The Basic Income Episode

with Karl Widerquist
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Guest Introduction.

My guest today is Karl Widerquist. Karl has been an active support of Universal Basic Income, since 1980. That’s almost 40 years. During that time, he earned two phD’s, one in economics and another in political theory from Oxford. He works on theories of justice and freedom, as the motivation for adopting a basic income.

He’s a professor at Georgetown’s Qatar campus, co-chair of the basic income earth network, and a really, spirited, brilliant guy. A few topics we got into:

  • The first half hour or so looks at the relationship between basic income and freedom.
  • Then, around the 40-minute mark, we transition into some logistics, like the cost of basic income, how to pay for it, critiques, alternatives like the negative income tax.
  • Then we dig into some broader economic questions, like the relationship between private property and public wealth, growth and degrowth, and a bunch more.  
Time map.
  • 7:50 - Basic income and creating a just society
  • 11:40 - To understand society, learn economics
  • 16:00 - Basic income and freedom
  • 27:00 - Debunking the myth that we’re all unquestionably better off in modern society compared to pre-modern, pre-private property society
  • 35:00 - Comparing labor and leisure
  • 39:30 - Bullshit Jobs

Transition towards logistics

  • 41:20 - How much does unconditional basic income really cost? Gross cost is above $4 trillion, but net cost is below $600 billion
  • 50:42 - If we can raise $4 trillion, why provide basic income rather than universal basic services, or investing money directly in services?
  • 53:00 - Basic income operates best in markets that are functioning smoothly, whereas markets with market failures might require more direct action. Healthcare, for example. Universal healthcare is probably a better option than just giving people enough money to purchase healthcare on the existing healthcare market
  • 56:00 - Comparing basic income and negative income tax (NIT)
  • 1:08:45 - How to pay for basic income
  • 1:11:56 - Karl begins an epic rant against corruption
  • 1:23:00 - Capital gains and marginal tax rates, and whether basic income goes deep enough into the economy’s underlying wealth concentration
  • 1:28:00 - Wealth taxes
  • 1:33:00 - New social contract theory in light of basic income, the free rider problem, and decoupling work and livelihood
  • 1:49:00 - Private property as a leverage point in the capitalist world-system that can be tinkered with, and drive change
  • 1:59:00 - Jason Hickel & The Lauderdale Paradox
  • 2:04:00 - Growth and degrowth
  • 2:08:50 - Erik Olin Wright and the underlying philosophy of economic theory
  • 2:14:15 - Incremental implementation: partial basic income, micro wealth taxes.
Links from the conversation.
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