Until about a decade ago basic income was most of all a reform proposal for the restructuring of the welfare states of western countries. In many of these countries it has been and continues to be a topic of academic research and public discussion, in some more than others. Public interest in BI has varied greatly over the years, depending on the changing political agenda and climate. In the Netherlands, for example, basic income was widely discussed in the seventies and was then adopted by political parties who where represented in parliament. At present, however, it has almost vanished from the public debate.
In other industrialised countries the debate is just starting or gaining momentum. Germany has a strong basic income movement, with dozens of active groups, media attention in newspapers and TV talk shows, and lectures and discussions throughout the country.
Not just in Europe, also in other industrialised countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan there are many academics, civil society organisations, politicians and others that are promoting and discussing the idea of a basic income. For example, the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG), organises a national Congress each year. There is an increasing amount of discussion of basic income in academic and policy circles in the United States, although, as USBIG acknowledges on its website, it is still a long way from being a major part of the policy debate.
However, one state in the U.S., Alaska, has already introduced a partial basic income. See below for more information.
But basic income is not only relevant to rich countries with a well-developed welfare system. The idea has expanded now to the developing countries of the South. In fact, these countries appear to be taking over the lead in the BI debate and the actual implementation!
Development aid, economic growth policies and other measures have failed to tackle poverty effectively. Hundreds of millions of people are still suffering from poverty and hunger. Based on the current policies poverty will persist for many more decades to come. Therefore, developing countries are considering alternative ways. In Brazil, Namibia and South Africa a basic income is now by many considered to be the best way to end degrading poverty once and for all. Brazil is the first country worldwide that has adopted a law that calls for the gradual introduction of a basic income. In South Africa and Namibia, the trade unions, churches and many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are trying to persuade their governments to introduce a basic income. And in Namibia, the Basic Income Grant Coalition has conducted a two-year pilot project. The positive results have exceeded expectations.
Before turning to Brazil and Namibia, we will first have a closer look at Alaska.
Of all the countries and states in the world, Alaska is the first that has introduced a (partial) basic income: un unconditional yearly payment to all inhabitants. Since 1982 every year a dividend from the Alaska Permanent Fund is paid to all inhabitants, i.e. everyone who has lived in Alaska for at least one year. This dividend is paid to all children and adults without any condition, with the only exception of people who during the qualifying year have been sentenced or incarcerated as a result of a conviction of a felony.
At least 25% of the proceeds of mineral (such as oil and gas) sales or royalties are placed in the Alaska Permanent Fund (APF). This money is invested. The yearly dividend is based on a five-year average of the APF earnings. The dividend has varied from $331.29 in 1984 to $3,269.00 in 2008. It's an individual payout, so a family of five will receive a total payout of five times the amount.
Whether the APF dividend should be considered as a basic income is a question of debate. Some people will argue that it is not, because the level of the dividend varies depending on the earnings of the APF, and the dividend is not enough to satisfy all basic living costs. But most advocates of BI do regard it as the first real example of a BI.
Fund Dividend in 2009
It satisfies the widely used definition of BIEN, the Basic Income Earth Network: "A basic income is an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement."
The yearly distribution of the dividend since 1982 has reduced poverty and the inequality of the distribution of income in Alaska. For a more detailed analysis, see: Scott Goldsmith - The Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend: An Experiment in Wealth Distribution
Brazil is the first country in the world that has passed a law on basic income. This law (n. 10.835/2004) was approved by the Brazilian National Congress in 2003 and sanctioned by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on January 8, 2004. It establishes the right to a Citizen’s Basic Income, which will gradually be implemented.
The law came into being thanks to the ceaseless efforts of the Brazilian senator Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy. Eduardo Suplicy is one of the most inspiring advocates of basic income. He is giving lectures all over the world to share his conviction:
"If we really want to eradicate absolute poverty, provide dignity and freedom to all and build a civilised and just society, a common sense solution would be to institute a basic income."
Currently he is working on a law to earmark funds, such as revenues from oil, to finance the gradual introduction of a basic income in Brazil. Suplicy often refers to the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend as an example.
More information about basic income in Brazil: lecture Eduardo Suplicy
Basic income project in Quantiga Velho
The non-governmental Brazilian organisation ReCivitas has started a privately funded basic income pilot project in Quantiga Velho, a small community about 30 km from Sao Paulo. All of the about 100 members of the community are entitled to a monthly basic income of 30 Reais (at the start of the project this was about 17 US Dollars or 11.5 Euros). In the beginning, October 2008, people were distrustful and only 27 agreed to receive the BI. In October2010 the number of people receiving 30 Reais each month has gone up to 77. For more information: website ReCivitas.
A much bigger pilot project was initiated by the Basic Income Grant (BIG) Coalition in Namibia . The BIG Coalition consists of five large umbrella bodies in Namibia: the Council of Churches (CCN), the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), the Namibian NGO Forum (Nangof), the National Youth Council (NYC) and the Namibian Network of AIDS Service Organisations (Nananso).
This basic income project started in January 2008 as a two-year pilot to test a BI in practice. The coalition hoped that if the results of the project were positive, the Namibian government would be persuaded to introduce a national BI in Namibia. The pilot project has successfully run for two years and the results have exceeded expectations.
first payout in Otjivero-Omitara
The pilot was conducted in Otjivero-Omitara, a low-income rural area about 100 kilometres east of Windhoek. A total of 930 inhabitants received a monthly basic income of 100 Namibian Dollars, which equals 12.4 US Dollars or 8.6 Euros at the average exchange rates of 2008 and 2009.
The final results have not been published yet but the figures in the Assessment Report of April 2009 about the first year of the project are extremely positive. The percentage of underweight children dropped from 42% to 10% and dropout rates at the school fell from 40% to almost 0%. One of the other most important findings was that the rate of those engaged in income generating activities (above the age of 15) increased from 44% to 55%. In particular, the introduction of the BI in Otjivero-Omitara led to an increase in small businesses, such as brick-making, baking of bread and dress-making. The BIG enabled people to make the necessary investments for their businesses. Furthermore, it increased the buying power of the inhabitants, thereby creating a market for the products of the new businesses.
This increase in employment contradicts the idea of critics that an unconditional BI has a negative effect on work motivation.
The two-year period of the pilot project has ended at the end of 2009. Despite the positive results the Namibian government has thus far rejected the introduction of a national BI in Namibia. The BIG Coalition continues with its efforts to persuade the government that a BI is the best way to fight poverty in Namibia. In the mean time, the inhabitants of Otjivero - Omitara will receive a 'bridging income' of 80 Namibian Dollars for the next two years.
For more information about BI debates and developments around the world, the best resources are the newsletters of BIEN and USBIG, as well as the congress and discussion papers on the websites of both networks: