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pRecapture die persönliche Rückeroberung

Der geordnete Rückzug aus dem Kapitalismus bringt die Freiheit zurück

Gedanken, Ideen, Meinungen

Aktionspunkt: Report from the NA-BIG Conference

Report from the NA-BIG Conference

Report from the NA-BIG Conference

[Karl Widerquist – USBIG – May 2012]
The Eleventh North American Basic Income Guarantee (NA-BIG) Congress took place at the University of Toronto on May 3-5, 2012. I had the privilege of attending this conference. It provided an unusual opportunity for me to go to a NA-BIG Congress purely as a participant, because I had almost nothing to do with the organization of it this year.

The theme of the Congress was "Putting Equality Back on The Agenda: Basic Income and Other Approaches to Economic Security for All." It began—unusually for a conference primarily dedicated to examining basic income—with two skeptics explaining what was wrong with the basic income as a solution to current problems in the United States and Canada. I applaud these participants for speaking their mind in an auditorium full of basic income supporters. It was kind of strange to begin with the skeptics—rebutting an idea that hadn’t yet been presented at the conference—but it worked very well to keep the basic income supporters on their toes throughout the conference.

The organizers invited two speakers to focus on the problems of poverty and inequality rather than specifically on basic income as a proposed solution: Charles Karelis (Research Professor of Philosophy at The George Washington University and author of The Persistence of Poverty: Why the Economics of the Well-Off Can't Help the Poor) and Richard Wilkinson (Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham Medical School and co-author of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better). Even though these speakers’ remarks were not directly about basic income, they were valuable to the conference, because they show the need to do something about poverty and inequality in the world today. It’s the work of a conference like this to see if basic income can help solve the problems researchers like these have identified.

One featured speaker, Erik Olin Wright (of the Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin - Madison, author of Envisioning Real Utopias, and American Society: How it Actually Works), brought the congress back to focus on basic income, but he did not support the common version of the basic income proposal—a basically unregulated economy with basic income as its one central progressive reform. He argued that basic income would only succeed if it were part of a major reform of the economic system.

One of the most pertinent presentations was given by Evelyn Forget (Professor, University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine, author of a major forthcoming study on Mincome: the Manitoba minimum income experiment). She has been working for several years to recover and analyze data from the Canadian Negative Income Tax experiment, known as Mincome. The experiment was conducted by the Canadian Federal government in the late 1970s, but it was cancelled before the data was analyzed. Only now, thanks mostly to Evelyn Forget, are the findings of the experiment becoming fully available. She finds that the experiment had many benefits for recipients including, for example, improved school attainment among children and improved health outcomes for all family members.

Senator Art Eggleton, former mayor of Toronto, concluded the conference with a practical discussion of how to put BIG on the political agenda in North America.

The parallel sessions provided a wide range of discussion about BIG. These sessions were especially valuable for me because I was able to attend two sessions and a dinner dedicated to providing feedback to me on chapters of the book that I am currently polishing for publication. The book makes a freedom-based argument for an unconditional income from the perspective that the imposition of rules, including the rules of property, make the poor unfree in very important ways. Basic income is both compensation for the imposition of these rules and a necessary institution (in modern industrial society) to maintain each individual’s status as a free person with the power to accept or reject active cooperation with other willing individuals. The sessions I participated in helped me formulate this argument and to present the book as a work of political philosophy.

For me, the Congress was also an opportunity to reconnect with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. I have now been to six BIEN Congresses and all eleven NA-BIG Congresses. I believe there are only three of us who have been to all eleven Congresses (the other two being Jeff Smith and Al Sheahen). Every Congress is a little different. Some themes recur every time, but I’m always confronted with new ideas.

One welcome addition to this Congress was the presence of a significant number of people who are on disability or other forms of public assistance. This group brought the discussion back to practical issues every time, providing a skeptical view of nearly all the ideas presented. I hope we can get someone from this group to be a featured speaker at an upcoming NA-BIG or BIEN Congress.

The North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress is a joint project of the USBIG Network and the Canadian Basic Income Guarantee. It takes place in Canada and the United States on alternating years. Next year’s Congress will be in New York City in February (see announcement above).
-Karl Widerquist, Nicosia, Cyprus, May 2012

For more information on this past conference go to:
Papers from the Congress will be online as part of the USBIG Discussion Paper Series at:
Information about next year’s Congress will soon be online at:

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