Is a Penny a Month a Basic Income? A Historiography of the Concept of a Threshold in Basic Income

  • Toru Yamamori
    Faculty of Economics , Doshisha University , 601 Genbu-cho, Kamigyo , Kyoto , 602-8580 , Japan

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  • Winner of the 2021 BIS essay contest

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<jats:title>Abstract</jats:title> <jats:p>Does a penny per month constitute a Basic Income? Were that penny to be paid individually, universally, and unconditionally, the answer would be ‘yes’, following the definition of Basic Income given by some of its leading advocates, be it organisations like the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) or prominent scholars such as Philippe Van Parijs. Some might be puzzled as to how this could be ‘a capitalist road to communism’, or give us ‘freedom as the power to say no’, both of which have been advocated by prominent researchers. The purpose of this paper is not to argue for or against their definition, but rather to situate it historiographically, enabling fruitful discussion. The paper will show how there was a widely shared assumption in the 1970s and 80s, at the early stages of both academic articulations and public discussion, that Basic Income comes with some notion of a threshold or level to be taken as a minimum or as adequate. The paper goes on to outline three issues that arise once the concept of a threshold is dropped from the definition. Examined in addition are five justifications for doing so. Much like any other idea, the concept of Basic Income is a social construct. By situating it here within a historical perspective, we wish to facilitate academic discussion regarding both the achievements and erasures that have occurred as a consequence of the concept’s academic refinement—refinement that is in itself majorly indebted to BIEN and Van Parijs.</jats:p>

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