Universal basic income (UBI) is a radical policy proposal of a monthly cash grant given to all members of a community without means test, regardless of personal desert, with no strings attached, and, under most proposals, at a sufficiently high level to enable a life free from economic insecurity. Once a utopian proposal, the policy is now widely discussed and piloted throughout the world. Among the various objections to the proposal, one concerns its moral adequacy: Isn't it fundamentally unjust to give cash to all indiscriminately rather than to those who need it and deserve it? This article reviews the variety of strategies deployed by political theorists to posit that the proposal is in fact justified, or even required, by social justice. The review focuses mainly on the contemporary normative debate on UBI—roughly dating back to Philippe Van Parijs's influential work in the 1990s—and is centered on the ideals of freedom and equality.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Literature Cited

  1. Ackerman B, Alstott A 2000. The Stakeholder Society New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press
  2. Ackerman B, Alstott A 2006. Why stakeholding?. Redesigning Distribution: Basic Income and Stakeholder Grants as Cornerstones for an Egalitarian Capitalism B Ackerman, A Alstott, P Van Parijs 43–65 London/New York: Verso
    [Google Scholar]
  3. Anderson E 2000. Optional freedoms. Boston Rev Oct. 1
  4. Atkinson T 2015. Inequality Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press
  5. Axelsen DV, Bidadanure J 2018. Unequally egalitarian? Defending the credentials of social egalitarianism. Crit. Rev. Int. Soc. Political Philos. 22:335–51
    [Google Scholar]
  6. Baker J 1992. An egalitarian case for basic income. Arguing for Basic Income: Ethical Foundations for a Radical Reform P Van Parijs 101–27 London: Verso
    [Google Scholar]
  7. Barry B 2000. UBI and the work ethic. Boston Rev Oct. 1
  8. Bastagli F, Hagen-Zanker J, Harman L, Sturge G, Barca V et al. 2016. Cash transfers: What does the evidence say? A rigorous review of impacts and the role of design and implementation features. ODI July. https://www.odi.org/publications/10505-cash-transfers-what-does-evidence-say-rigorous-review-impacts-and-role-design-and-implementation
  9. Bergmann BR 2004. A Swedish-style welfare state or basic income: Which should have priority?. Politics Soc 32:1107–18
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Bergmann BR 2008. Basic income grants or the welfare state: Which better promotes gender equality?. Basic Income Stud 3:31–7
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Bidadanure J 2012. Short-sightedness in youth welfare provision: the case of RSA in France. Intergenerational Justice Rev 1:1222–28
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Bidadanure J 2014. Basic income versus basic capital: a temporal perspective. Treating young people as equals: intergenerational justice in theory and practice144–72 PhD Thesis Univ. York York, UK:
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Bidadanure J 2017. Basic income convergence. Boston Rev. Forum 2:51–5
    [Google Scholar]
  14. Birnbaum S 2012. Basic Income Reconsidered: Social Justice, Liberalism and the Demands of Equality Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan
  15. Birnbaum S 2016. Basic income. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics http://oxfordre.com/politics/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.001.0001/acrefore-9780190228637-e-116
  16. Boggs J 1968. The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker's Notebook New York: Monthly Rev. Press
  17. Calnitsky D 2016. More normal than welfare: The Mincome experiment, stigma, and community experience. Can. Rev. Sociol. 53:26–71
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Casassas D, De Wispelaere J 2016. Republicanism and the political economy of democracy. Eur. J. Soc. Theory 19:2283–300
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Charlier J 1848. Solution du Problème Social ou Constitution Humanitaire, Basée sur la Loi Naturelle, et Précédée de l'Exposé de Motifs Brussels: G.J.A. Greuse
  20. Conner DH 2014. Financial freedom: women, money, and domestic abuse. William Mary J. Women Law 20:1339–97
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Costa MD, James S 1973. The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community New York: Falling Wall
  22. Cox N, Federici S 1976. Counter-Planning from the Kitchen: Wages for Housework, a Perspective on Capital and the Left New York: New York Wages for Housework Comm.
  23. Dean H, Taylor-Gooby P 1992. Dependency Culture: The Explosion of a Myth New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf
  24. Dworkin A 2000. Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press
  25. Dworkin A 2006. Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press
  26. Evans DK, Popova A 2014. Cash transfers and temptation goods: a review of global evidence Policy Res. Work. Pap. WPS 6886, World Bank Washington, DC:
  27. Fabre C 2003. The stake: an egalitarian proposal?. The Ethics of Stakeholding K Dowding, J De Wispelaere, S White, J De Wispelaere 114–29 Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Ford MR 2015. Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of Jobless Future New York: Basic Books
  29. Fraser N 1997. Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist” Condition New York: Routledge
  30. Friedman M 1962. Capitalism and Freedom Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press
  31. Friedman M 1968. The case for a negative income tax: a view from the right. Issues in American Public Policy J Bunzel 111–20 Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Galston WA 2000. What about reciprocity?. Boston Rev Oct. 1
  33. Gelbach J, Pritchett L 2002. Is more for the poor less for the poor? The politics of means-tested targeting. Topics Econ. Anal. Policy21
    [Google Scholar]
  34. Gheaus A 2008. Basic income, gender justice and the costs of gender-symmetrical lifestyles. Basic Income Stud 3:31–8
    [Google Scholar]
  35. Gheaus A, Herzog L 2016. The good of work (other than money!). J. Soc. Philos. 47:170–89
    [Google Scholar]
  36. Gourevitch A, Stanczyk 2018. The basic income illusion. Catalyst 1:4 https://catalyst-journal.com/vol1/no4/the-basic-income-illusion
    [Google Scholar]
  37. Graeber D 2018. Bullshit Jobs New York: Simon & Schuster
  38. Harstad Strategic Research. 2017. ESP Alaska PFD Phone Survey Executive Summary Spring 2017. https://www.scribd.com/document/352375988/ESP-Alaska-PFD-Phone-Survey-Executive-Summary-Spring-2017
  39. Harvey P 2012. More for less: the job guarantee strategy. Basic Income Stud 7:23–18
    [Google Scholar]
  40. Jordan B 2013. Efficiency and participation: the basic income approach. See Widerquist et al. 2013 230–35
  41. King ML Jr. 2010 (1967). Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Boston: Beacon
  42. Layard R 2004. Good jobs and bad jobs Occas. Pap. 19 Cent. Econ. Perf., London School Econ. Political Sci. London, UK:
  43. McKinnon C 2003. Basic income, self-respect, and reciprocity. J. Appl. Philos. 20:143–58
    [Google Scholar]
  44. Meade JE 1988 (1935). The Collected Papers of James Meade 1 S Howsen London: Unwin Hayman
  45. Meade JE 1993 (1964). Liberty, Equality and Efficiency London: Palgrave Macmillan
  46. Moffitt R 1983. An economic model of welfare stigma. Am. Econ. Rev. 73:51023–35
    [Google Scholar]
  47. Murray CA 2016. In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State Washington, DC: AEI Press
  48. Nooteboom B 2013. Basic income as a basis for small business. See Widerquist et al. 2013 210–16
  49. Nozick R 1974. Anarchy State and Utopia New York: Basic Books
  50. Offe C 1992. A non-productivist design for social policies. Arguing for Basic Income: Ethical Foundations for a Radical Reform P Van Parijs 61–78 London: Verso
    [Google Scholar]
  51. Paine T 1797. Agrarian Justice London: R. Folwell
  52. Pateman C 2004. Democratizing citizenship: some advantages of a basic income. Politics Soc 32:189–105
    [Google Scholar]
  53. Pettit P 2007. A republican right to basic income?. Basic Income Stud 2:21–8
    [Google Scholar]
  54. Quong J 2010. Paternalism and perfectionism. Liberalism Without Perfection73–107 Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press
    [Google Scholar]
  55. Rawls J 2001. Justice as Fairness: A Restatement Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press
  56. Robeyns I 2008. Introduction: revisiting the feminism and basic income debate. Basic Income Stud 3:31–6
    [Google Scholar]
  57. Rogers B 2017. Basic income in a just society. Boston Rev May 15. http://bostonreview.net/forum/brishen-rogers-basic-income-just-society
  58. Rousseau JJ 1998 (1762). The Social Contract Chatham, UK: Wordsworth Ed.
  59. Schemmel C 2015. How (not) to criticise the welfare state. J. Appl. Philos. 32:4393–409
    [Google Scholar]
  60. Segall S 2005. Unconditional welfare benefits and the principle of reciprocity. Politics Philos. Econ. 4:331–54
    [Google Scholar]
  61. Sex Workers Open University. 2017. SWOU statement on poverty, sex work and the Swedish model: “Poverty is objectifying, demeaning and coercive.”. Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement Blog Mar. 19. https://www.swarmcollective.org/blog/statement-on-poverty-sex-work-and-the-swedish-model-poverty-is-objectifying-demeaning-and-coercive1
  62. Shelby T 2012. Justice, work, and the ghetto poor. Law Ethics Hum. Rights 6:171–96
    [Google Scholar]
  63. Shelby T 2017. A blow to ghettoization. Boston Rev May 15
  64. Standing G 2011. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class New York: Bloomsbury
  65. Standing G 2013. Why a basic income is necessary for a right to work. Basic Income Stud 7:219–40
    [Google Scholar]
  66. Stuber J, Schlesinger M 2006. Sources of stigma for means-tested government programs. Soc. Sci. Med. 63:4933–45
    [Google Scholar]
  67. Tcherneva P 2012. The job guarantee: delivering the benefits that basic income only promises—a response to Guy Standing. Basic Income Stud 7:266–87
    [Google Scholar]
  68. Tobin J 2013. The case for an income guarantee. See Widerquist et al. 2013 195–200
  69. Van der Veen RJ, Van Parijs P 1986. A capitalist road to communism. Theory Soc 15:5635–55
    [Google Scholar]
  70. Van Parijs P 1991. Why surfers should be fed: the liberal case for an unconditional basic income. Philos. Public Aff. 20:2101–31
    [Google Scholar]
  71. Van Parijs P 1992. Competing justifications of basic income. Arguing for Basic Income: Ethical Foundations for a Radical Reform P Van Parijs 3–43 London: Verso
    [Google Scholar]
  72. Van Parijs P 1995. Real Freedom for All Oxford, UK: Clarendon
  73. Van Parijs P 2000. A basic income for all. Boston Rev Oct. 1. http://bostonreview.net/archives/BR25.5/vanparijs.html
  74. Van Parijs P, Vanderborght Y 2017. Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press
  75. Vanderborght Y 2006. Why trade unions oppose basic income. Basic Income Stud 1:11–20
    [Google Scholar]
  76. Walker M 2016. Free Money for All New York: Palgrave Macmillan
  77. Warren DT 2016. Universal basic income and black communities in the United States. Movement for Black Lives manifesto. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzQSUaxtfgvIWmRMVEhCdS1nR1hYV2RpelB4TkJVbUtSZXo4/view
  78. Weeks K 2011. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press
  79. White S 2003. The Civic Minimum: On the Rights and Obligations of Economic Citizenship New York: Oxford Univ. Press
  80. White S 2006. Reconsidering the exploitation objection to basic income. Basic Income Stud 1:21–17
    [Google Scholar]
  81. White S 2011. Basic income versus basic capital: Can we resolve the disagreement?. Policy Politics 39:167–81
    [Google Scholar]
  82. White S 2015. Basic Capital in the egalitarian toolkit?. J. Appl. Philos. 32:4417–31
    [Google Scholar]
  83. Widerquist K 2013. Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No New York: Palgrave Macmillan
  84. Widerquist K 2017. The cost of basic income: back-of-the-envelope calculations. Basic Income Stud 12:2)
    [Google Scholar]
  85. Widerquist K, Lewis MA, Steven P 2005. The Ethics and Economics of the Basic Income Guarantee London/New York: Routledge
  86. Widerquist K, Noguera JA, Vanderborght Y, De Wispelaere J 2013. Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell
  87. Wright E 2006. Redesigning Distribution: Basic Income and Stakeholder Grants as Cornerstones for an Egalitarian Capitalism London: Verso
  88. Zelleke A 2008. Institutionalizing the universal caretaker through a basic income?. Basic Income Stud 3:31–9
    [Google Scholar]
  • Article Type: Review Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error