The Political Theory of Universal Basic Income
Posted: 28 May 2019
Date Written: May 2019
Universal basic income (UBI) is a radical policy proposal of a monthly cash grant given to all members of a community without means test, regardless of personal desert, with no strings attached, and, under most proposals, at a sufficiently high level to enable a life free from economic insecurity. Once a utopian proposal, the policy is now widely discussed and piloted throughout the world. Among the various objections to the proposal, one concerns its moral adequacy: Isn't it fundamentally unjust to give cash to all indiscriminately rather than to those who need it and deserve it? This article reviews the variety of strategies deployed by political theorists to posit that the proposal is in fact justified, or even required, by social justice. The review focuses mainly on the contemporary normative debate on UBI—roughly dating back to Philippe Van Parijs's influential work in the 1990s—and is centered on the ideals of freedom and equality.
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