Basic Income

The case for Universal Basic Income. 2019: Louise Haagh

The case for Universal Basic Income. 2019: Louise Haagh

The idea of basic income - a periodic cash payment delivered unconditionally to all on an individual basis - has been and remains a special area of focus of my work both inside and outside of the university.  I have been involved with basic income debates since the early 2000s, and with the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN - : and its executive committee since 2004.

A biographical note about how I became involved in basic income debates, can be found here:

In several publications (most recent, The Case for Universal Basic Income) I make the case for basic income as a democratic humanist reform.

An explanation for why I write the book and an extract are featured in Stanford Social Innovation Review:

I argue a basic income’s contribution to freedom is contingent on the level of democratization of society and economy. In this book I also present a humanist defense of basic income, and explain how basic income can and should be situated within the Human Development school. Finally, I argue this case contributes to heterodox economics and the field of institutional political economy, by showing how devising economic and social institutions around human development impacts on civilization, economic development, and humanist governance.

University of Sheffield Professor Andrew Gamble has praised it as “an outstanding book which makes a major contribution to the debate on basic income, highlighting its potential to supplement rather than replace the welfare state and to make economic life more democratic.”

I was one of the first to insist that basic income is not radical and should be set in the context of different welfare states and to attack the opposition sometimes made between basic income and institutions such as the Nordic welfare state, unions, and social democracy. Whilst my case engages some of the same arguments for freedom in relation to human activities and time as the well-known libertarian defense, my argument is distinct, by emphasis on democracy, and developmental and relational freedoms, as exemplified in publications such as the following:

Basic Income, Occupational Freedom and Antipoverty Policy,” Basic Income Studies2:1, June 2007.

Basic Income, Social Democracy and Control over Time,” Policy and Politics39:1, 2011.

Alternative Social States and the Basic Income Debate: Institutions, Inequality and Human Development,Basic Income Studies 10:1 (special edition on Piketty), August 2015.

My later work makes a broader positive case for basic income in terms of democratisation, health, and equality, while remaining critical of libertarian and neo-liberal arguments:

Basic Income as a Pivoting Reform,Nature – Human Behaviour1, 2017.

“Basic Income should be Seen as a Democratic Right, Not a Solution to Unemployment”Royal Society of arts Journal, 2017, March 21st2017


“Basic Income and the Democratisation of Development in Europe” inIt’s Basic Income, Amy Downes and Stewart Lansley (eds), Bristol Policy Press, 2018.

“The changing face of Development Ethics in Europe” in Handbook of Development Ethics, Jay Dryjyk and Lori Keleher (eds), Routledge, 2018.

Haagh, L. “Welfare-As-Freedom, The Human Economy and Varieties Of Capitalist State” in Economic Policies For A Post Neoliberal World, eds Malcolm Sawyer and Philip Arestis, London: Palgrave, 2021

Haagh, L. “From Freedom to Finance - How Development Conditions and Paradigms Frame the Basic Income Debate” in The Intellectual History of Basic Income, Pedro R. Pinto, Peter Sloman, Daniel Zamora (Eds.), London: Palgrave, 2021.

Haagh, L., Rethinking Democratic Theories of Justice in the Economy after Covid-19, Democratic Theory, 7 (2), 110-123, 1st December, 2020.

My writing on basic income has recently been featured by a number of independent think tanks and media, including the RSA’s Royal Society of Arts Journal(“Basic Income Should be Seen as a Democratic Right – Not a Solution to Unemployment”), Compass (“Basic Income and Institutional Transformation”), Social Europe (“Basic Income’s Radical Role”), Friends of Europe (“Basic Income: Not a Panacea, But a Step Towards a New Social Contract”), and the blog State of Nature’s One Question series (“Universal Basic Income”). An interview with me on the topic was also published in Sputnik News(“No Evidence Universal Basic Income Will Make People Become 'Lazy'”).


Current and Forthcoming Work

The Case for Universal Basic Income(Cambridge: Polity) was published in March 2019 as part of Polity’s new “case for” series, consisting of short books that present arguments in favor of important contemporary policy ideas.

My present work includes four additional books under contract: The Handbook of Basic Income(with Jurgen de Wispelaere); Basic Income, Human Development Freedom, and Democratic Development; Basic Income, Democracy, and Varieties of Capitalist State; Basic Income and the Crisis of Democracy.

Along with Jurgen de Wispelaere, I recently co-edited a special issue of Social Policy and Societyon Basic Income and the Reconfiguration of the European Welfare State, published in autumn 2018, and contributed the articles “The Developmental Social Contract and Basic Income in Denmark” and “Towards a Political Economy of Basic Income” (with de Wispelaere).


Political Advisement and Consultancies

My work on basic income has led to a variety of important speaking engagements, collaboration, and consultancies outside of academia.

In January 2017, I was chosen as one of seven expert witnesses to speak at an Oral Evidence Session convened by the Work and Pensions Committee of the UK House of Commons (video, transcript). The session marked the first time that basic income the topic of an inquiry of this status of the UK Parliament.

I have served as a policy consultant to the Danish political party Alternativet(The Alternative), where I was influential in the party’s recent decision to adopt basic income as party policy. I presented a case for basic income to more than 300 leaders andparty delegates at the party’s 2017 annual convention in Odense. After further debate and discussion, which I help to facilitate, the party voted at the end of the convention to accept basic income as part of its official platform. In March 2018, I spoke at a conference organised by Alternativet, Borgerløn på dansk(“Basic Income in Danish”), held in Copenhagen at Christiansborg, the seat of the Danish Parliament (video - Danish).

In October 2017, I spoke at the European Health Forum at Gastein (EHFG), organised by the World Health Organization (WHO), the public health agency of the United Nations, to explore strategies to improve health and well-being in accordance with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. My talk, “The transformative impact of universal basic income – a powerful equaliser of health, human potential and social progress” (video), was one of three keynote lectures at a forum on the social and economic determinants of health.

My presentation at EHFG helped to initiate discussion and debate about basic income among members of WHO, and led to an invitation to serve as an expert advisor to WHO’s European Health Equity Status Report initiative.

This work culminated in my involvement in strategic engagements within the newly formed Department for Social Determinants of Health, WHO headquarters Geneva, including Other engagements with global organisations, including the UNDP in 2020 are listed under TALKS.

Previously, I was contracted by the Council of Europe to contribute to a three-year project, financed by the European Commission, to develop a policy guide to fight poverty and economic inequality in Europe in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. My contributions included the chapter “The Basic Income and Different Egalitarian Rights to Security” in the published report Redefining and Combating Poverty: Human rights, democracy and common goods in today’s Europe(2013). I also spoke about “Public Finance, the Basic Income and Other Egalitarian Rights to Security”(video) at the event marking the public launch of the conclusions of the Council of Europe’s towards combating poverty, held in Strasbourg in February 2013.

Other past political consultancy work included a meeting in 2010 with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the Presidential Office in São Paulo to discuss pathways to the implementation of a basic income in Brazil.


Popular Lectures, Debates and Media Appearances

In recent years, I have spoken and written about basic income for a broad popular audience.

I debated Francisco Louçã (Professor of Economics, University of Lisbon) on the question “Should we introduce a universal basic income?” at the Robot Stage at the 2017 Web Summit, a leading international tech conference that brought a live audience of about 800 people (video). The debate was covered by leadingItalian daily newspaper La Repubblica(“Reddito di base: ecco i conti di scettici e radicali” by Riccardo Staglianò).

In April 2018, I spoke on a panel on basic income at the King’s Transnational Law Summit (KTLS18) at King’s College London (video). This event drew around 400 participants, including  lawyers and legal scholars, politicians and policymakers, activists, writers, and others.

I was also invited to speak on the topic at the conference Journey to 100held in June 2017 in Guernsey (video), which brought together over 300 members of public, business owners, and policymakers to explore ways to increase life expectancy within a community.

In November 2016, I participated in the debate “Basic Income – An Idea Whose Time Has Come?” (audio) at the Bristol Festival of Ideas, an initiative to encourage public debate on contemporary issues, alongside Torsten Bell (Director of the Resolution Foundation), Anthony Painter (Director of Action and Research at the RSA), and Nick Pearce (Professor of Public Policy at Bath University and Director of the Institute for Policy Research). The event drew around 300 ticketed guests and was recorded for the Bristol Festival of Ideas podcast.

I was a keynote speaker at a public conference on basic income pilots held in the Danish parliament in September 2016 (video).

Earlier in this year, I debated in favor of a basic income for the UK alongside Labour MP Jonathan Reynolds, Shadow Economics Minister to the Treasury, and against Andrew Harrop (General Secretary of the Fabian Society) and writer and broadcaster Liam Halligan, at an event hosted by the Cambridge Union of Cambridge University.

I have also participated in a number of recent radio and podcast debates and interviews for a public audience, including debates on the BBC World Service programme In the Balance(“Universal Basic Income – Has its Time Come?”) and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) podcast, two interviews for Danish public radio’s prime-time political debate programme Orientering(see the 4 August 2017and 23 September 2016episodes), and an interview for Reality Check, the English-language current affairs programme of the Austrian Broadcast Corporation, Austria’s main radio political outlet (“Money for Nothing – Universal Basic Income”).

My writing on basic income has recently been featured by a number of independent think tanks and media, including the RSA’s Royal Society of Arts Journal(“Basic Income Should be Seen as a Democratic Right – Not a Solution to Unemployment”), Compass (“Basic Income and Institutional Transformation”), Social Europe (“Basic Income’s Radical Role”), Friends of Europe (“Basic Income: Not a Panacea, But a Step Towards a New Social Contract”), and the blog State of Nature’s One Question series (“Universal Basic Income”). An interview with me on the topic was also published in Sputnik News(“No Evidence Universal Basic Income Will Make People Become 'Lazy'”).

I was invited to contribute to the inaugural issue of Nature: Human Behaviourin 2017, which showcased thought leaders working across the natural and social sciences (“Basic Income as a Pivoting Reform”).


The Basic Income Earth Network

I currently serve as Chair of the registered charity Basic Income Earth Network(BIEN), which was established in 1986 with the aim of establishing a network of academics, public policy researchers, and others interested in basic income, and educating the wider public about arguments and proposals related to basic income as idea and public policy.

I have been a member of BIEN’s Executive Committee since 2004. I was elected as Co-Chair since 2014 and became the organization’s first sole Chair in May 2017. I was re-elected as Chair at BIEN’s 2018 international conference, in the first secret ballot election in the organisation’s history.

At the 2018 BIEN Congress in Tampere, Finland, I delivered a plenary address “The Ethics and Economics of Basic Income Revisited” (video), which elicited comments and publicity from former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, welfare reformer Simon J Duffy, and the Universal Basic Services Hub, among others.

I gave the closing address at the 2017 BIEN Congress in Lisbon, Portugal, spoke on a plenary panel on basic income in Latin America at the 2010 Congress in

São Paulo, Brazil (video), and presented papers at the 2008 Congress in Dublin, Ireland, and the 2006 Congress in Cape Town, South Africa. I also spokeas part of the panel “Moving forward” (video) at the workshop Basic Income: A Utopia for our Times?, held at the Catholic University of Louvain on 1 October 2016 in commemoration of the 30thanniversary of the founding of BIEN.

I am additionally an elected trustee of the Citizen’s Basic Income Trust, an affiliate of BIEN and registered charity in the UK, and an active member of BIEN’s affiliate in Denmark.

With the latter, I participated in a debate on trade unions and basic income, the keynote event of the organisation’s 2017 annual meeting (video in Danish). I was one of a three-member debate panel also featuring Torsten Gejl (Member of Parliament from The Alternative) and Christian Sølyst (head consultant for the national trades union organization LO).

I delivered a keynote address at the conference Basic Income at a Time of Economic Upheavalheld in April 2010 in Montreal, an international event that marked the first annual collaboration between the US and Canadian chapters of BIEN. More recently, I gave an invited keynote speech at the founding of the Icelandic chapter of BIENin Reykjavik in December 2016.


Upcoming Talks and Presentations

I’m giving a talk “From Freedom to Finance” at the Cambridge University Conference on the Intellectual History of the Basic Income, on 14thJanuary 2019.

I’ll be hosting a political debate on basic income in the Danish parliament building at end of February

I’ll be giving talk on “Basic Income and Democratisation”at Café Economique(Leeds, 5 March 2019), and the next day – March 6th I will be speaking in Denmark at an event organized for International Women’s Day

Inspired by the successful global initiative Café Scientique, Café Economique organises events to educate the public about contemporary economic ideas and policies.

In May I will be speaking at events hosted by the Royal Society of Arts in Scotland, and in Wales.

Basic Income and Human Development' presented at the Debating Basic Income all-day workshop at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, 10th June 2019

'Health Equity, Welfare State Development and Basic Income Policies in Europe', presented 11th June at the High-level Conference on Health Equity – Accelerating Progress Towards Healthy and Prosperous Lives for all in the WHO European Region Ljubljana, Slovenia, 11-13 June 2019.

I’ll be talking to the North Yorkshire in June, when I will also take part in a launch of work I have contributed to under the auspices of the World Health Organisation on the link between basic income and health equity.

I’ll be participating in a workshop on basic income held at Nuffield, Oxford University in July.

In August I will inaugurate the first official Civic Forum series, organized under the auspices of BIEN.

Below are some of the debates my work on basic income feeds into.


Basic Income and Health

Health has become a big issue in debates about basic income, in particular mental health and well-being. To examine how economic institutions shape motivational states, in World Development  (2011a,“Working Life, Well-Being and Welfare Reform: Motivation and Institutions Revisited) I distinguished between intrinsic and instrumental forms of motivation and tested for the role of different sources of economic security. Having or lacking unemployment insurance or a cash grant are considered proxies for basic income (enjoying income security independent of jobs).However, using a multifactorial model I also look at a range of other factors. I find the effect of having income security outside employment is much stronger where a person also enjoys an occupational trajectory, in particular if not only enjoying stability in employment. This effect is even stronger for women. To me these findings speak to the wider problem of enjoying a sense of settlement in life, and how this involves both stability in income and in activity. The implication for what are good architectures of economic security in society are explored in several of my other works, especially(The Case for Universal Basic Income, Democracy, Public Finance, and Property Rights in Economic Stability: How More Horizontal Capitalism Upscales Freedom for All, and Alternative Social States and the Basic Income Debate: Institutions, Inequality and Human Development,).  For basic income debates an implication is a need to avoid oversimplifying the connection between basic income, and health and well-being. Health is ultimately an issue of education, inclusion and civilised society and basic income can only work as part of a wider strategy of public investment (Gastein Forum - (video).


Basic Income and Public Health Governance

In several recent speeches (Robot Stage -video), Guernsey June 2017- “Basic Income and the Crisis in Governance”video, WHO Gastein Forum, (video)) I touch on economic insecurity as a public health issue, and the way the punitive turn in administering access to basic income assistance exacerbates vulnerability in modern society. I argue contra this how basic income acting as a stabiliser (2017, Nature“Basic Income as a Pivoting Reform,”) can improve the governance and positive impacts of other public services. In(“Public Ownership within Varieties of Capitalism: Regulatory Foundations for Welfare and Freedom,”and The Case for Universal Basic Income) I look at ways the legal embedding of health rights in income security administration protects vulnerable groups, and I link this to the broader structure of the universal welfare state.

UBI policies and their potential for addressing health inequities.


Basic Income, Freedom and Development Justice

The case for basic income as an instrument of freedomfromdomination and freedom to act and choose are well known. In several works (Journal of Philosophical Economics, Basic Income Studies 2015, Polity Press) I argue for a distinct conception of developmental freedom and explore the link with development justice. This leads me to argue that basic income is best viewed as a key but small part of a more difficult social project of generating stable institutions of democratic governance. I talk about some of the implications in my recent book (2019a), and speeches(video,

This House Supports a Universal Basic Income | The Cambridge Union, Council of Europe (video),and podcasts (Universal Basic Income – Has its Time Come?)


Basic Income, Equality and the Welfare State

I have explored the incidental role of social equality as a condition for basic income: the likelihood of its coming into being and basic income being effective for freedom and development. In(The Developmental Social Contract and Basic Income in Denmark)

and a key note speech I gave to the Finland 2018 Congress of the Basic Income Earth Network I refer to this as the Equality Paradox. The concern is basic income would remain partial and its effects peter out without a high level of economic civilisation. The equality condition is paradoxical I argue because typically it is in conditions of crises linked with inequality and greater relative poverty that the moral case for basic income as an instrument to quell insecurity appears stronger. In recent Speeches (Cambridge Union, Danish Parliament- video, Bristol Festival of Ideas 2016,(audio), and BIEN’s 30thAnniversary at Louvain (video)I talk about the positive and necessary but insufficient role of basic income in the welfare state. I was a witness in the first public enquiry held about basic income in Britain(


Basic Income and the Union Movement

In several works (2002, 2002, 1999) I have looked at the role of labour unions as force for democratisation of the polity and economy. My D.Phil at Oxford focussed on the democratic agency of local labour unions in Chile, where I did a survey of over 400 local labour leaders, to understand the role of representation in the enterprise. I was among the first to argue (2011a) that the opposition many see between the interests of organised workers and the cause of basic income is false, too superficially conceived. I explore this concern in several speeches(Danish parliament September 2016, “Basic Income and the Nordic Model” (video)

  ; BIEN Danmark, video - in Danish); the Alternativet Annual Conference 2017, video - in Danish; and the 15th March 2018 Basic Income in Danish conference, video - in Danish) in Denmark, where as a young person I worked with the labour movement on several occasions.  In 2019c I expose the concerns of business and labour leaders about basic income, and there and(It’s Basic Income, Universal Basic Income) explore the factors that shape the different outcomes a transition to basic income could have for both parties.

In a number of radio podcasts, including BBC World Service (“Universal Basic Income – Has its Time Come?,”),and RSA Radio, and blogs (Compass - Basic Income and Institutional Transformation, Social Europe -  Basic Income’s Radical Role, and State of Nature - Universal Basic Income, Brave New Europe)I try to dispel the idea that basic income entails or even benefits from the end of employment, or that basic income necessarily severs the connection between employment and income. A civilised economy does not make a complete link between money income and occupation. Hence, I argue basic income is civilising because it supports the connection by not making all rest on it. I present basic income as part of constructing a more transparent, stable and democratic infrastructure of money economy, with independent but mutually complementary parts. Accordingly, in(Developmental Freedom and Social Order – Rethinking the Relation between Work and Equality,and The Case for Universal Basic Income) I advocate a multi-level architecture of economic security and explore the connections between private and hybrid property. I discuss basic income as essential to social incorporation at the Kings’ Transational Law Summit  on 11thApril 2018(video).


Basic Income and Anti-Poverty Policy

There is strong case for basic income as an alternative anti-poverty policy. However, the debate about basic income as a remedy for insecurity, precariousness and poverty has a dark side. In (2007b, 2018b,  Universal Basic Income, Basic Income, Occupational Freedom and Antipoverty Policy, and “The Ethics and Economics of Basic Income Revisited”- video)

) I raise this concern with regards to the steady replacement since the 1970s of industrial strategies with marketization policies in development. In these conditions, basic income cannot be a source of genuine occupational choice and freedom.


Basic Income and Governance

In several works, I explore the incidental role of basic income within governing welfare and the economy more humanely and effectively. In argue(Basic Income as a Pivoting Reform) as a pivoting reform basic income contributes to restore parity and stability in social relations, and in(The Case for Universal Basic Income) I explore wider consequences of this for human, political and economic development.