is an asset, and that therefore each individual has an interest in enjoying opportunities for employment. My main aim is to defend this position against two powerful yet neglected objections. The first objection comes from those who insist that, rather than improve individuals’ prospects of finding work, we should reduce the extent to which unemployment blights individuals’ lives. The second objection comes from those who allege that it’s a mistake for governments to eradicate involuntary unemployment since doing unfairly penalizes those who have no desire to be employed. Having responded to these concerns, I then conclude by assessing the moral credentials of basic income in the light of my findings.
Deryn Thomas, “Basic Income and the Goods of Work”
Many advocates for UBI argue that a basic income is one of the most effective solutions to the problems raised by increasing levels of unemployment across the western world (Van Parijs 2014, Ford 2015, Srnicek and Williams 2015, Standing 2017). By offering a replacement for the money a person usually earns through their job, a UBI has the potential to ensure a basic standard of living that is not dependent an individual’s wage earnings. In addition, it allows a person to spend her time doing other things instead of working, which may, in turn, provide her with more opportunities to engage in activities that align with her interests, values and life-goals. But a basic income grant has one distinct limitation: it is only a replacement for income. As such, it only provides access to goods which can be purchased, or which can be acquired through having more time to pursue them. Many of the non-financial, non-material benefits of paid work are nevertheless essential to a good life. In this paper, I raise concerns about the ability of a UBI to truly ‘solve’ the crisis posed by mass automation and the loss of work. I show that a universal, unconditional income grant does not offer a viable replacement for or alternative way to access the non-financial benefits of paid work. By only providing access to the financial goods and failing to provide an alternative option for the acquisition of many of its other non-material benefits, a basic income does not substantially alter the choice to work for many people.
Maria Koumenta, “The Case Against UBI”
UBI is put forward as a policy-lever to combat rising inequality, address income loss resulting from the impending decimation of jobs by automation and simplify a complex welfare system, while philosophical approaches locate it within notions of a ‘post-scarcity’ economy. This paper makes the case against UBI. I will begin by briefly reviewing the empirical evidence from prominent UBI programs across the world, argue against its efficacy for redistribution as well as highlight concerns associated with the tax burden its implementation entails and replacing welfare systems calibrated by need with unconditional cash handouts. In the second part of the paper, I will locate my scepticism towards UBI in debates about its negative effect on labour supply and the value of work more broadly. Drawing on insights from institutional labour economics and sociology of work, I will discuss the fundamental importance of work for the human experience and warn against policies that disincentivise work. I will conclude by briefly examining policy alternatives such as job guarantee and workfare schemes and argue that improving job quality should be central to labour market policy.
Angie O’Sullivan, “Work as Just Compensation: What Nietzschean Genealogy Teaches Us About UBI”
This paper makes the case for investigating the meaning of work, and the implications for Universal Basic Income, from a genealogical perspective. Drawing on Nietzsche’s genealogy of morality as originating in the concept of work, I defend the view that just compensation is an essential feature of work. The inadequate compensation of workers’ time and skills would prevent work from fulfilling the essential functions that it plays in the lives of individuals and communities. Positing that work is conceptualised at least in part by the notion of just compensation explains how individuals safeguard their rights in the workplace and why the meaning of work goes beyond the need for financial security. In the final section I argue that UBI measures and values people’s time and skill as equal whether they are working or not, resulting in a detrimental under-valuing of work. I conclude with some optimistic remarks regarding the future of a fruitful genealogy of work.