Theoretical Arguments for Adopting a UBI

Theoretical Arguments for Adopting a Universal Basic Income

The idea of a universal basic income (UBI) is increasingly popular. But most of the arguments for the UBI are empirical policy-based arguments from the instrumental benefits of the UBI. For instance, some have argued that the economic consequences of a UBI would be desirable. And some have argued that a UBI would promote good environmental consequences by combatting unemployment without relying on economic growth. This workshop will discuss what we might call theoretical (rather than empirical or instrumental) arguments for a UBI and their merits. Some such arguments and topics are below.

  • Both right- and left-libertarian proponents of a UBI such as Zwolinski and Van Parijs have argued that the value of freedom requires that we adopt a UBI because a UBI makes people genuinely free and autonomous in a way that alternatives to a UBI do not.
  • Some left-libertarian or “Georgist” proponents of a UBI argue that (i) since no individual is responsible for creating land, no individual can legitimately lay claim to any given bit of land; so, (ii) a political society may and ought to charge appropriate rent to those individuals who occupy land within that society; and (iii) the proceeds from such rent charges ought to be distributed equally among the members of the society—thus, in effect, providing for a UBI to all members of the society.
  • Does the best conception of equality support a UBI or not? Many egalitarians (notably many luck egalitarians) have argued that the best conception of equality does not support a UBI because a UBI would redistribute the currency of egalitarian justice to free-riders and the deliberately reckless and imprudent.
  • Is there a route from sufficientarianism to the view that we ought to adopt a UBI? Elizabeth Anderson’s sufficientarian view was intended not to support a UBI. And according to Liam Shields’ recent book-length articulation of sufficientarianism, plausible sufficientarian views only hold that our reasons to redistribute to those below some threshold are discontinuous in weight with our reasons to redistribute to those above some threshold. So, on Shields’ view it does not straightforwardly follow from a plausible sufficientarianism that we ought to adopt a UBI.
  • It might be argued that if we accept public reason liberalism, this gives us a good case for a UBI. We might see, crudely, public reason liberalism as requiring that a policy P is justified only if all agents that P affects have sufficient reason to accept P. In this case it might be argued that a UBI is justified according to public reason liberalism because a UBI benefits everyone and the alternatives to a UBI leave some of the least well-off extremely badly off – and so the least well-off do not have sufficient reason to accept any alternative to the UBI.
  • Can we be justifiably certain that it is morally permissible not to provide a UBI and does this affect whether we ought to adopt a UBI? Some, such as Andrew Sepielli and Jonathan Matheson have argued that if we cannot be epistemically justifiably certain about which moral or political theory holds this affects what we ought to do.

If you would like to present a paper at the workshop, please send an abstract of around 500 words to by May 15th 2017.

The format of the workshop will be focused on the discussion of pre-circulated papers. Full papers will be due two weeks before the workshop on August 28th 2017.

For any enquiries or more information regarding the workshop please contact