The Ethics and Economics of the Basic Income Guarantee.

AuthorDugger, William M.
PositionBook review

The Ethics and Economics of the Basic Income Guarantee, edited by Karl Widerquist, Michael Anthony Lewis and Steven Pressman. Burlington, VT: Ashgate. 2005. Cloth: ISBN 0 754 64188 0, $114.95. 334 pages.

Simply put, a basic income guarantee is a financial grant made unconditionally to all adult members of a society and prorated for their children. The grant is intended to be enough to guarantee everyone a minimum (poverty level) income whether or not they work or behave in any particular way. The basic income grant is related to the negative income tax but differs in one fundamental way. The intention of both is to end poverty with a financial grant from the state. However, the basic income grant is also intended to sever the vital nerve connecting work and income. The negative income tax, on the other hand, is intended to maintain a strong financial incentive to work by including a "claw-back provision" that reduces the amount of the grant by some proportion of the recipient's income, if they have any.

This book is a collection of 17 essays on the basic income grant with an introduction by the three editors and a foreword by Guy Standing, Director of the International Labor Organization. The book makes an excellent contribution to the literature in several specific areas. The quality of the essays is truly outstanding, with only one or two of them not piquing my interest and holding my attention. This volume provides the reader with a wide coverage of the subject. The coverage includes four excellent essays on historical context and background, four articles debating various ethical aspects, four articles exploring various empirical dimensions, and five articles describing and analyzing proposals from different countries. My review cannot include a discussion of all 17. I will focus on my five favorite. The reader will probably have a different set of favorites. Sorry, but I am writing this review. Write your own. The book certainly warrants doing so. In the order in which they appear in the book, my favorites are the following.

The essay, "In the Shadow of Speenhamland: Social Policy and the Old Poor Law" by Fred Block and Margaret Somers is an excellent economic history. It boldly challenges the conventional wisdom regarding the Speenhamland system of relief initiated in 1795 in an English town of that name located in Berkshire County. The authors show that the Speenhamland system of outdoor poor relief did not debauch the poor anywhere...

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