Citizen’s dividend or citizen’s income is a proposed state policy based upon the principle that the natural world is the common property of all persons (see Georgism). It is proposed that all citizens receive regular payments (dividends) from revenue raised by the state through leasing or selling natural resources for private use. In the United States, the idea can be traced back to Thomas Paine’s essay, Agrarian Justice[1], which is also considered one of the earliest proposals for a social security system in the United States. Thomas Paine best summarized his view by stating that “Men did not make the earth. It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.”

This concept is a form of basic income, where the Citizen’s Dividend depends upon the value of natural resources or what could be titled as “common goods” like seignorage, the electro-magnetic spectrum, the industrial use of air (CO2 production), etc. The State of Alaska dispenses a form of citizen’s dividend in its Permanent Fund Dividend, which holds investments initially seeded by the state’s revenue from mineral resources, particularly petroleum. In 2005, every eligible Alaskan resident (including their children) received a check for $845.76. Over the 24-year history of the fund, it has paid out a total of $24,775.45 to every resident.


MM: What are the origins of the concept?
Widerquist: Some people trace the idea back as far as ancient Greece. The idea started appearing gradually in different times and places in the modern era. Thomas Paine mentioned something like it in his pamphlet “Agrarian Justice” in the 1790s. Bertrand Russell articulated the idea in 1915. Economists started talking about the idea in the 1940s. The idea gathered a great deal of attention in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, when people began to think of it in very diverse ways: as the scientific solution to poverty, as a streamlined yet more effective alternative to the welfare state or as a way to empower the least advantaged people. At one point, it seemed like the inevitable next step in social policy. People as diverse as Martin Luther King and Richard Nixon endorsed it. Groups as diverse as chambers of commerce and grassroots welfare rights campaigners endorsed it. But the diversity of its appeal was matched by the diversity of its opposition. A watered-down version of it called “the Family Assistance Plan” passed narrowly in the House of Representatives in 1972, but was defeated in the Senate by a coalition of people who thought it went too far and people who didn’t think it went far enough. Interest in the idea dropped off in the United States in the late 1970s, but then interest began to grow in Europe. The academic debate has continued to grow ever since and it has translated into popular movements in places as diverse as Ireland, Namibia, Finland, Brazil, South Africa, Belgium, Germany and Italy.

MM: Are there examples of policies being enacted? How have they turned out?
Widerquist: Yes, there are a few small things around the world and one big example in Alaska. Brazil recently voted to combine several of its anti-poverty programs into a program called the Bolsa Familia, which is supposed to be the first step. A private NGO is currently conducting a pilot project in Namibia with great success. The Alaska Permanent Fund (APF) has been in place for 25 years. The “basic” in basic income guarantee is meant to indicate that it is enough to cover your basic needs. The APF isn’t that large, but it is one of the most popular government programs in the United States today. They had a referendum proposing to get rid of it a few years ago, and people voted something like 85 percent in favor of keeping it. Few government programs have that kind of support. The APF is another outgrowth of the NIT movement in the United States in the 1970s. Jay Hammond was governor when the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline was proposed. He had learned about BIG during the NIT debate, and he saw the opportunity to connect the two. Usually when businesses want to take publicly owned natural resources and make them into private property, they just pay off the right politicians and they get the resources free or at a nominal fee. But Hammond decided that this oil belonged to all the people of Alaska, and if the corporations wanted to buy it, they had to pay into a fund that would pay a yearly dividend to every citizen in Alaska. The APF dividend varies year-to-year depending on the fund’s returns. It’s usually somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000. Last year the dividend was a record high of $3,200. Of course, $3,200 isn’t enough to meet anybody’s basic needs, but it can make a huge difference for people at the margins. Suppose you’re a single parent with four children living on an Indian reservation somewhere in Alaska. Last year’s APF Dividend was worth $16,000 to you and your family. You can’t live on that all year, but imagine the difference it makes. You might worry that people who get a check from resource revenues might be more accepting of resource exploitation. But other factors, I believe, more than counteract any such effect. Remember that today companies are taking control of natural resources all over the planet and paying no compensation at all to the rest of humanity. If you want people to do less of something, taxation is a very good way to start. If you tax resource extraction, you not only discourage people from doing too much of it, you also establish the precedent that natural resources belong to everyone — not just to the first corporation to get permission from the government. That precedent would be enormously valuable to the environmental movement.


Afghanistan’s big deposits of lithium, copper and gold have some economists worried. As we noted earlier this week, the discovery of natural resources often leads to conflict and corruption, which in turn hurt economic growth. But a handful of economists are pushing an idea they say could break the natural resource curse. Take all money that comes in from foreign companies — for lithium in Afghanistan, oil in Nigeria, natural gas in Bolivia — and give it to the citizens. Literally have a government official sit down with piles of cash, maybe with some international oversight, and divvy it up. That system would create a strong incentive for the people to keep on eye on what the government’s doing, says Todd Moss of the Center for Global Development. “If you received $500 last year, and this year it’s only $400, you’re going to ask some pretty hard questions,” he says.

But there are a few key barriers to putting the plan into action. The first is logistics. Lots of resource-rich countries don’t have national databases, clear census records or strong banking systems. That makes it tough to hand out billions of dollars to millions of people, year after year. The second is the fact that money is power. A government that’s getting lots of money by selling natural resources may be reluctant to share the wealth. Arvind Subramanian, an economist with the Peterson Institute, recently traveled to Nigeria to pitch the idea of giving oil revenues directly to the people. The government wasn’t interested. “If the current guy in power does not want to give up power, my idea has no hope of succeeding,” Subramanian said.

Afghanistan’s resources could make it the richest mining region on earth
by Kim Sengupta / 15 June 2010

Afghanistan, often dismissed in the West as an impoverished and failed state, is sitting on $1 trillion of untapped minerals, according to new calculations from surveys conducted jointly by the Pentagon and the US Geological Survey. The sheer size of the deposits – including copper, gold, iron and cobalt as well as vast amounts of lithium, a key component in batteries of Western lifestyle staples such as laptops and BlackBerrys – holds out the possibility that Afghanistan, ravaged by decades of conflict, might become one of the most important and lucrative centres of mining in the world. President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omar, said last night: “I think it’s very, very big news for the people of Afghanistan and we hope it will bring the Afghan people together for a cause that will benefit everyone.” In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan, told reporters that the economic value of the deposits may be even higher. “There’s … an indication that even the £1 trn figure underestimates what the true potential might be,” he said. According to a Pentagon memo, seen by The New York Times, Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium”, with one location in Ghazni province showing the potential to compete with Bolivia, which, until now, held half the known world reserves.

Developing a mining industry would, of course, be a long-haul process. It would, though, be a massive boost to a country with a gross domestic product of only about $12bn and where the fledgling legitimate commercial sector has been fatally undermined by billions of dollars generated by the world’s biggest opium crop. “There is stunning potential here,” General David Petraeus, the US commander in overall charge of the Afghan war, told the US newspaper. “There are lots of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.” Stan Coats, former Principal Geologist at the British Geographical Survey, who carried out exploration work in Afghanistan for four years, also injected a note of caution. “Considerably more work needs to be carried out before it can be properly called an economic deposit that can be extracted at a profit,” he told The Independent. “Much more ground exploration, including drilling, needs to be carried out to prove that these are viable deposits which can be worked.” But, he added, despite the worsening security situation, some regions were safe enough “so there is a lot of scope for further work”.

The discovery of the minerals is likely to trigger a commercial form of the “Great Game” for access to energy resources. The Chinese have already won the right to develop the Aynak copper mine in Logar province in the north, and American and European companies have complained about allegedly underhand methods used by Beijing to get contracts. The existence of the minerals will also raise questions about the real purpose of foreign involvement in the Afghan conflict. Just as many people in Iraq held that the US and British-led invasion of their country was in order to control the oil wealth, Afghans can often be heard griping that the West is after its “hidden” natural treasures. The fact US military officials were on the exploration teams, and the Pentagon was writing mineral memos might feed that cynicism and also motivate the Taliban into fighting more ferociously to keep control of potentially lucrative areas.

Western diplomats were also warning last night that the flow of money from the minerals is likely to fuel endemic corruption in a country where public figures, including Ahmed Wali Karzai, the President’s brother, have been accused of making fortunes from the narcotics trade. The Ministry of Mines and Industry, which will control the production of lithium and other natural resources, has been repeatedly associated with malpractice. Last year US officials accused the minister in charge at the time when the Aynak copper mine rights were given to the Chinese, Mohammed Ibrahim Adel, of taking a $30m bribe. He denied the charge but was sacked by President Karzai. But last night Jawad Omar, a senior official at the ministry, insisted: “The natural resources of Afghanistan will play a magnificent role in Afghanistan’s economic growth. The past five decades have shown that every time new research takes place, it shows our natural reserves are far more than what was previously found. This is a cause for rejoicing, nothing to worry about.”

According to The New York Times, the US Geological Survey flew sorties to map Afghanistan’s mineral resources in 2007, using an old British bomber equipped with instruments that offered a 3-D profile of deposits below the surface. It was when a Pentagon task force – charged with formulating business development programmes and helping the Afghan government develop relationships with international firms – came upon the geological data in 2009, that the process of calculating the economic values began. “This really is part and parcel of General [Stanley] McChrystal’s counter-insurgency strategy,” Colonel Lapan said yesterday. “This is that whole economic arm that we talk about but gets very little attention.”

by John Stuart Blackton

The ” discovery” of Afghanistan’s minerals will sound pretty silly to old timers. When I was living in Kabul in the early 1970’s the USG, the Russians, the World Bank, the UN and others were all highly focused on the wide range of Afghan mineral deposts. The Russian geological service was all over the North in the 60’s and 70’s. Cheap ways of moving the ore to ocean ports has always been the limiting factor. The Russians were looking at a northern rail corridor. Take a look at this little bibliography of Afghan mineral assessments. This one is mostly Russian, but pre-dates the DoD/USG “discovery” period by 30 years. In my day we did a joint USG/Iranian study of a potential rail line from Afghanistan to several of the Iranian rail hubs. This was predicated on mineral exploitation in a way that would thwart the Russian’s northern rail corridor plans. In the early 70’s the USG had an old FDR New-Deal planner/economist/brains-truster – Bob Nathan – working with the Afghan Ministry of Plan to work out a fifty year mineral exploitation program. When the Russians took over they picked up Bob’s plans and extended them. So this is anything but a “new discovery”. Low cost, long haul transport infrastructure remains the constraint.

{John Stuart Blackton, who has shaken more Helmand River sand out of his shorts than most Americans in Afghanistan have walked on, provides some background. By the way, before running USAID in Afghanistan, John attended Stephens College of Delhi-as did Pakistan’s Gen. Zia.}

The General Mining Act of 1872
by Robert McClure & Andrew Schneider / June 11, 2001

Gold, silver, platinum and other precious metals for free. Land for $5 an acre or less. That’s the deal mining companies get from the U.S. government when miners turn their explosives and earthmovers toward public land in the West. It’s pretty much the same deal miners have had for 129 years, ever since Congress approved the General Mining Law in 1872. Modern mining methods have left the West pockmarked by huge craters, some so large that they are visible from space. Whole mountainsides are ground to dust and doused with cyanide, teasing out enough gold for a single wedding ring from several tons of rock and soil. And tens of thousands of abandoned mines scar the landscape, many emitting an orange-red, acid-laced runoff called “yellow boy.” These mines have poisoned more than 16,000 miles of Western streams. When a mine goes bankrupt, taxpayers sometimes get stuck with the costs of cleaning up the mess — more than $275 million for three mines alone in Colorado, South Dakota and Montana that closed in the 1990s. Under terms of the antiquated law, miners cart away everything from gold to kitty litter from public lands — minerals worth about $11 billion in the last eight years alone. Not only does the U.S. Treasury get nothing, Congress has granted miners a tax break worth an estimated $823 million in the coming decade. Over the years, public lands the size of Connecticut have been made private under terms of the 1872 law, all for $2.50 to $5 an acre, though not all of it has been used for mining. Some claims became ski resorts, housing subdivisions, hotels and even a brothel, in Nye County, Nev.

Congress has acted over the years to rein in some abuses allowed under the act, but problems persist, and the debate over the future of Western lands continues. New mining regulations designed to protect taxpayers and the environment went into effect just hours before George W. Bush became president — and he soon moved to get rid of them. A watered-down version of the rules or a full suspension is expected next month. The controversy over the new regulations for administering the old law is just one more battle in a land-use war that has raged for generations. It’s a complex subject, rich in history. But the issues boil down to three broad areas of disagreement: To what degree mining harms the environment, whether the jobs it produces are worth the damage, and whether the public interest is being subverted by the miners and their friends in Washington, D.C.

Opening the West
Complaints about a taxpayer rip-off started just about as soon as miners arrived in the vast American West. Trying to establish order amid the chaos of the California gold rush in 1848, an Army colonel named Mason sent a dispatch to headquarters warning: “(T)he government is entitled to rents for this land, and immediate steps should be devised to collect them, for the longer it is delayed the more difficult it will become.” Nearly two decades later, Congress adopted the Lode Law of 1866 — a troubled bill that won passage because it was attached to unrelated legislation. The 1866 law, updated in 1870 and in 1872, probably wasn’t what Colonel Mason had in mind. It simply legitimized what miners were already doing: Find a bit of federal land that appears to contain gold, silver or other “hard-rock” minerals, pound stakes at its corners to warn off others, dig, and — if you guessed right — cash in.

Like the better-known Homestead Act, which offered free land to anyone willing to farm it, the mining law was intended as an incentive to those willing to push West and settle the frontier. That frontier was closed long ago, but the mining law remains on the books and very much in use — even where mining would harm an increasingly settled region. The new mining regulations targeted for repeal by the Bush administration give the government the right to reject a proposed mine if it would cause “substantial irreparable harm.” Currently, federal officials must administer a law they say promotes mining as the best use of millions of acres of federal land, even in sensitive places such as Top Of The World, Ariz., a wide spot in the road 70 miles from Phoenix. There, a Canadian company called Cambior wants to dig copper where wild boars roam and the hedgehog cactus blooms brilliant red in the spring. The sulfuric acid, trucks, noise and dust from a 24-hour-a-day mine would be plopped down just upstream from a lush, tree-shaded canyon — a rarity there.

Cambior, which also ran a mine in Guyana where 300 million gallons of a cyanide-bearing solution spilled, wants to dig three pits covering nearly a square mile, reaching a depth of 600 feet. The hundreds of millions of tons of earth removed would be piled into heaps covering an additional square mile-plus. The ore, the material that bears copper, would be doused with 400 tons of sulfuric acid per day. To do this, the company would reroute more than two miles of streams, some through channels constructed of a concretelike material. The Canadian firm and its subsidiary, Carlota Copper Co., will pay no more than $1,700 for the public portion of the land it would mine. The company expects to mine some 478,000 tons of copper worth about $728 million at current prices. Even a federal lawyer trying to defend the government’s approval of the mine had to admit, “The circumstances here include a proposed project that is so invasive to the forest that it would never be considered, much less approved, were it not for the mining law of 1872.” And a federal judge handling a suit by environmentalists who tried to stop the project ruled that the mining law trumps their concerns. “Because mining has been accorded a special place in the national laws related to public land, the development of mineral resources in the national forests may not be prohibited or unreasonably circumscribed,” U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt wrote. “The Forest Service consequently has no authority to categorically reject an otherwise reasonable mining plan of operations.”

Bob Walish, manager of the Cambior project, said it is misleading to consider only the $5 per acre the company will pay the government. He said the company spent about $61 million prospecting, obtaining permits and fighting lawsuits. Echoing the industry’s supporters in Congress, Walish said the government should follow through with the intent of the mining law — to privatize land in the West. More than half of some states are still owned by the government, he noted. “The debate in our mind isn’t that we’re stealing this from the public,” he said. “It’s ‘Why is there (still) all this public land?'” Stephen D’Esposito, president of the Mineral Policy Center, an environmental group dedicated to mine-law reform, points to Top Of The World and places like it when asked what’s wrong with the 1872 law. “It’s time for a new deal that keeps our water clean, protects our public lands from destructive mineral development, eliminates corporate subsidies and gives the taxpayer a fair return,” D’Esposito said. “What’s needed are three common-sense reforms: the right of the public to say ‘no’ when mining isn’t the best use of our public lands; a requirement that mining companies pay to clean up their messes as a cost of doing business; and a provision that mining companies pay taxpayers a fair price for mining on public lands.”

An economic savior
Though less of an economic force than in the past, mining remains an economic savior of some rural areas in the West, where more than 100 hard-rock mines are operating. And those who run the international corporations that have replaced the pick-and-shovel prospectors of the 1800s say the public still benefits from their hard work and willingness to risk a fortune to develop mines that might not return one. They point out that mining still pays better than most jobs in the rural West, and they note that mining firms and their employees pay taxes, too. And society gets something it can’t live without, they argue: metals. U.S. manufacturers get about half their metals from right here at home. “Mining makes our civilization…. Everything you do today depends on mining,” Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., a former mining geologist, said at a recent congressional hearing. Before another hearing, Gibbons said that efforts to crack down on mining companies “may relegate us to a Third World status.”

The miners say they are regulated enough. The government already has put about 165 million acres off-limits, and on an additional 182 million acres, the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management can reject mining permits. That leaves about 350 million acres of the West open to mining. And miners note that the law doesn’t excuse companies from having to abide by more-recent federal laws such as the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. “We can’t mine in parks. We can’t mine in sensitive areas,” said Jack Gerard, president of the National Mining Association. “The government every day makes public lands/public policy decisions.”

Yet exercising this power can be expensive. In 1995, President Clinton proposed a ban on mining in an area near Yellowstone National Park. A Canadian firm, Crown Butte Mines Inc., already had applied to privatize some land in the area and planned to use land already patented — that is, converted to private property by others who paid a small fee. The government had to pay $65 million to stop the mine. The money went to Battle Mountain Gold, which had bought Crown Butte. Battle Mountain Gold wants to open Washington state’s first major open-pit gold mine, the Crown Jewel project in Okanogan County. The 1872 Mining Law has been under fire for decades, but the industry has been able to head off countless attempts at reform. One of its bedrock arguments is that overhauling the law would risk national security. “Destroying the mining law will risk the lives of our sons and daughters, for many will surely die in battle on some foreign shore because of it,” said Richard Lawson, a retired four-star Air Force general who until recently headed the National Mining Association. “Without the protection of the mining law, America cannot get the minerals it must have to remain free and secure, and we will go to war to get those precious metals.” But some Western communities pay a high price for this freedom.

Superfund sites abound
Signs near Spokane carry an ominous warning: “This health advisory is posted to alert you to the presence of elevated levels of lead and arsenic in soils along the shorelines and beaches of the upper Spokane River…. Swallowing or breathing loose shoreline soils may be an increased health risk to people, especially infants, small children and pregnant women.” The signs, posted by the Spokane Regional Health District, warn that children shouldn’t play in muddy soils along the river and should be closely supervised to ensure that they don’t put dirt in their mouths. Toxic goop is spilling into Washington fully 50 miles downstream from the Silver Valley, where North Idaho miners dug silver, lead and other metals from the earth for more than a century. The Spokane flows from Coeur d’Alene Lake, which the Environmental Protection Agency says holds some 70 million tons of mining waste — enough to cover a football field 4.7 miles high. And rivers all across the West are tainted by old mines, including the Columbia and the Okanogan in Washington.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s roster of the nation’s worst industrial contamination hot spots, the so-called Superfund list, includes more than 25 mines, a handful still active. Cleaning them up will cost billions of dollars. Whole towns in Montana and Idaho have been swallowed by Superfund sites, their stream banks and hillsides denuded of plants. In Idaho’s Silver Valley, the source of the mine waste in the Spokane River, tests show that one in six children under age 6 have enough lead in their bodies to affect learning and other functions. While much of the damage done by mining in the West happened decades ago, environmental problems continue: Near Deadwood, S.D., a small Canadian firm went bankrupt and left taxpayers a $40 million cleanup bill. At Montana’s Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, another bankrupt Canadian company stuck taxpayers with an estimated $33 million in cleanup costs. In southern Colorado, yet another bankrupt Canadian concern created a mess that will cost more than $200 million to clean up, while 17 miles of the Alamosa River were left devoid of fish and most other creatures for about eight years. In central Idaho, Hecla Mining Co.’s Grouse Creek mine, hailed as a marvel of modern mining when it opened in 1994, has slowly leaked cyanide into the ground and into a nearby creek. Near San Luis, Colo., Battle Mountain Gold’s self-proclaimed “environmentally friendly” mine experienced a large and unexpected buildup of cyanide within a year of opening. Near Whitehall, Mont., the Golden Sunlight mine, run by Placer Dome, a Canadian company, contaminated wells of two nearby ranchers. There’s a big difference between mines envisioned by Congress in 1872 and those operating today. Modern mines are far bigger, and many employ deadly cyanide to leach precious metals from rock. The leaching technique was used in small measure by miners in the early 1900s to draw gold and copper out of ore so low in mineral content that large-scale operators would have tossed it out as waste.

In the old days, leaching was done by misting cyanide over a barrel or large vat filled with crushed ore. The cyanide dissolved microscopic specks of gold from the rock, much as water dissolves sugar. As gold soared to $850 an ounce in the early 1980s, mining companies brought back the leaching technique in a big way, wringing more gold from long-closed mines and developing new ones where the ore had been considered too poor to bother. Miners still mix cyanide and water and slowly trickle it over piles of ore, but the piles are much bigger. Now they blast away entire mountains of rock, pile the ore in heaps the size of a football field and apply a river of cyanide, leaving behind hills of tailings and waste rock. Environmentalists cringe at the technique, not just because of the hazard of an accidental cyanide release, but also because of a long-term risk related to exposure of rock to the weather. The ore is often high in sulfides, and water passing through the rock and soil creates sulfuric acid, which in turn leaches poisonous heavy metals into runoff water, with iron in the rock turning streams an orange-red.

Forest Service, BLM decide
Environmental Protection Agency officials estimate that 40 percent of Western watersheds are affected by mining pollution. And sometimes EPA officials have advised against allowing a mine to open. But the EPA’s concerns are sometimes ignored since the ultimate go-ahead comes from the Forest Service or the BLM. The Grouse Creek mine in central Idaho, for example, won Forest Service approval even though the EPA warned that a strikingly beautiful high-elevation wetland valley would be destroyed. “Let the fun begin!!!!!” Forest Service mining engineer Pete Peters wrote in jest to a supervisor as he tried to figure out how to manage millions of gallons of muddy runoff water at the mine. Today, Peters acknowledges that he was unprepared for the enormity of his task of regulating the mine. “There’s no textbook. You have to hope you can stay ahead of it,” he said. “It was like nothing I’d ever dealt with.” The mine, leaking cyanide, closed after three years without making a profit. Signs posted by a nearby creek for a time warned, “Caution — do not drink this water.”

Mining industry officials acknowledge that there have been environmental problems, even with modern mines. But they say that the industry generally does a good job of policing itself, and that state regulators also keep an eye on miners. “The mining industry is not perfect, and mining has risks and it has impacts,” said Laura Skaer, director of the Northwest Mining Association. “Over the years, the industry has developed the practices and the techniques, coupled with regulations, to mitigate those impacts. It doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be accidents; that there isn’t going to be an occasional bad actor.” Accidents started to happen as soon as the Summitville mine opened in southwestern Colorado. Within six days, cyanide was leaking. The mine operator, Galactic Resources Ltd. of Canada, later went broke.

Galactic was one of a series of small mining companies, often financed through the loosely regulated Vancouver Stock Exchange, that rose to prominence during the mining boom before crashing in bankruptcy. Like other Canadian companies, it was allowed to mine on U.S. federal land even though Congress in 1872 specifically limited the privileges of the General Mining Law to “citizens of the United States and those who have declared their intention to become such.” The reason: In 1898, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same legal rights as people. So today, a Toronto-headquartered firm such as Barrick Gold Corp. can set up a subsidiary in Nevada and privatize nearly 1,950 acres for less than $10,000. Last year, Barrick hauled away nearly 2.5 million ounces of gold worth more than $600 million on the open market. “We have concluded, and the U.S. has concluded and many countries around the world have concluded that it is in their interest to provide an incentive to cause people to search for a mineral that otherwise isn’t know to exist in that ground,” said Pat Garver, Barrick’s head lawyer. Yet another Canadian firm, with offices in Spokane, Pegasus Gold, left three failing mines in Montana, including one that will cost taxpayers $33 million to clean up. Most Pegasus staff members kept working for the company as it reorganized, continuing to operate more profitable mines. Some even got bonuses.

Nothing for U.S. taxpayers
Not all critics of the 1872 law call for reform because of environmental damage. Some are galled by the fact that the law, breaking with tradition, allows miners to dig a fortune from public land without giving a share to the American citizens who own it. Europe’s royal families demanded a portion of all minerals taken from their New World colonies. And in the 18th century, Congress passed a law requiring a third of the profits from mines on federal lands go to the Treasury. “Even the early miners in the West followed local mineral laws modified from German and British traditions which required a portion of the minerals to be returned to the community,” said Carol Russell, mining specialist in the EPA’s Denver office. “However, it appears that in the rush of the gold rush, royalties were forgotten, and haven’t surfaced yet.” In 1920, Congress removed oil, natural gas and other minerals that could be used for fuel from the 1872 Mining Law. Instead, the government would lease the rights. And in 1977, Congress decreed that miners of coal on federal land would have to pay a royalty of 8 to 12.5 percent, and clean up after themselves. The government in the past decade has collected $11.08 billion from companies taking coal, oil, and natural gas, plus $35.8 billion in rents, bonuses, royalties and escrow payments for offshore oil and gas reserves.

Still, hard-rock miners pay nothing for the gold, silver, platinum, copper and other minerals they get. Walish, the manager of Cambior’s Top of the World project, joins many in the mining industry in warning, “If massive royalties are put on federal land, you’re going to see a lot less mining.” Critics are even more agitated about the mining companies’ ability to transform public land into private land for no more than $5 an acre — close to the fair market value for ranch and farmland in the West in 1872. Since 1964, more than 289,000 acres have been privatized, or patented, for mines. Congress has temporarily prevented additional land from being privatized, but applications already in the pipeline are eligible to continue with the process. About 73,000 acres could eventually be privatized this way. In 1872, Congress sold the land cheap because it wanted the West to be settled. That’s why a typical claim of 20 acres cost $100 — about three months’ rent in a Seattle boardinghouse. Now, critics ask, why should the government continue to sell public land for a pittance when the frontier is closed, and the West largely settled?

‘Why are they tearing it up?’
Years ago, a young man growing up in northern Arizona was surprised to see a big hole being scooped from the flanks of the picturesque San Francisco Peaks near his home. The mountains are considered sacred by the Hopi, the Navajo and 11 other tribes. “They started ripping the side of this mountain open, and I remember asking early on: ‘Who owns this land? And why are they tearing it up and carting it away?'” he recalled. Decades later, “it’s expanded into a gigantic scar on these sacred mountains. … One of the most unspeakably beautiful places in the Southwest is being carted away, truckload by truckload.”

The man is Bruce Babbitt, former Arizona governor and Interior secretary in the Clinton administration. For eight years, Babbitt administered the 1872 Mining Law. Babbitt hates the 1872 Mining Law. What was being mined near Flagstaff was pumice, a light volcanic rock. Today most of it is used to give denim that soft, “stone-washed” look. “It’s not like it’s being mined for some metal that’s necessary,” Babbitt said in an interview before leaving office. “It’s being mined to make blue jeans look old. It’s just a scandalous commentary on the Mining Law of 1872.” (The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Babbitt is helping The Hearst Corp., owner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, broker a deal worth $200 million or more that will determine the fate of Hearst’s seaside ranch at San Simeon in central California.)

Babbitt never forgot the San Francisco Peaks, and last year the government agreed that federal taxpayers would give the mine’s operators $1 million to stop digging. He also worked hard to overhaul the law that allowed them to do it in the first place, calling it “a license to steal.” His case was bolstered by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, which issued numerous reports critical of the 1872 law, saying it “runs counter to other national resource policies” while allowing valuable land to be sold at nominal amounts. Facing stiff opposition from a Republican-controlled Congress, Democrat Babbitt switched gears in early 1997, pushing for more modest reforms through a rewrite of his agency’s own rules for administering the law.

Opponents in Congress moved to block even that reform. They ordered Babbitt to stall the rewrite of the rules until a panel appointed by the National Academy of Sciences could study the issue and report back. The NAS panel concluded that mine regulations “are generally well coordinated, although some changes are necessary.” It listed seven “regulatory gaps,” including “financial risks to the public and environmental risks to the land” because companies sometimes post inadequate bonds to pay for reclamation after mining ends. Likewise, the EPA’s inspector general concluded that “critical gaps” in bonding programs “could result in environmental problems and sizable cleanup costs for the federal taxpayers.”

These criticisms stemmed from a system that allowed local Forest Service and BLM officials to negotiate a financial guarantee with a mining company to cover cleanup costs. Those “guarantees” can prove uncollectible after a bankruptcy. Cleanup bonds posted by some miners were often inadequate to cover the true cost of fixing the environmental damage associated with huge modern mines. They also assumed the company would save money by doing much of the work itself, while bankrupt firms often simply abandon mines. Babbitt went further than the NAS panel suggested, though. The new regulations set minimum environmental standards for mines and, for the first time, gave federal land managers authority to deny a mining permit if it would cause “substantial irreparable harm … that cannot be effectively mitigated.”

As for reclamation bonds, the new rules assume a worst-case scenario: The company goes bankrupt, and the government has to take over. Some forms of bonds that have proven difficult to collect were forbidden. The rules were published in the Federal Register in November, and went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 20 — just hours before George W. Bush was sworn in as president. The mining industry has characterized the rules as “burdensome, complex, counterproductive … onerous and misguided regulations rushed through during the waning days of the Clinton administration.” Jack Gerard of the National Mining Association said that “the Clinton administration took a sledgehammer to deal with a mosquito.”

Among those to challenge the rules in court were his association and the state of Nevada, home of most of America’s gold mines. Environmentalists, too, have been critical of the new regulations. Alan Septoff, legislative director of the Mineral Policy Center, said miners are still allowed to harm the environment, so long as they “effectively mitigate” the damage elsewhere. “Even though the stronger mining rule is monumentally better than the old rule, that’s a testament to the inadequacy of the old rule,” Septoff said. In March, Babbitt’s successor as U.S. Interior secretary, Gale Norton, ordered a reconsideration of the rules. Next month, the BLM is expected to issue a watered-down version of Babbitt’s rules or revert to old regulations adopted in the Carter administration. At the EPA, this prospect causes concern — particularly if rules on cleanup bonds are to be weakened. “The vast majority of these (mining Superfund) sites were historic sites, but in recent years we’re finding sites that are inadequately bonded, and the government is getting saddled with the cleanup costs,” said Nick Ceto, mining coordinator at the EPA’s Seattle office. “There are others that are coming up.”

Afghanistan to Delay Awarding Concessions for Mineral Deposits
by Matthew Rosenberg / January 27, 2010

Afghanistan plans to delay awarding concessions for a major iron ore deposit and sizeable oil and gas reserves as part of a broader effort to stamp out corruption, the country’s finance minister said. The move by Afghanistan could upend the plans of Total SA, Swiss-based Addax Petroleum Corp. and Canada-based Nations Petroleum Co., all of which were among the seven finalists selected last year for oil and gas blocks in the country’s northwest. Of particular concern, said Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal in an interview Tuesday, is a major iron ore deposit in central Afghanistan that last year attracted bids from smaller Chinese and Indian companies. “We’ve put a hold onto to the bidding process; it will have to be re-bid,” he said.

Mr. Zakhilwal would not directly say whether he believed bidding for any of the projects – the iron ore deposit, the oil and gas reserves and scores of other smaller mineral deposits — had been marred by bribery, kickbacks or other forms of corruption. He spoke in general terms about the need to root out corruption and ensure Afghanistan gets the best deals when bringing in foreign firms to exploit its natural wealth. Afghanistan is rich in minerals and gemstones, with huge copper and iron ore deposits and reserves of emerald and rubies. Exploiting those reserves could help provide the country with much of the money it needs to wean itself from the massive infusions of foreign aid on which it new depends.

Putting the Afghan economy in order is one of the major issues to be addressed at a conference Thursday in London on Afghanistan’s future. Foreign ministers from 56 countries along with representatives from the United Nations and other international organizations involved in stabilizing Afghanistan are to attend, and European diplomats have in recent days said they are keen to hear Mr. Zakhilwal’s economic plans for the coming years. Mining could be a major economic contributor. But the Mines Ministry has long been considered among Afghanistan’s most corrupt government departments, and Western officials have repeatedly expressed reservations about the Afghan government awarding concessions for the country’s major mineral deposits, fearful that corrupt officials would hand contracts to bidders who pay the biggest bribes — not who are best suited to actually do the work. Mr. Zakhilwal said those concerns are shared by many inside the Afghan government, too. “I was among those who have been opposed to opening up new bids,” he said. “It was not just the issue of corruption – but that is a real issue. We also need to do a review of how contracts are awarded, what lessons we’ve learned, what kind of transparency is needed to make the next best step.” Mr. Zakhiwal that process is now underway with the appointment of a new minister, Wahidullah Sharani.

Still, he said there was no evidence of corruption in the awarding of the one major concession given out in recent years, a copper mine being set up by two Chinese firms, China Metallurgical Group and Jiangxi Copper Group. That project attracted bids from all over the world, and there have been persistent reports of bribes being paid to secure it. Mr. Zakhilwal termed those reports “rumors” and held up the deal – under which the companies agreed to build schools, clinics, markets, mosques and a power plant — as a model for how Afghanistan could award future concessions.

History and background of the pilot project

At the end of 2006, the understanding in the BIG Coalition grew that the BIG campaign needs to be taken a step further by starting a pilot project of the BIG in Namibia. The background is that a pilot project might be able to concretely show that a BIG can work and will indeed have the predicted positive effects on poverty alleviation and economic development. Spearheaded by Bishop Kameeta this idea has been inspired by the concrete (or from a theological perspective “prophetic”) examples, like e.g. English medium schools or township clinics during the apartheid era. In fact, also more recently, this has happened with a project run by the Treatment Action Campaign and ‘Doctors without borders’ and the provincial government in Cape Town. They started a treatment project in a township in Cape Town at a time when it was said that a rollout of Antiretroviral (ARV) therapy is good but certainly not practical in a developing country. The pilot project was successful and has subsequently changed the opinion on ARV rollouts in developing countries. The BIG Coalition argues that while it is the ultimate goal to lobby Government to take up its responsibility to implement such a grant, the Coalition should lead by example. The BIG Coalition fundraised in order to pay a Basic Income Grant in one community. Thereby it set an example of redistributive justice through concrete action to help the poor, and to document what income security means in terms of poverty reduction and economic development. The BIG Coalition hence at the end of 2006 to implement a BIG pilot project. The BIG pilot project started in January 2008 and was the first of its kind, to concretely pilot an unconditionally universal income security project in a developing country. The BIG Coalition implemented a BIG in one Namibian community, namely Otjivero – Omitara settlement (about 1,000 people, some 100 km to the east of Windhoek) for a limited period of time (2 years, from January 2008–to December 2009) to practically prove that income security indeed works and that it has the desired effects.

A Popular Idea: Give Oil Money to the People Rather Than the Despots
by John Tierney / September 10, 2003

Few Iraqis have heard of the ”resource curse,” the scholarly term for the economic and political miseries of countries with abundant natural resources. But in Tayeran Square, where hundreds of unemployed men sit on the sidewalk each morning hoping for a day’s work, they know how the curse works. ”Our country’s oil should have made us rich, but Saddam spent it all on his wars and his palaces,” said Sattar Abdula, who has not had a steady job in years. He proposed a simple solution instantly endorsed by the other men on the sidewalk: ”Divide the money equally. Give each Iraqi his share on the first day of every month.”

That is essentially the same idea in vogue among liberal foreign aid experts, conservative economists and a diverse group of political leaders in America and Iraq. The notion of diverting oil wealth directly to citizens, perhaps through annual payments like Alaska’s, has become that political rarity: a wonky idea with mass appeal, from the laborers in Tayeran Square to Iraq’s leaders. American officials have projected that a properly functioning oil industry in Iraq will generate $15 billion to $20 billion a year, enough to give every Iraqi adult roughly $1,000, which is half the annual salary of a middle-class worker.

No one suggests dispensing all of the money — and some say the government cannot afford to give up any of it — but there have been proposals to dispense a quarter or more. Leaders of the American occupying force have endorsed the oil-to-the-people concept and said recently that they plan to discuss it soon with the Iraqi Governing Council. The concept is also popular with some Kurdish politicians in the north and Shiite Muslim politicians in the south, who have complained for decades of being shortchanged by politicians in Baghdad. ”Giving the money directly to the people is a splendid idea,” said one member of the Governing Council, Abdul Zahra Othman Muhammad, a Shiite from Basra who leads the Islamic Dawa party. ”In the past the oil revenue was used to promote dictatorship and discriminate against people outside the capital. We need to start being fair to people in the provinces.”

When oil wealth is controlled by politicians in the capital, one result tends to be the resource curse documented in the last decade in academic works with titles like ”The Paradox of Plenty,” ”Does Oil Hinder Democracy?” and ”Does Mother Nature Corrupt?” Among the many researchers have been Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and Paul Collier of Oxford University, both economists, and Michael L. Ross, a political scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles. The studies have shown that resource-rich countries in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America are exceptionally prone to authoritarian rule, slow economic growth and high rates of poverty, corruption and violent conflict.

Besides financing large armies to fight ruinous wars with neighbors, as in Iraq and Iran, oil wealth sometimes leads to civil wars over the sharing of the proceeds, as in Sudan and Congo. ”Governments tend to use mineral revenues differently from the revenues they get from taxpayers,” said Dr. Ross, who found an inverse relationship between natural resources and democracy. ”They spend more of it on corruption, the military and patronage, and less of it on basic public services. Oil-rich governments don’t need to tax their citizens, and taxation forces governments to become more representative and more effective.”

On April 9, the day Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled in Firdos Square, a plan to end Iraq’s resource curse was published by Steven C. Clemons, executive vice president of the New America Foundation, a centrist research group. He proposed using 40 percent of Iraq’s oil revenue to create a permanent trust fund like the one in Alaska, which has been accumulating oil revenue for two decades. That capital is invested and each year a share of the income is distributed — more than $1,500 to each Alaskan in recent years. ”A fund like Alaska’s is the best way to prevent one kleptocracy from succeeding another in Iraq,” Mr. Clemons said. ”It would go a long way to curbing the cynical belief that Americans want Iraqi oil for themselves, and it would give more Iraqis a stake in the success of their new country. It would be the equivalent of redistributing land to Japanese farmers after World War II, which was the single most important democratizing reform during the American occupation.”

In America, Mr. Clemons’s idea was quickly embraced by many foreign aid experts, editorial writers, Bush administration officials and politicians of both parties. Some experts, though, have faulted the trust fund, saying it would be expensive to administer and would pay out small dividends at first, perhaps only $20 per Iraqi adult, until more capital was amassed. As an alternative, some have suggested skipping the individual payments in the early years and dedicating the money to economic development or social programs. Money could be invested in a long-term pension program, as Norway does with some of its oil revenue. Another alternative would be to make bigger payments up front by giving the money directly to citizens instead of putting it into a trust fund. Thomas I. Palley, an economist at the Open Society Institute, proposed dividing a quarter of the oil revenue each year among all adults in Iraq. That could amount to $250 per adult, assuming that the administration’s hopes for oil production prove accurate.

Oil companies would not be directly affected by an oil fund, since they would be paying the same taxes and fees no matter what the government did with the money. But they could benefit indirectly if citizens eager for higher payments pressed the government to increase production and open the books to outside auditors. ”The oil industry likes working in countries with dedicated oil funds and transparent accounting, because there’s less loose money to corrupt the government,” said Robin West, chairman of PFC Energy, an American consulting firm to the oil industry. ”Corruption is bad for business,” Mr. West said, ”because it creates instability. In places like Alaska and Norway, people support the oil industry because they see the benefits. In places like Nigeria, they see all this wealth that doesn’t benefit them, and they start seizing oil terminals.” Iraq’s civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, has praised the idea of sharing ”Iraq’s blessings among its people,” and suggested that the Governing Council consider some kind of oil fund. Iraqi politicians, of course, have no trouble understanding the appeal of handing out checks to voters.

The chief argument against an oil fund is that Iraq’s government cannot afford to part with any oil revenue for the foreseeable future. It faces a large budget deficit this year, and sabotage to the oil industry has reduced oil production far below projections. ”There isn’t that much money now, and we need every penny for rebuilding the country,” said Adnan Pachachi, a member of the Governing Council and former foreign minister of Iraq. ”Giving away money would be politically popular,” he said, ”but we should not gain popularity at the expense of the long-range interests of the country. By giving away the money you may sacrifice building more schools and hospitals.”

Some have suggested letting the government keep all of the revenue until oil production increases well beyond current levels, then putting the extra money into a fund. But the oil-to-the-people advocates say that now is the time to at least establish the framework for the fund, before a permanent government gets addicted to the revenue. If experience is any guide, that government would probably not be devoting the money to schools and hospitals. ”There is a direct proportional relationship between bad government and oil revenue,” said Ahmad Chalabi, the current chairman of the Governing Council and the leader of the Iraqi National Congress. ”If the government performs well or badly it doesn’t matter, because the oil revenue continues to flow. The government will use the oil revenue to cover up mistakes.”

Mr. Chalabi pointed to a precedent: a trust fund that existed in Iraq during the 1950’s, when part of the oil revenue went not to the government’s budget but to a development fund whose disbursements were directed by Iraqi and foreign overseers. ”The fund worked very well,” he said. ”Iraq’s economy in the 1950’s and 1960’s was relatively good.” Back then, Mr. Chalabi said, oil revenue was a relative pittance, adding up to less than $10 billion in the four decades preceding the Baath Party’s rise to power in the late 1960’s. But then came the resource curse. During a single decade, the 1980’s, Iraq’s oil revenue amounted to more than $100 billion. ”What happened to it?” Mr. Chalabi asked. ”Iraq was a much better country in every aspect before it got that money.”

Hammond advocates dividend for Iraq
by Sam Bishop / February 22, 2004

Former Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond said Saturday that President George Bush should make an Alaska-like dividend for Iraqis a central element of his re-election campaign. Hammond made the remark after delivering a history and defense of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend to the annual conference of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network. The organization wants governments to offer all citizens, regardless of their own means, enough money to live. It says the Alaska dividend, which Hammond helped create while governor, is “the only example of an existing basic income guarantee in the world today.” Hammond, 81, warmed up the audience of about 100 at the Capitol Hyatt Hotel by reflecting on the U.S. BIG Network’s warm praise and on other accolades received in recent years. Honors have recently come from such diverse sources as sportsmen, environmentalists and developers, he marveled. After recently receiving an honor from his old nemesis, the Teamsters Union, he said he wondered “what can I expect next … an award for my contributions to public morality, co-sponsored by Jerry Falwell and Larry Flynt?” Hammond has been on a sort of moral crusade recently as he has perceived a growing threat to the dividend program. Earlier this month Hammond crashed the Conference of Alaskans, a 55-member group Gov. Frank Murkowski convened to talk about the permanent fund’s future, and diverted the participants into a discussion of income taxes as well. Saturday, Hammond recited a detailed history of his dividend advocacy, starting with his attempts in the 1960s as mayor of the Bristol Bay Borough to capture some of the salmon dollars that “hemorrhaged” out of that region. He reviewed his advocacy of a pre-permanent fund idea called “Alaska Inc.” in the mid-1970s as a Republican governor, then used the current Alaska dividend debate as a segue into the international arena.

“Without a permanent fund dividend program,” Hammond said. “Alaska will face the same fate as Nigeria.” There, the World Bank estimates that $296 billion flowed in and out of the government’s treasury during its oil boom, “leaving them worse off than they were before,” Hammond said. The Economist magazine appropriately called such mismanaged oil wealth, “the devil’s excrement,” Hammond said. The pattern has been repeated around the globe where countries have come into an oil windfall, he said. “Absent something like our dividend program and ensuing public interest, those windfalls simply inflated a grab bag for special interests. Once deflated, the average citizen was left holding that empty bag,” Hammond said. “Iraq is but the latest example.” He noted that Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, at his request, proposed to President Bush that the U.S. push for an Alaska-style dividend program after the Iraq war. “Ted, incidentally, wrote me back after that and said ‘I talked to the president. He’s very much interested. Stay tuned,'” Hammond said.

He said he hasn’t heard much since, but intends to seek an audience with the president to push the idea. Hammond noted that he met the president’s father, former President George Bush, years ago in Alaska before the elder Bush was well known nationally. The elder Bush helped with his fund-raising and even wrote a blurb for his autobiography, Hammond noted. “I owe George Junior at least this–to convey to him how he could make this the centerpiece of his national campaign, thereby hopefully propelling the other candidates into the same arena to compete to see who can do more to propel or promote the concept in Third World countries, Iraq or wherever,” Hammond said. “If George Bush is out front, I think he’ll capture a lot of attention. I think his opposition certainly are not going to oppose it. “What better way to induce a capitalistic, democratic mindset among Iraqis? Far better than a few privileged kleptocrats living in opulent splendor while others grovel in squalor,” Hammond said.

To give some credentials to the idea, Hammond quoted 2002 Nobel-laureate in economics Vernon Smith, a professor from George Mason University in Arlington, Va., who spent much of 2003 at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “This is the time and Iraq is the place to create an economic system embodying the revolutionary principle that people’s assets belong directly to the people and can be managed to further individual benefits and free choice without intermediate government ownership,” Hammond quoted Smith as saying. Brazilian Sen. Eduardo Suplicy, who also spoke at the U.S. BIG Network conference, read a portion of a letter he wrote recently to the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, also advocating an Alaska-style dividend plan. The idea has been endorsed by a variety of people, including a top United Nations official killed in a bombing last summer, Suplicy said.

In Iraq, the economist Smith recommended following Alaska’s precedent but avoiding Alaska’s mistakes, Hammond noted. Those mistakes were two-fold: Not putting all public resource wealth into the fund, and not reserving the income solely for dividends unless approved by a vote of the people. “Since this is precisely what I wanted but failed to do first with Bristol Bay Inc. with fish and later with oil and Alaska Inc., I find that comment vindicating,” Hammond said. “The following, however, I find truly rapturous. “Beware of giving governments drawing rights on the value of public assets,” Hammond quoted Smith as saying. “Public resources should belong directly to the public through mechanisms such as Alaska’s permanent fund … It is a model governments all over the world would be well-advised to copy.”

In questions after his speech, though, Hammond sensed that he and some of his association audience members may differ on a fundamental. Hammond’s pro-dividend philosophy rests upon the public ownership of the resources feeding the Alaska Permanent Fund. So when asked whether he thought an income tax should also be used to bolster the dividend, he balked. “People resent having their hard-earned income taken from them and redistributed,” he said. He said he sympathizes with that idea and on that score may differ from the ideas advocated by the U.S. BIG Network, he said. “Our program doesn’t contemplate taking income made by the public.” So what happens to those residents of places in the world unlucky enough to have neither “salmon nor oil,” another member of the audience asked. Hammond said he didn’t really know. He said he had recently been intrigued by proposals to auction rights to pollute the air, as a publicly owned resource, and distribute the proceeds as dividends.

‘Guaranteed income’ plan finds support
by Bartholomew Sullivan / January 18, 2010

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had another dream: the guaranteed income. Those careful about his legacy say the $120 million monument to him that’s finally nearing construction on the National Mall is all well and good. But as the nation commemorates King’s 81st birthday today, they say he should best be remembered for his career-long focus on the poor. A year before his 1968 death in Memphis, in his “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” King wrote: “I am now convinced that the simplest solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”

The idea was to guarantee that no one lived in poverty by having the government provide a financial floor, pegged to median — not low — incomes, beneath which no one could fall. King talked about the psychological benefits of a widespread sense of “economic security.” Economists John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman endorsed the idea of guaranteed incomes, as did Lyndon Johnson’s Labor Secretary and later New York Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan. Advocating the proposal was the official debate resolution for public high schools in 1973. It was a mainstream idea that has since faded from view.

But a movement to spur a guaranteed income plan is reawakening in academic and anti-poverty circles as the nation looks at 15.3 million people seeking work and the prospect of large-scale and long-term unemployment. The Basic Income Guarantee movement ( is based on the belief that increased mechanization and labor efficiencies, coupled with the export of industrial and manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries, means there just isn’t enough work available. Once robots can understand speech, even more jobs in the service industries will disappear, they say.

And yet people will still need to live even without work. Advocates say a redistribution of some anti-poverty program funding for direct subsidization of adequate incomes would solve the poverty problem while stimulating consumption. University of Tennessee-Knoxville sociology professor Harry F. Dahms, a member of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network, said when he talks about the idea in the South “audiences seem rather baffled, first, that such an idea even exists.” Their second response is surprise “that some people would entertain it seriously.”

In a class on social justice and public policy, Dahms, originally from Germany, discusses guaranteed incomes as a way for the work force to take advantage of growing efficiencies by having more people work fewer hours. In Memphis, efforts to enact a living wage for Shelby County and city employees and contractors were a step in the direction of raising the income bar. But Rebekah Jordan Gienapp, director of the Workers Interfaith Network, said King called for raising the minimum wage to a level that could raise working people out of poverty. She noted that, adjusted for inflation, it’s lower now than in 1968.

Tennessee and Mississippi don’t have state minimum wage laws and the minimum in Arkansas is lower than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. “What does that tell us about how we’ve really, in a lot of ways, moved backwards since the civil rights movement in some of these economic ways?” she asks. “Particularly on Dr. King’s birthday, he tends to be held up as just someone who advocated diversity or integration, but his message was much broader and more radical than that …”

Supporters of a guaranteed income acknowledge the solution sounds radical but point to the subsidy every citizen of Alaska receives each year from the state’s oil revenue. The share-the-wealth program in one of the most Republican-leaning states is so popular that efforts to repeal it have failed. Congress actually considered a slimmed-down variant of a guaranteed income plan when U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., proposed the Tax Cuts for the Rest of Us Act in 2006 in response to Bush tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers. It would have made the standard income tax deduction into a refundable tax credit.

Basic income
Main article: Basic income
A basic income is granted independent of other income (including salaries) and wealth, with no other requirement than citizenship. This is a special case of GMI, based on additional ideologies and/or goals. While most modern countries have some form of guaranteed minimum income, a basic income is rare.

Examples of implementation
Portugal is by far the closest a country has come to actually having fully implemented such a system. This is because the Portuguese government made a guaranteed minimum income a legally enshrined right for the entire population in 1997. The policy remains at present. However, the country’s income security policy is rather residualist, with an amount guaranteed well below the poverty line, and other income security policies such as the minimum wage are thus still in place as a consequence. The system also forces participants to attend social integration sessions.

The U.S. State of Alaska has a system which guarantees each citizen a share of the state’s oil revenues (see Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend). The city of Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada had an experimental guaranteed annual income program (“Mincome”) in the 1970s.[1] Many other countries have political parties that advocate such a system, such as the Green Party of Canada, Green Party of England and Wales, the Canadian Action Party, the Anarchist Pogo Party of Germany, the Danish Minority Party, Vivant (Belgium), both the Scottish Green Party and recently the Scottish National Party, and the New Zealand Democratic Party.

In 1972, members of the American Democratic Party wrote a proposal for a GMI into their official platform. However, that particular plank, along with numerous others, was removed following the landslide defeat of Senator George McGovern, the party’s candidate in that year’s presidential election. One proposed method of offsetting the cost to the Treasury of this tax expenditure lies in its coupling with a flat tax, a type of federal income tax in which all taxpayers are subject to a single tax rate. The current model of progressive income taxes used throughout the western world could be eliminated, but the system would still be progressive, since those at the lower end of the wage scale would pay less in taxes than they would receive in guaranteed income. For the most wealthy members of society the few thousand dollars of the guaranteed income would only make a small dent in the taxes they have to pay. Also, the USA has the Earned income tax credit for low-income taxpayers. The citizen’s dividend is a similar concept, but the payment made to individuals is based upon the revenues that the government can collect from leasing and selling natural resources (such a dividend in fact exists in the state of Alaska).

Modern advocates include Hans-Werner Sinn (Germany) and Ayşe Buğra (Turkey). Other advocates are winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics, including Paul Samuelson, James Tobin, Herbert Simon, Friedrich Hayek, James Meade, Robert Solow, and, depending on how one regards his negative income tax proposal, Milton Friedman. In his final book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967) Martin Luther King Jr. wrote[2] “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” – from the chapter entitled “Where We Are Going”

Many different sources of funding have been suggested for a guaranteed minimum income:
Income taxes
Sales taxes
Capital gains taxes
Inheritance taxes
Wealth taxes, e.g. property tax
Luxury taxes
Elimination of current income support programs and tax deductions
Repayment of the grant at death or retirement
Land and natural resource taxes
Pollution taxes
Fees from government created monopolies (such as the broadcast spectrum and utilities)
Collective resource ownership
Universal stock ownership
A National Mutual Fund
Money creation or seignorage
Tariffs, the lottery, or sin taxes
Technology Taxes
Tobin Tax

by Philippe Van Parijs

Entering the new millennium, I submit for discussion a proposal for the improvement of the human condition: namely, that everyone should be paid a universal basic income (UBI), at a level sufficient for subsistence. In a world in which a child under five dies of malnutrition every two seconds, and close to a third of the planet’s population lives in a state of “extreme poverty” that often proves fatal, the global enactment of such a basic income proposal may seem wildly utopian. Readers may suspect it to be impossible even in the wealthiest of OECD nations.

Yet, in those nations, productivity, wealth, and national incomes have advanced sufficiently far to support an adequate UBI. And if enacted, a basic income would serve as a powerful instrument of social justice: it would promote real freedom for all by providing the material resources that people need to pursue their aims. At the same time, it would help to solve the policy dilemmas of poverty and unemployment, and serve ideals associated with both the feminist and green movements. So I will argue.

I am convinced, along with many others in Europe, that–far from being utopian–a UBI makes common sense in the current context of the European Union.1 As Brazilian senator Eduardo Suplicy has argued, it is also relevant to less-developed countries–not only because it helps keep alive the remote promise of a high level of social solidarity without the perversity of high unemployment, but also because it can inspire and guide more modest immediate reforms.2 And if a UBI makes sense in Europe and in less developed countries, why should it not make equally good (or perhaps better) sense in North America?3 After all, the United States is the only country in the world in which a UBI is already in place: in 1999, the Alaska Permanent Fund paid each person of whatever age who had been living in Alaska for at least one year an annual UBI of $1,680. This payment admittedly falls far short of subsistence, but it has nonetheless become far from negligible two decades after its inception. Moreover, there was a public debate about UBI in the United States long before it started in Europe. In 1967, Nobel economist James Tobin published the first technical article on the subject, and a few years later, he convinced George McGovern to promote a UBI, then called “demogrant,” in his 1972 presidential campaign.4

To be sure, after this short public life the UBI has sunk into near-oblivion in North America. For good reasons? I believe not. There are many relevant differences between the United States and the European Union in terms of labor markets, educational systems, and ethnic make-up. But none of them makes the UBI intrinsically less appropriate for the United States than for the European Union. More important are the significant differences in the balance of political forces. In the United States, far more than in Europe, the political viability of a proposal is deeply affected by how much it caters to the tastes of wealthy campaign donors. This is bound to be a serious additional handicap for any proposal that aims to expand options for, and empower, the least wealthy. But let’s not turn necessity into virtue, and sacrifice justice in the name of increased political feasibility. When fighting to reduce the impact of economic inequalities on the political agenda, it is essential, in the United States as elsewhere, to propose, explore, and advocate ideas that are ethically compelling and make economic sense, even when their political feasibility remains uncertain. Sobered, cautioned, and strengthened by Europe’s debate of the last two decades, here is my modest contribution to this task.

UBI Defined
By universal basic income I mean an income paid by a government, at a uniform level and at regular intervals, to each adult member of society. The grant is paid, and its level is fixed, irrespective of whether the person is rich or poor, lives alone or with others, is willing to work or not. In most versions–certainly in mine–it is granted not only to citizens, but to all permanent residents. The UBI is called “basic” because it is something on which a person can safely count, a material foundation on which a life can firmly rest. Any other income–whether in cash or in kind, from work or savings, from the market or the state–can lawfully be added to it. On the other hand, nothing in the definition of UBI, as it is here understood, connects it to some notion of “basic needs.” A UBI, as defined, can fall short of or exceed what is regarded as necessary to a decent existence.

I favor the highest sustainable such income, and believe that all the richer countries can now afford to pay a basic income above subsistence. But advocates of a UBI do not need to press for a basic income at this level right away. In fact, the easiest and safest way forward, though details may differ considerably from one country to another, is likely to consist of enacting a UBI first at a level below subsistence, and then increasing it over time.

The idea of the UBI is at least 150 years old. Its two earliest known formulations were inspired by Charles Fourier, the prolific French utopian socialist. In 1848, while Karl Marx was finishing off the Communist Manifesto around the corner, the Brussels-based Fourierist author Joseph Charlier published Solution of the Social Problem, in which he argued for a “territorial dividend” owed to each citizen by virtue of our equal ownership of the nation’s territory. The following year, John Stuart Mill published a new edition of his Principles of Political Economy, which contains a sympathetic presentation of Fourierism (“the most skillfully combined, and with the greatest foresight of objections, of all the forms of Socialism”) rephrased so as to yield an unambiguous UBI proposal: “In the distribution, a certain minimum is first assigned for the subsistence of every member of the community, whether capable or not of labour. The remainder of the produce is shared in certain proportions, to be determined beforehand, among the three elements, Labour, Capital, and Talent.”5

Under various labels–”state bonus,” “national dividend,” “social dividend,” “citizen’s wage,” “citizen’s income,” “universal grant,” “basic income,” etc.–the idea of a UBI was repeatedly taken up in intellectual circles throughout the twentieth century. It was seriously discussed by left-wing academics such as G. D. H. Cole and James Meade in England between the World Wars and, via Abba Lerner, it seems to have inspired Milton Friedman’s proposal for a “negative income tax.”6 But only since the late-1970s has the idea gained real political currency in a number of European countries, starting with the Netherlands and Denmark. A number of political parties, usually green or “left-liberal” (in the European sense), have now made it part of their official party program.

UBI and Existing Programs
To appreciate the significance of this interest and support, it is important to understand how a UBI differs from existing benefit schemes. It obviously differs from traditional social-insurance based income-maintenance institutions (such as Social Security), whose benefits are restricted to wage workers who have contributed enough out of their past earnings to become eligible. But it also differs from Western European or North American conditional minimum-income schemes (such as welfare).

Many, indeed most West European countries introduced some form of guaranteed minimum-income scheme at some point after World War II.7 But these schemes remain conditional: to receive an income grant a beneficiary must meet more or less stringent variants of the following three requirements: if she is able to work, she must be willing to accept a suitable job, or to undergo suitable training, if offered; she must pass a means test, in the sense that she is only entitled to the benefit if there are grounds to believe that she has no access to a sufficient income from other sources; and her household situation must meet certain criteria–it matters, for example, whether she lives on her own, with a person who has a job, with a jobless person, etc. By contrast, a UBI does not require satisfaction of any of these conditions.

Advocates of a UBI may, but generally do not, propose it as a full substitute for existing conditional transfers. Most supporters want to keep–possibly in simplified forms and necessarily at reduced levels–publicly organized social insurance and disability compensation schemes that would supplement the unconditional income while remaining subjected to the usual conditions. Indeed, if a government implemented an unconditional income that was too small to cover basic needs–which, as I previously noted, would almost certainly be the case at first–UBI advocates would not want to eliminate the existing conditional minimum-income schemes, but only to readjust their levels.

In the context of Europe’s most developed welfare states, for example, one might imagine the immediate introduction of universal child benefits and a strictly individual, noncontributory basic pension as full substitutes for existing means-tested benefit schemes for the young and the elderly. Indeed, some of these countries already have such age- restricted UBIs for the young and the elderly. Contributory retirement insurance schemes, whether obligatory or optional, would top up the basic pension.

As for the working-age population, advocates of a universal minimum income could, in the short term, settle for a “partial” (less-than-subsistence) but strictly individual UBI, initially pitched at, say, half the current guaranteed minimum income for a single person. In US terms, that would be about $250 per month, or $3,000 a year. For households whose net earnings are insufficient to reach the socially defined subsistence level, this unconditional and individual floor would be supplemented by means-tested benefits, differentiated according to household size and subjected, as they are now, to some work requirements.

UBI and Some Alternatives
While the UBI is different from traditional income maintenance schemes, it also differs from a number of other innovative proposals that have attracted recent attention. Perhaps closest to a UBI are various negative income tax (NIT) proposals.8

Though the details vary, the basic idea of a negative income tax is to grant each citizen a basic income, but in the form of a refundable tax credit. From the personal tax liability of each household, one subtracts the sum of the basic incomes of its members. If the difference is positive, a tax needs to be paid. If it is negative, a benefit (or negative tax) is paid by the government to the household. In principle, one can achieve exactly the same distribution of post-tax-and-transfer income among households with a UBI or with an NIT. Indeed, the NIT might be cheaper to run, since it avoids the to-and-fro that results from paying a basic income to those with a substantial income and then taxing it back.

Still, a UBI has three major advantages over an NIT. First, any NIT scheme would have the desired effects on poverty only if it was supplemented by a system of advance payments sufficient to keep people from starving before their tax forms are examined at the end of the fiscal year. But from what we know of social welfare programs, ignorance or confusion is bound to prevent some people from getting access to such advance payments. The higher rate of take-up that is bound to be associated with a UBI scheme matters greatly to anyone who wants to fight poverty.

Second, although an NIT could in principle be individualized, it operates most naturally and is usually proposed at the household level. As a result, even if the inter-household distribution of income were exactly the same under an NIT and the corresponding UBI, the intra-household distribution will be far less unequal under the UBI. In particular, under current circumstances, the income that directly accrues to women will be considerably higher under the UBI than the NIT, since the latter tends to ascribe to the household’s higher earner at least part of the tax credit of the low- or non-earning partner.

Third, a UBI can be expected to deal far better than an NIT with an important aspect of the “unemployment trap” that is stressed by social workers but generally overlooked by economists. Whether it makes any sense for an unemployed person to look for or accept a job does not only depend on the difference between income at work and out of work. What deters people from getting out to work is often the reasonable fear of uncertainty. While they try a new job, or just after they lose one, the regular flow of benefits is often interrupted. The risk of administrative time lags– especially among people who may have a limited knowledge of their entitlements and the fear of going into debt, or for people who are likely to have no savings to fall back on–may make sticking to benefits the wisest option. Unlike an NIT, a UBI provides a firm basis of income that keeps flowing whether one is in or out of work. And it is therefore far better suited to handle this aspect of the poverty trap.

The Stakeholder Society
UBI also differs from the lump-sum grant, or “stake,” that Thomas Paine and Orestes Brownson–and, more recently, Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott–have suggested be universally awarded to citizens at their maturity in a refashioned “stakeholder society.”9 Ackerman and Alstott propose that, upon reaching age 21, every citizen, rich or poor, should be awarded a lump-sum stake of $80,000. This money can be used in any way its recipient wishes–from investing in the stock market or paying for college fees to blowing it all in a wild night of gambling. The stake is not conditioned on recipients being “deserving,” or having shown any interest in contributing to society. Funding would be provided by a 2 percent wealth tax, which could be gradually replaced over time (assuming a fair proportion of recipients ended their lives with enough assets) by a lump-sum estate tax of $80,000 (in effect requiring the recipient to pay back the stake).

I am not opposed to a wealth or estate tax, nor do I think it is a bad idea to give everyone a little stake to get going with their adult life. Moreover, giving a large stake at the beginning of adult life might be regarded as formally equivalent–with some freedom added–to giving an equivalent amount as a life-long unconditional income. After all, if the stake is assumed to be paid back at the end of a person’s life, as it is in the Ackerman/Alstott proposal, the equivalent annual amount is simply the stake multiplied by the real rate of interest, say an amount in the (very modest) order of $2,000 annually, or hardly more than Alaska’s dividend. If instead people are entitled to consume their stake through life–and who would stop them?–the equivalent annual income would be significantly higher.

Whatever the level, given the choice between an initial endowment and an equivalent life-long UBI, we should go for the latter. Endowments are rife with opportunities for waste, especially among those less well equipped by birth and background to make use of the opportunity the stake supplies. To achieve, on an ongoing basis, the goal of some baseline income maintenance, it would therefore be necessary to keep a means-tested welfare system, and we would be essentially back to our starting point–the need and desirability of a UBI as an alternative to current provisions.

The main argument for UBI is founded on a view of justice. Social justice, I believe, requires that our institutions be designed to best secure real freedom to all.10 Such a real-libertarian conception of justice combines two ideas. First, the members of society should be formally free, with a well-enforced structure of property rights that includes the ownership of each by herself. What matters to a real libertarian, however, is not only the protection of individual rights, but assurances of the real value of those rights: we need to be concerned not only with liberty, but, in John Rawls’s phrase, with the “worth of liberty.” At first approximation, the worth or real value of a person’s liberty depends on the resources the person has at her command to make use of her liberty. So it is therefore necessary that the distribution of opportunity–understood as access to the means that people need for doing what they might want to do–be designed to offer the greatest possible real opportunity to those with least opportunities, subject to everyone’s formal freedom being respected.

This notion of a just, free society needs to be specified and clarified in many respects.11 But in the eyes of anyone who finds it attractive, there cannot but be a strong presumption in favor of UBI. A cash grant to all, no questions asked, no strings attached, at the highest sustainable level, can hardly fail to advance that ideal. Or if it does not, the burden of argument lies squarely on the side of the challengers.

Jobs and Growth
A second way to make the case for UBI is more policy-oriented. A UBI might be seen as a way to solve the apparent dilemma between a European-style combination of limited poverty and high unemployment and an American-style combination of low unemployment and widespread poverty. The argument can be spelled out, very schematically, as follows.

For over two decades, most West European countries have been experiencing massive unemployment. Even at the peak of the jobs cycle, millions of Europeans are vainly seeking work. How can this problem be tackled? For a while, the received wisdom was to deal with massive unemployment by speeding up the rate of growth. But considering the speed with which technological progress was eliminating jobs, it became apparent that a fantastic rate of growth would be necessary even to keep employment stable, let alone to reduce the number of unemployed. For environmental and other reasons, such a rate of growth would not be desirable. An alternative strategy was to consider a substantial reduction in workers’ earnings. By reducing the relative cost of labor, technology could be redirected in such a way that fewer jobs were sacrificed. A more modest and therefore sustainable growth rate might then be able to stabilize and gradually reduce present levels of unemployment. But this could only be achieved at the cost of imposing an unacceptable standard of living on a large part of the population, all the more so because a reduction in wages would require a parallel reduction in unemployment benefits and other replacement incomes, so as to preserve work incentives.

If we reject both accelerated growth and reduced earnings, must we also give up on full employment? Yes, if by full employment we mean a situation in which virtually everyone who wants a full-time job can obtain one that is both affordable for the employer without any subsidy and affordable for the worker without any additional benefit. But perhaps not, if we are willing to redefine full employment by either shortening the working week, paying subsidies to employers, or paying subsidies to employees.

A first option, particularly fashionable in France at the moment, consists in a social redefinition of “full time”–that is, a reduction in maximum working time, typically in the form of a reduction in the standard length of the working week. The underlying idea is to ration jobs: because there are not enough jobs for everyone who would like one, let us not allow a subset to appropriate them all.

On closer scrutiny, however, this strategy is less helpful than it might seem. If the aim is to reduce unemployment, the reduction in the work week must be dramatic enough to more than offset the rate of productivity growth. If this dramatic reduction is matched by a proportional fall in earnings, the lowest wages will then fall–unacceptably–below the social minimum. If, instead, total earnings are maintained at the same level, if only for the less well paid, labor costs will rise. The effect on unemployment will then be reduced, if not reversed, as the pressure to eliminate the less skilled jobs through mechanization is stepped up. In other words, a dramatic reduction in working time looks bound to be detrimental to the least qualified jobs–either because it kills the supply (they pay less than replacement incomes) or because it kills the demand (they cost firms a lot more per hour than they used to).

It does not follow that the reduction of the standard working week can play no role in a strategy for reducing unemployment without increasing poverty. But to avoid the dilemma thus sketched, it needs to be coupled with explicit or implicit subsidies to low-paid jobs. For example, a reduction of the standard working week did play a role in the so-called “Dutch miracle”–the fact that, in the last decade or so, jobs expanded much faster in the Netherlands than elsewhere in Europe. But this was mainly as a result of the standard working week falling below firms’ usual operating time and thereby triggering a restructuring of work organization that involved far more part-time jobs. But these jobs could not have developed without the large implicit subsidies they enjoy, in the Netherlands, by virtue of a universal basic pension, universal child benefits, and a universal health care system.

Any strategy for reducing unemployment without increasing poverty depends, then, on some variety of the active welfare state–that is, a welfare state that does not subsidize passivity (the unemployed, the retired, the disabled, etc.) but systematically and permanently (if modestly) subsidizes productive activities. Such subsidies can take many different forms. At one extreme, they can take the form of general subsidies to employers at a level that is gradually reduced as the hourly wage rate increases. Edmund Phelps has advocated a scheme of this sort, restricted to full-time workers, for the United States.12 In Europe, this approach usually takes the form of proposals to abolish employers’ social security contributions on the lower earnings while maintaining the workers’ entitlements to the same level of benefits.

At the other extreme we find the UBI, which can also be understood as a subsidy, but one paid to the employee (or potential employee), thereby giving her the option of accepting a job with a lower hourly wage or with shorter hours than she otherwise could. In between, there are a large number of other schemes, such as the US Earned Income Tax Credit and various benefit programs restricted to people actually working or actively looking for full-time work.

A general employment subsidy and a UBI are very similar in terms of the underlying economic analysis and, in part, in what they aim to achieve. For example, both address head-on the dilemma mentioned in connection with reductions in work time: they make it possible for the least skilled to be employed at a lower cost to their employer, without thereby impoverishing workers.

The two approaches are, however, fundamentally different in one respect. With employer subsidies, the pressure to take up employment is kept intact, possibly even increased; with a UBI, that pressure is reduced. This is not because permanent idleness becomes an attractive option: even a large UBI cannot be expected to secure a comfortable standard of living on its own. Instead, a UBI makes it easier to take a break between two jobs, reduce working time, make room for more training, take up self-employment, or to join a cooperative. And with a UBI, workers will only take a job if they find it suitably attractive, while employer subsidies make unattractive, low-productivity jobs more economically viable. If the motive in combating unemployment is not some sort of work fetishism–an obsession with keeping everyone busy–but rather a concern to give every person the possibility of taking up gainful employment in which she can find recognition and accomplishment, then the UBI is to be preferred.

Feminist and Green Concerns
A third piece of the argument for a UBI takes particular note of its contribution to realizing the promise of the feminist and green movements. The contribution to the first should be obvious. Given the sexist division of labor in the household and the special “caring” functions that women disproportionately bear, their labor market participation, and range of choice in jobs, is far more constrained than those of men. Both in terms of direct impact on the inter-individual distribution of income and the longer-term impact on job options, a UBI is therefore bound to benefit women far more than men. Some of them, no doubt, will use the greater material freedom UBI provides to reduce their paid working time and thereby lighten the “double shift” at certain periods of their lives. But who can sincerely believe that working subject to the dictates of a boss for forty hours a week is a path to liberation? Moreover, it is not only against the tyranny of bosses that a UBI supplies some protection, but also against the tyranny of husbands and bureaucrats. It provides a modest but secure basis on which the more vulnerable can stand, as marriages collapse or administrative discretion is misused.

To discuss the connection between UBI and the green movement, it is useful to view the latter as an alliance of two components. Very schematically, the environmental component’s central concern is with the pollution generated by industrial society. Its central objective is the establishment of a society that can be sustained by its physical environment. The green-alternative component’s central concern, on the other hand, is with the alienation generated by industrial society. Its central objective is to establish a society in which people spend a great deal of their time on “autonomous” activities, ruled by neither the market nor the state. For both components, there is something very attractive in the idea of a UBI.

The environmentalists’ chief foe is productivism, the obsessive pursuit of economic growth. And one of the most powerful justifications for fast growth, in particular among the working class and its organizations, is the fight against unemployment. The UBI, as argued above, is a coherent strategy for tackling unemployment without relying on faster growth. The availability of such a strategy undermines the broad productivist coalition and thereby improves the prospects for realizing environmentalist objectives in a world in which pollution (even in the widest sense) is not the only thing most people care about.

Green-alternatives should also be attracted to basic income proposals, for a UBI can be viewed as a general subsidy financed by the market and state spheres to the benefit of the autonomous sphere. This is in part because the UBI gives everyone some real freedom–as opposed to a sheer right–to withdraw from paid employment in order to perform autonomous activities, such as grass-roots militancy or unpaid care work. But part of the impact also consists in giving the least well endowed greater power to turn down jobs that they do not find sufficiently fulfilling, and in thereby creating incentives to design and offer less alienated employment.

Some Objections
Suppose everything I have said thus far is persuasive: that the UBI, if it could be instituted, would be a natural and attractive way of ensuring a fair distribution of real freedom, fighting unemployment without increasing poverty, and promoting the central goals of both the feminist and the green movements. What are the objections?

Perhaps the most common is that a UBI would cost too much. Such a statement is of course meaningless if the amount and the scale is left unspecified. At a level of $150 per month and per person, a UBI is obviously affordable in some places, since this is the monthly equivalent of what every Alaskan receives as an annual dividend. Could one afford a UBI closer to the poverty line? By simply multiplying the poverty threshold for a one-person household by the population of a country, one soon reaches scary amounts–often well in excess of the current level of total government expenditure.

But these calculations are misleading. A wide range of existing benefits can be abolished or reduced once a UBI is in place. And for most people of working age, the basic income and the increased taxes (most likely in the form of an abolition of exemptions and of low tax rates for the lowest income brackets) required to pay for it will largely offset each other. In a country such as the United States, which has developed a reasonably effective revenue collection system, what matters is not the gross cost but its distributive impact–which could easily work out the same for a UBI or an NIT.

Estimates of the net budgetary cost of various UBI and NIT schemes have been made both in Europe and the United States.13 Obviously, the more comprehensive and generous existing means-tested minimum-income schemes are, the more limited the net cost of a UBI scheme at a given level. But the net cost is also heavily affected by two other factors. Does the scheme aim to achieve an effective rate of taxation (and hence of disincentive to work) at the lower end of the distribution of earnings no higher than the tax rates higher up? And does it give the same amount to each member of a couple as to a single person? If the answer is positive on both counts, a scheme that purports to lift every household out of poverty has a very high net cost, and would therefore generate major shifts in the income distribution, not only from richer to poorer households, but also from single people to couples.14 This does not mean that it is “unaffordable,” but that a gradual approach is required if sudden sharp falls in the disposable incomes of some households are to be avoided. A basic income or negative income tax at the household level is one possible option. A strictly individual, but “partial” basic income, with means-tested income supplements for single adult households, is another.

A second frequent objection is that a UBI would have perverse labor supply effects. (In fact, some American income maintenance experiments in the 1970s showed such effects.) The first response should be: “So what?” Boosting the labor supply is no aim in itself. No one can reasonably want an overworked, hyperactive society. Give people of all classes the opportunity to reduce their working time or even take a complete break from work in order to look after their children or elderly relatives. You will not only save on prisons and hospitals. You will also improve the human capital of the next generation. A modest UBI is a simple and effective instrument in the service of keeping a socially and economically sound balance between the supply of paid labor and the rest of our lives.

It is of the greatest importance that our tax-and-transfer systems not trap the least skilled, or those whose options are limited for some other reason, in a situation of idleness and dependency. But it is precisely awareness of this risk that has been the most powerful factor in arousing public interest for a UBI in those European countries in which a substantial means-tested guaranteed minimum income had been operating for some time. It would be absurd to deny that such schemes depress in undesirable ways workers’ willingness to accept low-paid jobs and stick with them, and therefore also employers’ interest in designing and offering such jobs. But reducing the level or security of income support, on the pattern of the United States 1996 welfare reform, is not the only possible response. Reducing the various dimensions of the unemployment trap by turning means-tested schemes into universal ones is another. Between these two routes, there cannot be much doubt about what is to be preferred by people committed to combining a sound economy and a fair society–as opposed to boosting labor supply to the maximum.

A third objection is moral rather than simply pragmatic. A UBI, it is often said, gives the undeserving poor something for nothing. According to one version of this objection, a UBI conflicts with the fundamental principle of reciprocity: the idea that people who receive benefits should respond in kind by making contributions. Precisely because it is unconditional, it assigns benefits even to those who make no social contribution–who spend their mornings bickering with their partner, surf off Malibu in the afternoon, and smoke pot all night.

One might respond by simply asking: How many would actually choose this life? How many, compared to the countless people who spend most of their days doing socially useful but unpaid work? Everything we know suggests that nearly all people seek to make some contribution. And many of us believe that it would be positively awful to try to turn all socially useful contributions into waged employment. On this background, even the principle “To each according to her contribution” justifies a modest UBI as part of its best feasible institutional implementation.

But a more fundamental reply is available. True, a UBI is undeserved good news for the idle surfer. But this good news is ethically indistinguishable from the undeserved luck that massively affects the present distribution of wealth, income, and leisure. Our race, gender, and citizenship, how educated and wealthy we are, how gifted in math and how fluent in English, how handsome and even how ambitious, are overwhelmingly a function of who our parents happened to be and of other equally arbitrary contingencies. Not even the most narcissistic self-made man could think that he fixed the parental dice in advance of entering this world. Such gifts of luck are unavoidable and, if they are fairly distributed, unobjectionable. A minimum condition for a fair distribution is that everyone should be guaranteed a modest share of these undeserved gifts.15 Nothing could achieve this more securely than a UBI.

Such a moral argument will not be sufficient in reshaping the politically possible. But it may well prove crucial. Without needing to deny the importance of work and the role of personal responsibility, it will save us from being over-impressed by a fashionable political rhetoric that justifies bending the least advantaged more firmly under the yoke. It will make us even more confident about the rightness of a universal basic income than about the rightness of universal suffrage. It will make us even more comfortable about everyone being entitled to an income, even the lazy, than about everyone being entitled to a vote, even the incompetent.

{Philippe Van Parijs directs the Hoover Chair of Economic and Social Ethics at the Catholic University of Louvain.}

1. Many academics and activists who share this view have joined the Basic Income European Network (BIEN). Founded in 1986, BIEN holds its eighth congress in Berlin in October 2000. It publishes an electronic newsletter (, and maintains a Web site that carries a comprehensive annotated bibliography in all EU languages ( be/BIEN/bien.html). For a recent set of relevant European essays, see Loek Groot and Robert Jan van der Veen, eds., Basic Income on the Agenda: Policy Objectives and Political Chances (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000).
2. Federal senator for the huge state of Sao Paulo and member of the opposition Workers Party (PT), Suplicy has advocated an ambitious guaranteed minimum income scheme, a version of which was approved by Brazil’s Senate in 1991.
3. Two North American UBI networks were set up earlier this year: the United States Basic Income Guarantee Network, c/o Dr Karl Widerquist, The Jerome Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504-5000, USA (; and Basic Income/Canada, c/o Prof. Sally Lerner, Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1 (http://www.
4. See James Tobin, Joseph A. Pechman, and Peter M. Mieszkowski, “Is a Negative Income Tax Practical?” Yale Law Journal 77 (1967): 1-27. See also a recent conversation with Tobin in BIEN’s newsletter (“James Tobin, the Demogrant and the Future of U.S. Social Policy,” in Basic Income 29 (Spring 1998), available on BIEN’s web site).
5. See Joseph Charlier, Solution du problème social ou constitution humanitaire (Bruxelles: Chez tous les libraires du Royaume, 1848); John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 2nd ed. [1849] (New York: Augustus Kelley, 1987).
6. See the exchange between Eduardo Suplicy and Milton Friedman in Basic Income 34 (June 2000).
7. The latest countries to introduce a guaranteed minimum income at national level were France (in 1988) and Portugal (in 1997). Out of the European Union’s fifteen member states, only Italy and Greece have no such scheme.
8. In the United States, one recent proposal of this type has been made in Fred Block and Jeff Manza, “Could We End Poverty in a Postindustrial Society? The Case for a Progressive Negative Income Tax,” Politics and Society 25 (December 1997): 473-511.
9. Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott, The Stakeholder Society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999). Their proposal is a sophisticated and updated version of a proposal made by Thomas Paine to the French Directoire. See “Agrarian Justice” [1796], in The Life and Major Writings of Thomas Paine, P. F. Foner, ed., (Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1974), pp. 605-623. A similar program was proposed, independently, by the New England liberal, and later arch-conservative, Orestes Brownson in the Boston Quarterly Review of October 1840. If the American people are committed to the principle of “equal chances,” he argued, then they should make sure that each person receives, on maturity, an equal share of the “general inheritance.”
10. For a more detailed discussion, see Philippe Van Parijs, Real Freedom for All (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).
11. One can think of alternative normative foundations. For example, under some empirical assumptions a UBI is also arguably part of the package that Rawls’s difference principle would justify. See, for example, Walter Schaller, “Rawls, the Difference Principle, and Economic Inequality,” in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 79 (1998) 368-91; Philippe Van Parijs, “Difference Principles,” in The Cambridge Companion to John Rawls, Samuel Freeman ed., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). Alternatively, one might view a UBI as a partial embodiment of the Marxian principle of distribution according to needs. See Robert J. van der Veen and Philippe Van Parijs, “A Capitalist Road to Communism,” Theory and Society 15 (1986) 635-55.
12. See Edmund S. Phelps, Rewarding Work (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997).
13. In the US case, for example, the fiscally equivalent negative-income-tax scheme proposed by Block and Manza, which would raise all base incomes to at least 90 percent of the poverty line (and those of poor families well above that), would, in mid-1990s dollars, cost about $60 billion annually.
14. To fund this net cost, the personal income tax is obviously not the only possible source. In some European proposals, at least part of the funding comes from ecological, energy, or land taxes; from a tax on value; from non-inflationary money creation; or possibly even from Tobin taxes on international financial transactions (although it is generally recognized that the funding of a basic income in rich countries would not exactly be a priority in the allocation of whatever revenues may be collected from this source). But none of these sources could realistically enable us to dispense with personal income taxation as the basic source of funding. Nor do they avoid generating a net cost in terms of real disposable income for some households, and thereby raising an issue of “affordability.”
15. Along the same lines, Herbert A. Simon observes “that any causal analysis explaining why American GDP is about $25,000 per capita would show that at least 2/3 is due to the happy accident that the income recipient was born in the U.S.” He adds, “I am not so naive as to believe that my 70% tax [required to fund a UBI of $8,000 p.a. with a flat tax] is politically viable in the United States at present, but looking toward the future, it is none too soon to find answers to the arguments of those who think they have a solid moral right to retain all the wealth they earn.’” See Simon’s letter to the organizers of BIEN’s seventh congress in Basic Income 28 (Spring 1998).

1970s’ Manitoba poverty experiment called a success / March 25, 2010

A controversial government experiment in the 1970s in which some households in a Manitoba town were given a minimum level of income improved the community’s overall health, a professor at the University of Manitoba says. A controversial government experiment in the 1970s in which some households in a Manitoba town were given a minimum level of income improved the community’s overall health, a professor at the University of Manitoba says. From 1974 through 1978, about 30 per cent of the population of Dauphin was provided with a “mincome,” as the guaranteed level of income came to be called. “We found that, overall, hospitalizations in Dauphin declined relative to the control group,” said Evelyn Forget, professor of community health science at the University of Manitoba. “We also looked at accidents and injuries, and they also declined. You can argue that accident and injury hospitalizations are strongly related to poverty.”

The goal of the program, which cost $17 million, was to find out whether a guaranteed income would improve health and community life. If a household’s income dropped below a certain amount, the program would top it up to an income equivalent to the welfare rates at the time. The participants who worked had their supplement reduced 50 cents for every dollar they earned in an attempt to encourage people in the program to look for work. Forget has spent three years comparing the administrative health care records of Dauphin’s citizens between 1974 and 1978 with those of a control group of people living in similar Manitoba communities at that time. She said her research suggests that people appear to live healthier lives when they don’t have to worry about poverty. “Hospitalizations for mental health issues were down significantly,” she said, adding that teenagers stayed in school longer as a result of the initiative.

The initiative, which started in 1974, was terminated in 1978 as political support for the experiment faded. “Politically, there was a concern that if you began a guaranteed annual income, people would stop working and start having large families,” Forget said. Ron Hikel, the executive director of the Mincome project, is delighted Forget is taking a fresh look at the project’s impact. “As somebody who devoted three or four years of his life to making this happen, I was disappointed that the data were warehoused,” Hikel said. Forget has not yet been given access to the 2,000 boxes of data collected by the original Mincome researchers, which contain copies of questionnaires participants filled out and, she believes, transcripts of interviews with the families who took part. Hikel, who is now legislative director for U.S. Rep. Eric Massa, said Forget’s research is immensely relevant in Canada and the United States. He said he intends to use her analysis as part of the current health-care debate. “It has to do with the impact that larger social conditions have on one’s health condition and the need for health care,” Hikel said.

Mongolia Fund to Manage $30 Billion Mining Jackpot
by Bloomberg News / September 11, 2009

The Mongolian government will set up a sovereign wealth fund using mining royalties and tax revenue, and distribute part of the income to citizens to alleviate poverty, said Finance Minister Sangajav Bayartsogt. The fund, to be run by professional managers from 2013, will disburse part of its annual income to every Mongolian in cash or non-cash securities to let them own stakes in the country’s mining wealth, Bayartsogt said. Initial capital will be drawn from Ivanhoe Mines Ltd.’s $4 billion Oyu Tolgoi copper- gold mine project, estimated to generate $30 billion in tax revenue over 50 years, he said. “We’re drafting the idea to implement the proposal, and we’re studying examples like the Alaskan Permanent Fund,” Bayartsogt said in a Sept. 9 interview in the capital Ulaanbaatar, declining to specify the size of the proposed fund. Mongolia, whose 2.7 million citizens depend on mining and agriculture for half the nation’s 2008 economic output, is banking on Oyu Tolgoi and about 6,000 other mineral deposit sites to lift average annual income, which at $1,680 per person last year was ranked 151st in the world by the World Bank. “If the government can pull this off, we can expect lasting stability and growth in Mongolia, because this fund can help stabilize the economy and help fend off the boom and burst of the commodity-price cycles,” said Erdenedalai Choinkhor, an economist at Frontier Securities Co. in Ulaanbaatar.

Oil, Gas Money
The $40 billion Alaska Permanent Fund, created in 1976 with state revenue from oil production, has constitutionally protected capital that can’t be spent. Most of its earnings are reinvested, and a dividend is returned each year to eligible Alaskans. The fund reported a $6.3 million loss in 2001 after buying 685,600 shares in Enron Corp. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the 2.47 trillion-krone ($410 billion) Government Pension Fund – Global, derives money from taxes on oil and gas and ownership of petroleum fields. The oil and gas money is invested abroad to avoid stoking domestic inflation. Mongolia also wants to diversify the economy’s reliance on animal husbandry and mining to avoid the so-called Dutch Disease, where a commodity boom sucks in foreign exchange, raises the currency’s value and makes manufacturing less competitive. “If mining is booming, the rest of the sectors will slow down because people are expecting to receive work and revenue from mining,” Bayartsogt said. “We will use revenue from mining to develop the processing industry, invest in outsourcing, education, science and technology to move up the value chain and transform the economy.”

Transforming Mongolia
Bayartsogt’s Democratic Party and the opposition Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party pledged during May general elections to distribute as much as $6 billion, or up to 1.5 million tugriks ($1,060) for every citizen, from the country’s mining wealth. To fulfill the election pledge, the government may use a $250 million pre-payment from Oyu Tolgoi to seed its distribution program, Bayartsogt said. The final accord to develop the Oyu Tolgoi deposits may be signed this month, Minister of Minerals and Energy Dashdorj Zorigt said this week. “The transformational power of the Oyu Tolgoi mine cannot be understated,” said Peter Morrow, chief executive officer of the Khan Bank in Ulaanbaatar. Investments in Oyu Tolgoi are projected at almost 80 percent of Mongolia’s $5 billion economy, he said.

Oyu Tolgoi Deposits
Oyu Tolgoi may hold as much as 32 million tons of copper and 1,200 tons of gold, according to government estimates. Annual output when the mines are excavated may top 450,000 tons of copper with 330,000 ounces of gold, Zorigt said. “The ordinary people are expecting something” to be distributed to them as soon as Oyu Tolgoi is signed, Bayartsogt said. “The expectation is too high. Economics is always connected to politics.” The Oyu Tolgoi deposits, discovered by Ivanhoe in 2003, have gone through a sometimes tumultuous development process. Mongolia’s government on Aug. 25 passed laws allowing companies to carry forward their losses for eight years, build private roads and let Oyu Tolgoi developers use water they find on their land. The parliament will also repeal from Jan. 1, 2011, a 68 percent windfall profit tax on copper and gold. The nation’s 6,000 known mineral deposit sites include reserves of coal, uranium, silver, zinc and molybdenum. “It’s the beginning, an experiment in how to structure a large mining-exploration agreement with the world,” said Terence Ortslan, managing director of TSO & Associates, a Montreal, Canada-based research firm focusing on mining. “Five years from now, Oyu Tolgoi will be in operation, and other projects will be under way.”

Basic income in Brazil
By Chandra Pasma / July 14th, 2009

While Alaska is the only place in the world with an ongoing basic income program, they are not the only jurisdiction to have shown interest. Brazil actually has a law mandating the progressive institution of a basic income program. The law was introduced by Senator Eduardo Suplicy of the Brazilian Workers’ Party in 2001. He had previously introduced a bill to create a Negative Income Tax model of a guaranteed livable income, but that bill failed to pass. This second bill called for a universal basic income program to be progressively instituted, beginning with those most in need. The bill was approved by the Senate in 2002 and by the Chamber of Deputies in 2003. It was signed into law by President Lula da Silva in 2004. The bill leaves implementation in the hands of the President. No progress has been made toward implementing a basic income since then.

However, Brazil does have an interesting, albeit conditional, income security program for the poorest Brazilians. The Bolsa Familia, or Family Grant, was created in 2003 by merging 4 existing cash transfer programs. It could be used as a stepping stone to a basic income program, even though it was not created with that intention. The Bolsa Familia is paid to 11 million of Brazil’s poorest families, which means that the money reaches 46 million people. It has contributed to a reduction in inequality, although it is not the only factor. Brazil, one of the most unequal countries in the world, has made astonishing progress in reducing inequality since 2001. In the last five years, the incomes of the poorest Brazilians have risen 22%, compared to only 4.9% for the richest Brazilians. The program has also had a significant positive effect on the number of children in school, while decreasing the number of children in child labour.

The program has two aspects. Extremely poor families, those with a monthly per capita income of 60 reais or less (R$2 is equal to approximately US$1), receive a basic benefit of R$62 per month. They also receive variable benefits for their children, R$20 per month per child for their first three children, plus R$30 per month per 16 or 17 year old, to a maximum of two. Meanwhile, poor families – those with a monthly per capita income of R$120 or less, receive only the variable benefits for their children. The grants are based on a number of conditions. Children must be in school, attending at least 85% of school days, and they must receive all of their immunizations. Pregnant women must receive pre-natal care. The program currently includes 85% of Brazil’s poorest families. Some are excluded because they repeatedly failed to meet the conditions, while other poor families struggle with the issue of identification. This is one of the reasons why Senator Suplicy is still campaigning tirelessly to see the Bolsa Familia turned into a true basic income program.

Earlier this year, President Lula announced that an additional 1.3 million families will be added to the program in response to the recession. Senator Suplicy is also hoping to start a basic income pilot project, similar to Namibia’s, in Brazil. The project would begin next July, when the Basic Income Earth Network’s biannual conference takes place in Brazil. President Lula has already accepted an invitation to speak on the opening day of the conference.


Senator Suplicy may be the highest-ranking political figure in the world to dedicate himself to promote the basic income guarantee. A U.S.-trained economist, he was elected to the Brazilian Senate in 1990, and he has been promoting the basic income guarantee at the national level ever since. He will be the keynote speaker at the First Congress of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network. Last month, I asked him a few questions about his quest to introduce BIG in Brazil. –Karl Widerquist


After completing my bachelor’s degree (1964) in Business Administration, at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas, in São Paulo, Brazil, and after working with my father for a year or more, I decided to become a Professor of Economics at that same institution were I had studied, and so I decided to work on my Master’s (1966-68) and on my Ph.D in Economics (1970-73) at Michigan State University, with a period of 15 months (1971-1972) of graduate studies at Stanford University. It was my main purpose to understand the mechanisms of the economic system and why were we having so much inequalities and poverty in Brazil. Since I lived in a family with deep sense of fraternity and Christian values, I wanted to know why were there so many conflicts and injustices beyond the walls of my house. I wanted to know the characteristics of the socialism and the capitalism system, and if it would be possible to build a system were we could at the same time eradicate poverty, promote more equality, efficiency and freedom. I had learn from the history of the main scientists such as Galileo Galilei, Nicolau Copernico and Albert Einstein that one should always search for the truth, because willing to know the truth is part of the human nature. The first time I remember to be presented to the negative income tax concept was in my Economic Theory course about the Price System, with Doctor John Moroney, using as a reference the text Microeconomics by Charles Fergunson. I also became acquainted with Capitalism and Freedom (1962) by Milton Friedman and the articles by James Tobin on the topic. Abba Lerner was also teaching at Michigan State University, and I remember José David Langier, a Brazilian Ph.D. student at MSU during the late sixties that was very found of him. After all, Lerner was one of the first to propose a negative income tax in a lump some tax form, that is, a fixed sum to all, in The Economics of Control (1944). I also started to read the books and conferences of John Kenneth Galbraith that once gave a lecture at MSU. During the late sixties and early seventies I also followed with much interest the Civil Rights movement, the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panthers, Angela Davis, the presidential candidates such as Eugene J. McCarty, Robert F. Kennedy, George Mc Govern, Richard Nixon, and others. I remember that in my preliminary exam in Economic Theory I developed a model were we would have all the conditions of efficiency in the economy but that at the same time people would be persuaded to offer conditions of survival with dignity to everyone in the society. At that time I was not acquainted with the writings of Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell, August Cournot and so many others about whom I refer in my book Renda de Cidadania. A Saída é pela Porta. Cortez Editora e Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2002, São Paulo, or Citizen’s Income. The Exit is Through the Door. During the seventies I interacted with some Brazilian economists that had an interest on the negative income tax concept such as Antonio Maria da Silveira, Edmar Lisboa Bacha and Roberto Mangabeira Unger. When I was elected a Federal Representative of the Worker’s Party, during the eighties, with Paul Singer and others economists, we started to say that it would be important that we defend the concept of a guaranteed income to all Brazilians. It was only when I was elected a Senator in 1990, that I decided to present a legislative proposal to institute a Guaranteed Minimum Income Program through a Negative Income Tax to all adults with 25 years or more with monthly income below US$ 150. They would have the right to receive a complement of income that would be 30% or up to 50% of the difference between that some and his or her level of income. On December 16, 1991, after a long debate, all parties decided to approve that proposal, including the PSDB lead by the present President of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. During that day, Senator Cardoso said that the proposal was a realistic utopia. The initiative went to the Chamber of Deputies, where it received a favorable report in the Finance Committee. It is waiting for its approval until today. Some important developments occurred since there were economists such as José Márcio Camargo and Cristovam Buarque, Governor of the Federal District, as well as Mayor José Roberto Magalhães of Campinas, that started to defend the idea of a guaranteed income to poor families as long as they have children in school age that are really going to school. Programs along these lines developed all over the country and are now object of the efforts of the Federal, State and Municipal governments. By the end of 2002, almost all municipalities of Brazil, with the support of the Federal Government will have implemented a guaranteed minimum income program related to educational opportunities, named also as Bolsa-Escola program. The monetary values for families with monthly income below R$90 (US$37.2) or half the minimum wage per capita, however, R$15 (US$6.2), R$30 (US$12.4) or R$45 (US$18.6) if the family has one, two, three or more children up to 14 years of age going to school, are very modest.


It was in 1992 that I became acquainted with the concept of an unconditional basic income, talking with some economists that recommended Arguing for a Basic Income: Ethical Foundations for a Radical Reform (London, Verso, 1992), edited by Philippe Van Parijs. My first reaction was that we should first be guaranteeing a minimum income to those who have little or nothing. More and more, since then, I started to interact with the members of BIEN, the Basic Income European Network. I decided to participate in theirs International Congress in London (1994), Vien (1996) and Berlin (2000). Although I had planned to be there, I was not able to go to the Amsterdam Congress (1998) because I had to be campaigning for my reelection to the Senate. I was reelected Senator for the 1999-2006 term. It is true that I was much influenced by Philippe Van Parijs, Claus Offe, Guy Standing, Tony Atkinson, Sean Healy, Walter Van Trier and so many others that have participated in those congresses and seminars over the subject. Today I am also convinced that the basic income is a common sense solution. Accordingly I presented a new legislative initiative in the Brazilian Senate, on December 4, 2001, saying that from 2005 on, a citizen’s income will be instituted to all Brazilians that live in Brazil as well to all foreigners who are living for at least five years in this country, no matter his or her socioeconomic condition. The citizen’s income will be equal to all, paid in monetary terms. Its value will be determined by the Federal Government taking into account the vital needs of each one, the level of economic development and the budget capacity of the nation. If the initiative is approved by the National Congress, in the October elections of 2004 a popular referendum will be called to confirm the approval of the proposal.


I can understand that the basic income is another way to introduce a negative income tax, as Milton Friedman has replied. But I believe that we would have some advantages if we may have the determination and courage to cut some steps and move forward as soon as possible to the basic income. I can visualize that more and more people will know about their right that will be really universal without a complex bureaucracy that would otherwise be asking all the details about how much each person has gained in the formal as well in the informal market. To have a basic income will be regarded as a right similar to the one that any Brazilian has to walk, play and swim in any of the beaches of our country. Of course the Internal Revenue Service would still have to collect taxes from those with reasonably high incomes to help finance the citizen’s income. Its existence and its fairness, in my view, will help the creation of an attitude of good will from the contributors in favor of a more just and civilized society.


On the 17 of March, 2002, for the first time in the Brazilian History, a political party, the Worker’s Party, will provide the opportunity to all its affiliates, more than 800 thousand in our case, to choose among two different alternatives, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, our Honour President and myself, who is going to be the presidential candidate. It is already defined in our Outlines for a Government Plan, approved by the National Encounter of the Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT, held in Recife last December 2002, and that is common for both candidates, the following text:
“It is relevant, in this picture, the institution of a minimum income, related to education, such as in the Bolsa Escola programs, all over the national territory, as an ingredient of complementing the family income. The Bolsa Escola national program of Fernando Henrique Cardoso Government – in spite of the increase of the resources that previously were allocated, in which the PT had important role – is still too timid with respect to the size of the benefits and is based on a limited, incomplete and stagnated vision of the social exclusion problem. The minimum income that we propose, articulated with the social inclusion program, should be viewed as a step towards the implementation – when the social conditions are existent – of a citizen’s basic income as a right of all the Brazilian population.”
It was in the meetings of the economists of the PT along 2001 that I have made efforts for them to include the vision that we should be in favor of a basic citizen’s income as soon as possible. As you may see, the idea was accepted. During the Recife Encounter before 560 delegates I have used the word for 20 minutes to explain this evolution. Right now, with the publication of my book, I am traveling to many cities in several regions of Brazil saying that if I am the chosen candidate I will give high priority to this point.
Let me explain that Lula is a very strong candidate who has been our presidential candidate in 1989, 1994 and 1998, when he got very good results as the second most elected. For more than a year he is leading the polls with 26 to 34% of the national preference. It won’t be easy for me to win, although I do not discard the possibility of a surprise. But I have been telling my friend Lula, for whom I have much respect, and the party, that more important than I becoming the president is that the one who does will really put in practice the ideas that I have been defending.


The Brazilian Constitution says in its Article 14, that the popular sovereignty will be exercised by universal election as well by plebiscite, referendum and popular initiative. Article 49 says that the National Congress may authorize the referendum. That is why the legislative initiative that I presented last December proposes a referendum to be held in October 2004. I believe that the citizen’s basic income will be much more accepted if discussed in depth by the whole population.


Brazil was one of the last nations to abolish slavery in 1888. It will be proper if Brazil becomes one of the first nations to introduce a basic income.


It will be a very difficult task to persuade people both in developed as well in developing nations to introduce a basic income. Every time that I have had the opportunity to explain the concept and its fundamentals in my lectures all over Brazil, in general the proposal is accepted by most people as a good solution. It is important to have the support of institutions such as the labor unions, religious associations, entrepreneurial entities, civil organizations and so on. It is very encouraging the movement in favor of a basic income that has been developing in South Africa with the support of the Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Security, Black Sasc, Child Health Policy Institute, Congress of South African Trade Unions, Development Resources Centre, ESST, Gender Advocacy Programme, Community Law Centre (UWC), Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference, South African Council of Churches, South African NGO Coalition and Treatment Action Campaign. South Africa and Brazil are both developing industrialized nations that with respect to income distribution are among the most unequal in the World. Therefore, it is important that the theme is being debated with much interest in both nations.


According to the 2001 Report about the Human Development Index of the United Nations only Swaziland (60.9 in 1994), Nicarágua and South Africa present Inequality Gini Coefficients higher than those of Brazil (59.1 in 1997). According to the 2000/2001 World Bank Development Report, Brazil is third among the nations with most unequal distribution of income, with a Gini Coefficient of 60.0, in 1996, coming after Sierra Lioa (62.9 in 1989) and Central African Republic (61.3 in 1993). In 1999, the one percent richest got 13.9% of the National Income, a higher proportion than the 13.5% obtained by the 50% poorest of the Brazilian population. Under these circumstances, to guarantee a basic income to the whole population becomes most relevant.


The integration of the South American countries must be seen mainly from the point of view of the human being, that differs from the point of view of the owners of capital. The more the social and economic rights of people in countries of the same region are similar the better are the chances of a healthy integration. It was very difficult for Argentina to maintain a fixed parity exchange rate system for a long time whereas Brazil, since 1999, had started a more flexible exchange system. Since February 2002 a more homogeneous form of dealing with the exchange system will help the integration of the economies. If Brazil implements a basic income as a citizen’s right it is most likely that Argentina and other South American countries will start studying how to apply it in their nations. It is interesting to know that a growing number of economists, social scientists and members of the parliaments in several Latin American countries are debating the issue, mainly in Argentina, Colombia and Brazil. See, for example Vuolo, Rubén Lo (org.) (1995). Contra la exclusión. La propuesta del ingresso ciudadano. Buenos Aires, CIEPPP/Mino y Dávila. It will be important to study the effects in the labor market of each nation of the introduction of the basic income. It is my view that it will make the economies consistently more efficiently and competitive, at the same time that will be presenting a higher degree of equity. In Latin America, we should be aware that when in the United States the government introduced in 1975 the EITC, that was significantly expanded in 1993, the Earned Income Tax Credit, a partial negative income tax, has made the American economy relatively more competitive than without that instrument. The American Society had decided to pay an additional amount to all workers receiving less than certain level, making their firms more competitive than in the absence of that instrument of economic policy.


It is true that the South American economies are having to dedicate a large portion of their resources to pay for the services of their debt. The Brazilian public sector, for example, including the municipalities, the states and the Union, paid respectively, in 1999 and 2000, R$86billions (US$35.5 billion) and R$70 billions (US$ 28.9 billion) of interest on internal and external debt. Suppose we were to pay a quite modest basic income to start with of R$40 (US$16.5) per month or R$480 (US$198.3) per year to all 170 million Brazilians. This would sum up to R$80.6 billions (US$33 billions). Since our 2002 Gross Domestic Product will be around R$1.3 trillion (US$537.1 billions) and our Federal Annual Revenue around R$350 billions (US$144.6 billions), to use R$80.6 billions (US$33 billions) to pay a modest citizen’s income to all Brazilians is a huge sum considering that there are so many other urgent needs. When we compare, however, that the Brazilians are also paying an equivalent amount of interest to the owners of titles of the public internal and external debt, it is reasonable to think that a dialogue with them should take into account the principles of justice and equity. When priorities are defined in very clear and transparent terms, greater respect among all parts, including creditors, tend to prevail.


The small conditional guarantee for families with school-age children who remain in school has been spreading to reach around 6 million families or 11 million children in this first semester of 2002. In some municipalities such as São Paulo, the benefit is more substantial, due to a more generous municipal law: the families with monthly income below R$90 (US$37.2) or half the minimum wage per capita with children up to 14 years of age going to school have the right to receive a complement of income that is a proportion (2/3) of the difference between R$90 (US$37.2) x number of members of the family and the family income. There are also other designs. In general the results have been considered positive, although there are strong recommendations to improve the value of that modest benefit. I believe that those programs are an important step towards the implementation of a basic income.


The idea of a citizen’s basic income has much to do with the values of solidarity that have characterized the Indian communities since their origin. It also has to do with the values of the black communities in their struggle against slavery. All communities in Brazil, no matter how far from the cities, need some money for their defense, health assistance, education, housing improvement and so many things. Their members will have the same citizen right as any other Brazilian. They will be able to choose whether to use their respective basic income in a more individual or in a more communal way.


I spent seven days in Alaska in 1995 asking the people all over the places about the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend system. I was quite impressed that although in 1976 the result of the referendum was 76.000 yes to 38.000 no, or almost 2 to 1, nowadays almost everyone is quite enthusiastic about the system. A few with very high income told me that the dividend did not make great difference to them. But they did not oppose the idea. I believe that the Alaska example is nice because it has permitted that people is accompanying the pros and cons of the system, allowing the annual dividend to gradually reach the point of being equal to the survival needs of a person in Alaska. It would be very difficult to start in Brazil with a full BIG.
I believe that we may start with a modest amount such as R$40 (US$16.5) per month per capita, on R$480 (US$198.3) per year. In a family of six, this would mean R$240 (US$99.2) per month. If the husband and wife knows that for the next 12 months they will be able to count for sure with that amount, that in the following years this amount will increase with the nation’s economic growth, this will make a tremendous difference for their condition of life, freedom and dignity. In a few years the monthly amount per capita will more than double as it happen in Alaska.


A basic income in Brazil may be financed by a combination of both national resource taxes as well as taxes on all kinds of wealth that are created in society, taking also into account a principle of progressivity, that is, that those that have greater wealth and income should contribute relativity more.


In 1999 I presented in the Senate a legislative initiative proposing the creation of Citizen’s Brazilian Fund that would have the purpose of financing a citizen’s guaranteed minimum income. The main sources of this fund would be:
I. Resources consigned in the General Budget of the Country.
II. 50% of the resources received in cash, bonds and credits including the ones, which are originated from specific agreements in the scope of the National Program of Privatization.
III. 50% of the resources originated from the concession of public services and public works, as well as from permit or authorization of public services.
IV. 50% of the resources originated from activities foreseen by the 1st paragraph of art. 176 of the federal constitution *
V. 50% of the resources originated from the contracts states or private enterprises, the development of the activities foreseen by the items I to VI of the art. 177 of the federal constitution**
VI. 50% of the resources originated from real estate that belongs to the country assets.
VII. Other properties, rights and assets of the country as well as credits and transferring operations, which are awarded to them.
VIII, Income of any nature issued as payment resulted from application of assets that belong to the citizenship program.
IX. Donations in cash, values, real state and other properties received by them.
Sole paragraph: The balances checked at the end of each fiscal year will be obligatorily transferred to citizenship program of the following year.
* These resources are originated from the exploitation of mines and the potential of hydraulic energy.
** These resources are originated from the research, exploitation, importation, and transportation of the petroleum and natural gas
This legislative initiative has been approved in February 2000 by the Justice Commission of the Senate.
I believe that we should always take into account that the nation’s natural resources should not be used only for the maximum benefit of the present generation, but with a balanced view of befitting future generations and always taking care for not allowing the predatory depletion of the nation’s natural resources.


This is a question that is always present in the discussions about the basic income. It’s important to distinguish the basic income guaranteed form the income that someone gets from his on her work effort. The basic income, as so well explained by Thomas Paine in Agrarian Justice (1795) must be seen as a right, that every individual has to participate in the wealth of a nation.

The Brazilian Constitution, as well as that of other nations, recognizes the right of private property. It recognizes that the proprietors of farms, factories, banks, real state, bonds and stocks may receive their income in the form of profits, rents or interest. Without the obligation of doing any work. If we guarantee the right of capital owner’s to receive their income without any labor effort, why should we not extend the same right to receive a modest income sufficient for his or her basic needs to everyone, rich and poor? When I explain this argument, that we may find in Bertrand Russell’s Proposed Roads to Freedom: (1918) normally all audiences agree that the citizen’s on basic income makes much sense.

A Basic Income to Democratize and Pacify Iraq
by Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy

Last March, 2007, when Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the ex-Prime Minister of Iraq (02/23/05-05/20/2006) visited Brazil, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with him in Brasília as well as in São Paulo. I told him that in April 2003, shortly before the Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello was nominated as the United Nations representative in Iraq, I had written to Mr. de Mello suggesting that the Iraqis could consider following the example of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend system, a pioneer and successful example of a Citizen’s Basic Income. Because of the country’s huge oil reserves, Iraq could follow this path. I explained him how Sergio Vieira de Mello wrote back to me on April 30, 2003, saying that he considered the proposition a very positive one and that he would take it to the administrative authorities of Iraq. On June 23 of that year, in the Reconciliation Summit of A’mman, Ambassador J. Paul Bremer III who was responsible for administering Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, said that Iraqis could follow the Alaskan example so that all of them could feel as having a stake in the wealth of the nation. On August 1st, Vieira de Mello called me from Baghdad saying that the proposal was being positively considered and that the World Bank mission had deemed it to be viable. Unfortunately he was a victim together with 21 more persons in the attack of the UN Office in Baghdad on August 19 of that year. Ibrahim al-Jaafari today is a member of the National Assembly of Iraq and leader of Islamic Dawa Party, the main political party of the United Iraqi Alliance coalition that supports the government. He is a Shiite and was previously one of the two vice-presidents of Iraq under the Iraqi Interim Government in 2004. I also told him that the Brazilian National Congress had approved the Law 10.835 that institutes an unconditional Citizen’s Basic Income, sanctioned by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in January 8, 2004. The law says that it will be established step-by-step, under the Executive Power’s criteria, starting with those most in need, as the present Bolsa Família Program does, until the day when everyone in Brazil will have that right. As the proponent of the bill, and Co-Chair of the Basic Income Earth Network, BIEN, since 2004, I had been ready to go to Iraq to explain to their government and parliament how this instrument could contribute to the democratization and pacification of the Nation. Other economists and political thinkers such as Steve Clemons, Guy Standing, Steven Schafarmam and the ex-Governor of Alaska, Jay Hammond, had also made the same proposal.

As a result, last April I received an official invitation from the President of the Iraqi National Assembly to visit Baghdad. I considered going in April and later in July. But the Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and his Executive Secretary, Ambassador Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães made an appeal to me to postpone my trip because it would be too risky. If something happened to me it would cause a serious problem for the Brazilian government. Even in the so-called “Green Area” of Baghdad, under control of state-of-the-art security forces, the situation was not considered to be safe. In fact, on the same day of their recommendation, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, was forcefully shaken by an explosion that took place 50 meters away from him, which killed several people in that building, also inside the Green Area. I agreed that I should go when conditions of security would be improved.

Last October, the Brazilian Ambassador to Iraq, Bernardo de Azevedo Brito, -who, for security concerns, works out of A’mman, Jordan- told me that he just returned from a three-day trip to Baghdad, and that the overall situation had improved significantly. Therefore he was ready to accompany me for an official visit to Iraq for three days in January 2008. I would have the support of the Brazilian government who would secure the services of a private British security firm from our arrival to Baghdad International Airport and throughout our whole stay, up to our departure back to A’mman.

I was convinced that this would be one of my most significant trips of my 66 year’s life. Of course my family, my colleagues at work, and friends were worried.  Yet I explained them that I was so convinced that Iraq could effectively implement a Citizen’s Basic Income unconditionally to all 30 million inhabitants in order to pacify this nation after so many years of wars, violence and deaths, that it would be worthwhile embracing the challenge and being there. I felt honored by the invitation made by the Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, Mahmoud Dawud al-Mashhadani, – elected on April 22, 2006 to the speakership, receiving 159 votes against 97 spoilt and 10 abstentions as part of the Sunni Arab-led Iraqi Accord Front list-, to enlighten to them how they have all the conditions to introduce this instrument of economic policy.

Two of my countrymen were on the same trip since Brazil: Nawfal Assa Mossa Alssabak, vice-president of the Brazil-Iraq Chamber of Commerce and Industry, born in Iraq but since the early eighties living in Brazil, where he got married and has 3 sons and one daughter, who served as an interpreter in several occasions, and Sergio Kalili, an independent journalist who filmed 7 hours worth of all the important events of the trip. From A’mman to Baghdad, the Brazilian Ambassador was also accompanied by two members of the Brazilian Embassy’s staff, Safana Sallooum and Valdir Guimarães. As soon as we arrived in the airport of Baghdad at around 10 am of January 16, we were surrounded by six security people with semi-automatic machine guns who were to guide us, attentively screening throughout all taking place in the big airport hall. We were instructed to wear a 15-kg flak jacket and a helmet, to yield us on the way from the airport until Baghdad’s green zone. I had earlier granted the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that I would not venture outside the agreed-on Green Area. Once there, we were all accommodated at the security company’s compound. Each very basic dormitory was protected from potential mortar fire by piled-up sandbags sitting by the windows as well as above the roof. After leaving our reduced luggage there, we embarked straight into a very efficient and productive agenda of meetings.

One thing impressed very much during this visit.  Mr. Alssabak, member of the Brazil-Iraq Chamber of Commerce and Industry, had been born in Baghdad, was raised and came of age in the city, and was returning for the first time to his hometown after so many years living abroad.  Despite well-traveled and versed in so many cities in Europe, the US, and Latin America, he earlier had confessed to me that he still considered Baghdad the most beautiful capital in the world.  Now, his disappointment was blatant in his face.  He could no longer recognize his surroundings: in every avenue and street (especially in the Green Area which I saw, but from what I heard a scene that repeats itself in many parts of Baghdad) there are concrete walls of about 3-5 meters height, sometimes crowned with barbwire, shouldering both sides of many avenues. It is impossible from the road to actually see the buildings behind the walls, and upon arrival to a building, there is always a large steel door, which opens regrettably to the presence of security guards, especially when those buildings pertain to official activities.  I understood that as a sign of how divided Iraq is today.  What came to my mind is that in a such separated society, the Iraqis are having to spend so much money to build walls and security instruments that for sure won’t be of any need when the principle of justice and solidarity would become a reality in this nation.

The first meeting was with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, a Swedish-Italian who is the successor of Sergio Vieira de Mello. I told him that just before I left São Paulo, Carolina Larriera, Sergio’s widow who was in the Canal Hotel working at the UN headquarters a few meters from him on August 19, 2003 when a truck exploded with a bomb that killed him, told me that she was very moved in knowing that someone was continuing to defend the proposal that he had embraced. She had asked me to take a small bag of Brazilian soil to sprinkle in the Canal Hotel were he died. Regrettably, this was outside the Green Area. De Mistura told us about how much all the UN staff admired so much Sergio’s efforts for peace. He took us to the tribute plaque set-up in his memory. There I left a copy of my book: The Citizen’s Basic Income. The Answer is Blowin’ the Wind (L&PM 2006). To all Irakian authorities that I met in this travel I gave a copy of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars English publication (March 2007) of this book, as well as its translation into Arab made by Mr. Walthik Hindo, of the Brazil-Iraq Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to whom I am grateful.

The second meeting was with the President of the Consulting Commission to the Prime Minister, Thamir A. Ghadhban, who was also ex-Minister of Oil. I explained to him how Iraq could follow Alaska’s example in conditions even better than Brazil’s who had recently approved a Law to implement an incremental Citizen’s Basic Income. He gave me even more reasons. He stated that Iraq had surpassed Saudi Arabia and is now the first country in the world in terms of known oil reserves. From the top 12 places in the world where higher quantities of oil are found, 9 are in Iraq, he emphasized.

The third meeting was with the Minister of Planning, Ali Ghalib Baban, a key man in elaborating policies for the future, according to Ambassador Brito. In our one-hour conversation, I explained about the rationality of an unconditional basic income, its fundamentals and how economists, philosophers and social scientists in a very wide spectrum today are in favor of it, as well about how Alaska had decided to separate 50% of the royalties coming out of the exploitation of natural resources to build a fund that pertain to all inhabitants. Since the early eighties those resources have been applied in US bonds, stocks of Alaskan, other American, and international companies, and real state investments. The Alaska Permanent Fund has evolved in value since then from US$ 1 billion to around US$ 40 billion today. Each resident in Alaska, as long as he or she is living there for a year or more – today they are around 700 thousand – has the right to receive an equal dividend, which has evolved from around US$ 300, in the early eighties, to US$ 1,654 per year per capita in 2007. This system has made Alaska the most equal of all 50 American States. In 1976, when Alaska had 300 thousand inhabitants, 76,000 voted “yes” and 38 thousand voted “no”, in a referendum about the idea. Today, as I could personally observe in 1995- when I visited Alaska for 7 days – and from what Professor Scott Goldsmith, from the University of Alaska, observed in his speech to the BIEN Conference in 2002, it would be considered political suicide for any leader in that US state to propose the end of the Alaska Permanent Dividend System.

Minister Baban mentioned that they are now examining the several experiences in all major oil producing countries. They are looking at how they use the proceeds of oil and discussing the matter within the government and the parliament. Due to the serious destruction of the infrastructure, including extracting oil, they decided first to use much of the resources on the rebuilding of what was destroyed by the war. I emphasized in all of the meetings that we Brazilians, Iraqis and people from the developing world must be aware of the effects of the several kinds of income transfers – such as the Earned Income Tax Credit in the US or the Family Tax Credit in the UK – that exist in the developed world that make their economies more competitive than ours if we don’t do the same or even better. I tried to show that an even better tool for this purpose is the unconditional basic income.

The Minister of Planning also mentioned that he was very fond of the micro credit experience of Professor Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and that the Iraqi government was expanding the micro credit operations. I told him of my interaction with Professor Yunus during 2007. First, in Germany, last June, when we both were invited by Professor Gotz W. Werner for a Conference at the University of Karlsruhe on “Micro Credit and Basic Income as instruments to eradicate absolute poverty and to promote entrepreneurship”; second in my visit to Dacca, last July; and third, in November, in Yunus’ visit to Florianópolis, Brazil. On those occasions, I have explained him my strong belief on how both instruments, Micro Credit and Basic Income, can be well harmonized to attain the objectives of promoting development together with the practice of justice.

From the information that we gathered, Ambassador Bernardo de Azevedo Brito told me that I was visiting Iraq at the appropriate time for the purpose of presenting the proposal of what to do with the proceeds of the oil and natural resources, since they were exactly in the process of examining different alternatives in order to decide which will be the best one. We have learned that in the past twenty years Iraq has developed a Public Distribution System that has a universal character. Several kinds of basic items, including food and domestic needs, are distributed “in-kind” by the State through a net of hundreds of trucks and stores all over Iraq. After 2003, they have considered the distribution in monetary terms, but until now the banking system is still not sufficiently mature or developed to allow for this alternative.

Our next appointment was one of the most meaningful and very special. The ex-Prime Minister and leader of the main coalition in the Iraq Council of Representatives, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, received us for a conference and a dinner at his residence in the Green Area. I was quite surprised because I had no idea of what would happen. He came to the main door exactly at 19:30 pm to receive us and conducted us to the main hall where more than 40 authorities were already waiting for the conference. He introduced me to each one of five ministers of the present government, the President of the High Court of Justice, several ministers of the previous government of which he was the Prime Minister, including the Minister of Justice, his own previous Deputy in Chief, and about 30 members of the Council of Representatives, both men and women. Then he spoke for about 25 minutes in Arab translated into Portuguese by Mr. Alssabak about the importance to Iraq of my visit and the proposal that I was going to present. Then I had the word for about 50 minutes, which were sufficient to explain the fundamentals of the basic income idea, its evolution along the history of mankind and the advantages that the proposal could have for promoting a sense of solidarity among all Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, Jews and other society groups.

I emphasized that the basic income was consistent with the Qur’an and the writings of its followers, and that the teachings of the principles of justice and equality in Islam are similar to those of Christianity. In the Book of Hadith, Omar, the second of the four caliphs that followed Muhammad, recommended to the citizens with large properties or gains that they should reserve a portion to those with less or nothing. The roots of the idea can be found in ancient history. Writing in the six century before Christ, Confucius observed that “uncertainty is even worse than poverty”. And “can anyone go out from his home except through the door?”. In fact, when we study the rationality of the Citizen’s Basic Income we conclude that it is such a common sense solution as going out from one’s home through the door.

I also reminded of Aristotle’s definition of Politics as the science of to attain the common good. In order to establish a fair life to all the people we need political justice, which must be preceded by distributive justice, making more equal those that are so unequal. Karl Marx presented similar ideas when he wrote of man’s mature form of behavior in society: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. The same principle can be found in the most frequently quoted word in the Old Testament of the Bible, “Tzedakah” in Hebrew, that means social justice, or justice in society. A clear defense of the basic income project was made by Saint Paul in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in the New Testament: he recommended that the Macedonians follow the example of Jesus, who had decided to join the poor and live among them. As it is written, in order to have justice and equality: “He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack”. The defense of a minimum income is also clearly defended by Buddhism, as we can see in the assertions of the Dalai Lama in Ethics for the New Millennium: “If one accepts the luxurious consumption of the very rich, it is first necessary to ensure the survival of all humanity.”

I spoke about the main thinkers in History that developed the proposal of a guaranteed minimum income such as Thomas More, Juan Louis Vives, Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell and the most wide spectrum of economists like Joseph Charlier, Dennis and Mabel Milner, Joan Robinson, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Von Hayek, James Edward Meade, George Stigler, Milton Friedman, James Tobin, Robert Theobald, John Kenneth, until the founders of BIEN such as Philippe Van Parijs, Guy Standing and Claus Offe that could be invited to speak to the Iraqis about how the Basic Income would help a society to provide dignity and freedom for all.

I explained how in Brazil a Guaranteed Minimum Income Program related to educational and health opportunities, the Bolsa-Família Program and other government initiatives, such as the Bolsa Escola, which preceded it were developed since the mid-nineties. Today around 45 million Brazilians, or one fourth of the 189 million inhabitants, are beneficiaries of the Bolsa Família Program that has been recognized as quite efficient in the fight against poverty and promoting equity. Then I announced the good news that the Brazilian National Congress became the first in the world to approve a law that, although gradually, will introduce an unconditional basic income.

I underlined that the Iraqis love soccer and that they have great admiration for the Brazilian players. I told that I had recently read in the Brazilian Press the interview of the Brazilian soccer coach, Jorvan Vieira, of the National soccer team of Iraq that was responsible for the Championship of the Asian Games. He said that in the beginning it was difficult for the Shiites to pass the ball to the Sunnis, then to the Kurds and so on. But once he managed to harmonize the team they were able to become the champions. When I was leaving Brazil for Iraq I asked Pelé whether he would sign two T-shirts: one of Santos Football Club and the other of the Brazilian National Team, respectively with the messages: To Iraq, all the best, Pelé; and I wish peace to Iraq, Pelé. So I gave the first one to al-Jaafari together with the DVD Eternal Pelé about his history and his best games.

They were all very enthusiastic both about the proposal and the idea that soccer can bring people together. The women who are members of the Council of Representatives asked me to present in a more complete form the Citizen’s Basic Income to the Commission of Human Rights on Friday, January 18. They would especially like to discuss the proposal from the point of view of women. I immediately accepted to do it in the first available hour, 9 am of our third programmed day. After my presentation, partly in Portuguese, translated into Arab, partly in English, (since many of them understood English, we moved to the large table with available seats for more than 40 people to have an Arab dinner. During the informal conversation I had the opportunity to learn more about Iraq and to answer questions about the viability of the basic income.

After the dinner, around midnight, we had the news that due to the religious festivities of the next two days, the Ashura, -when more than 10 million Iraqis all over the country go out to the streets- there would be a curfew. During the 18th and 19th of January it would be impossible for us to move from the compound and nobody would be able to go from their residence to meet us. We would only be able to fly again out of Baghdad on Sunday, January 20. I wanted very much to stay until Sunday, but Ambassador Bernardo de Azevedo Brito explained to me that it would cost a lot more and it wouldn’t be productive. Therefore we wouldn’t be able to do some of the already set meetings as the conversation with the Catholic Cardinal Emmanuel Delly III, nominated by Pope Bento XVI in 2007; with the President of the Economic, Investment and Reconstruction Commission of the Council of Representatives, Yonadam Kanna and his colleagues; with the Commission of Human Rights and with the Dean of the University of Baghdad, Mousa al-Musawi and his colleagues. Since we were reducing by one day the previously planned three-day-visit, the security company reduced part of what would be the cost of the third day. The costs of my trip were paid by the Council of Representatives of Iraq, although advanced by the Brazil-Chamber of Commerce and Industry. There were no expenses paid by the Brazilian Senate.

On January 17 we were received at the residence of the Speaker of the Council of Representatives, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. Unlike the custom of receiving in formal attire authorities in the Council of Representatives, at home he was dressed with the Arabic traditional attire. He said that normally during the past two years he received authorities in his office in the Parliament. At home he receives only his family and close friends. In my case, however, he was receiving me at home because I came from a very friendly country, Brazil, that is an example for Iraq of how people from so many different origins were able to live in harmony and because we were able to have a peaceful democratization of the political system. Also, he added, because I had come to Baghdad to explain a relevant proposal to the benefit of Iraq knowing that there were some risks involved in that trip. Therefore he was receiving me as a true friend of Iraq.

I gave to him the Brazilian National soccer team shirt with Pelé’s message, I wish peace to Iraq, as well as the Pelé Eterno DVD, produced by Anibal Massaini, for the Iraqis to learn how to play even better. Again I made the parallel between how important for the players of the team to harmonize their behavior with how a basic income could help all the people to have a sense of living with solidarity based on the applications of the principles of justice with the existence of an unconditional basic income.

But would the Basic Income be paid to all citizens? Including President al-Mashhadani in Iraq, Pelé, Senator Suplicy and the most successful entrepreneurs both in Iraq as well in Brazil? Yes, I explained. But why, he continued, if we don’t need it for our survival? Because we will contribute relatively more for ourselves and for everybody else in society to receive the Citizen’s Basic Income.

Which are the advantages? We will eliminate all the bureaucracy involved in having to know how much is earning in the formal, as well in the informal market; we will eliminate the stigma or feeling of shame of anyone having to say: I receive only that, so I need a complement of income; we will also eliminate the dependency phenomena that results from a system that says that one will receive a complement of income if his or her income doesn’t attain a certain level. Then the person evaluates that if he or she starts some work and looses what the government was giving in that program, then the person might decide not to work anymore, and you produce the unemployment or poverty traps. Mainly, from the point of view of dignity and freedom of anyone it will much better to know beforehand that in the next period and more and more, with the progress of the nation, you and all members of your family will have the right to receive a Basic Income as a citizen’s right to participate in the wealth of the nation. Once more, I tried to explain how Iraq was in an excellent position to follow the example of Alaska of using the proceeds of oil exploitation to build a fund that would pertain to all 30 million Iraqis and more in the future.

In the final part of our friendly conversation, I told President al-Mashhadani about my speech from the Brazilian Senate tribune on September 2002, when the US Government was considering to attack Iraq to put an end to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Taking into account the popular movements for peaceful actions all over the world I started my speech quoting The Bomb, a beautiful poem by our great poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade in which after speaking about the horrors of the war he concludes saying of his hope that finally man will destroy the bomb. Then, I asked President George W. Bush to pay attention to the recommendations of Martin Luther King Jr. in his I Have a Dream speech of 1963, where he recommended his people not to accept to drink the tea of gradualism of those who say that things will become better with time, because if we don’t do the necessary changes, as soon as possible, America would live another sweltering Summer. But he also said that we should never drink from the cup of violence, hate, vengeance and war; that we should always confront physical force with the force of the soul.

President Bush didn’t listen to my appeal, although I had argued that we Brazilians had shown that we were able to finish a dictatorship through peaceful demonstrations. I could feel that he was really moved. He told me that the Iraqis want very much the American and foreign occupation to finish very soon. He said very assertively that the Council of Representatives, where there are many young people, will approve a proposal of a Basic Income, and that he wanted me to return again to Iraq to help in this process. He asked me to tell the family of Sergio Vieira de Mello that the Iraqi people feel that they are in debt with this Brazilian that lost his life when helping to pacify Iraq. That they have great respect and admiration for him and that soon there will be a special homage by Iraq for Sergio.

Our last meeting was with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hoshyar Zebari, as well with the Vice-Chancellor Labeed M. Abbawi. They mentioned how happy they were to receive a Brazilian Senator and that they want very much to increase Iraqi-Brazilian relations in all fields. In fact, the Minister of Commerce of Iraq is expected to visit Brazil soon.

Ambassador Bernardo de Azevedo Brito told me the he considered our journey very productive, in spite of becoming shorter than initially planned. He is continuing to work on the matter of our conversations with the Iraqi authorities. The President of the Economic, Investment and Reconstruction Commission, Yonadam Kannan visited him in A’mman in the following week.. The President and the Vice President of the Iraq-Brazil Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Jalal Jamel Dawood Chaya and Nawfal Assa Mossa Alssabak considered the trip “a great success, with an excellent repercussion all over in Iraq with the real interest of the several parts in approximating both countries”, as expressed in the attached letter of January 30, 2008.

Near us we did not see any menace or sign of violence during the time we were in Bagdad. Anyway it is relevant to mention that the Iraqian press registered on the 18th of January that one day before the reception at Mr. Al-Jaafari’s residence two mortars fell at a 1km distance from the place. Also, in the following week, unfortunately, due to suicide women, two bombs exploded at one popular market in Bagdah killing 73 persons and injuring more than 100 people. I have heard from the Irakians that in general those that are responsible for these violent attacks know exactly who they are trying to hurt and that they are very precise. I might have been somehow optimistic, but I was sure of not being the target of any kind of violence since the motive of this trip was exactly to propose an instrument that may contribute to more justice in that nation.

An Invitation to Present the Basic Income to East Timor
A few days after my return to Brazil, Carolina Larriera invited me for a reception in Rio de Janeiro for the 1966 Nobel Peace Prize, President of East Timor. On the occasion he gave his testimony about Sérgio Vieira de Mello contribution for peace during the transition period between Independence, the election of the Constitutional Assembly and the elections in this new Nation born in 2002 and about his own efforts to normalize de political situation in East Timor after the turmoil period of 2006 when episodes of violence occurred. I explained to him about my trip to Irak. He invited me for breakfast on the next morning.

For almost one hour I explained to him what the Citizen’s Basic Income was. That a new nation like East Timor with 1.1 million inhabitants that is now having a monthly revenue of around US$ 100 million from oil and gas exploitation may also build a fund that, with time, starting modestly, will be able to pay a basic income to all the people. He classified the idea as fascinating and said that he would like me to be in East Timor to explain it to the Prime Minister Cabinet as well as to the Parliament. On the next day, January 30, just before leaving Brazil back to East Timor, he called me confirming the invitation saying that the best hour would be at the end of March during a meeting in Dili with representatives of all donor countries. I said that I was honored by the invitation and would be happy to accept it.

Unfortunately, on February 10, President José Ramos Horta was victim of a violent attempt. As I write this article he is recovering from a very serious surgery that extracted from his stomach and lung two bullets. Here I express my deep solidarity for his family and the people of East Timor, wishing and praying for his prompt recovery. For example: please note how long it takes for me to explain the Bolsa Familia Program that exists in Brazil since October 2003, considering the values in effect since September 2009. Every family in Brazil with a monthly income per capita below R$ 140 has the right to receive a benefit that starts with the monthly amount of R$ 68, if this family has a monthly family income per capita below R$ 70. (In April, 24, 2010, US$ 1.00 was equal to R$ 1.76). This family also has the right to receive R$ 22, R$ 44 or R$ 66, if the family has, respectively, one, two, three or more children up to 16 years of age, more R$ 33 for each adolescent, from16 to 18 years of age, up to a maximum of two. So, the Bolsa Familia Program pays a minimum of R$ 22 and a maximum of R$ 200 per month. The average amount of the benefit is R$ 95 per family. The expenditure with the Bolsa Familia Program for 2009 was R$ 12.1 billion. The budget estimated for 2010 is of R$ 13.6 billion.

The average size of the Brazilian family is 3,5 persons. It is a little higher, around 4, for the families that are beneficiaries of the program. There are obligations to be fulfilled. If the mother is pregnant, she should go to the public health network – a health post or the municipality hospital – for exams and health conditions follow-up. Parents should take their children up to six years of age to be vaccinated according to the calendar of the Ministry of Health. The children from 7 to 16 years of age should go to school, with at least 85% attendance. The adolescents from 16 to 18 years of age should attend school, with at least 75% attendance.

Now let me explain the Basic Income. Let us suppose that, starting from next January the government announces that the Citizen´s Basic Income will be launched, even with a modest amount, higher than what is paid to the people granted with the Bolsa Familia Program. So the government would declare: Starting from next January, everyone in Brazil, including the foreigners living here for more than five years, regardless his/her social or economic condition, will receive R$ 40 per month. In a family with six members, the total will be R$ 240. With the progress of the country, this amount will be raised, we shall say to R$ 100, someday to R$ 500, R$ 1,000 and so on. It will not be denied to anybody. It will be unconditional. Isn’t it much easier to understand?

And which are the other advantages in paying the same amount to everyone? First, the elimination of all bureaucracy involved in knowing each person’s income in formal or informal market. That is, in the working card of the worker, public servant or in the payment made to anyone in any activity. Or in not registered payment, as those paid to people who take care of cars in the streets, to a neighbor who does your laundry or takes care of your children, while you go to work, or to the market or to street vendors. Elimination of any stigma or shame for a person to reveal: I earn only this much, so I need a complement of income for my survival. Elimination of the dependency phenomenon that occurs when there are programs that say: if a person does not receive up to that amount, he or she has the right to receive a complement of income. But if the person receives such a sum for the job and then the government cancels that much from him from that program then the person might decide not to do that job. And so he or she gets into the unemployment or the poverty trap. If all of us, meanwhile, know that from now on, everyone and all the members of our families have the right to a Citizen’s Basic Income, any work that we do will mean an addition to our income. Thus, there will be always an incentive for progress.

The most important advantage of the Citizen’s Basic Income is that it raises everyone’s level of dignity and freedom. In the sense that the Nobel Prize Winner Amartya Sen says, in “Development as Freedom”, that development, to be worthwhile, should mean higher degree of freedom for everyone in the society. It is the case, for example, of a girl who does not have another alternative for her survival than selling her body. Or a young man who, to support himself and his family is forced to work for the drug traffic gangs. Or even a rural worker who can only get jobs in slavery conditions. If there is a Citizen’s Basic Income in effect for these people and for everybody in their families, they can certainly refuse those alternatives, and wait a little while until an opportunity comes more in accordance with their propensity or vocation. They might even attend a professional course and get better chances to find an opportunity.

Some of you could think: would the Basic Income stimulate idleness? What should we do with those who have a strong tendency to vagrancy? Are there really a lot of them? Let us think a little bit. We, human beings, love to do a lot of things. And we feel responsible for doing different activities, even without being paid by the market. For example, mothers who breastfeed their children with lots of love; us, parents, when we take care of our children, to be well nourished, not to be hurt, and to grow up well; when our parents or grandparents need our support; in the local organizations, churches, academic associations where many of us have done voluntary works, because we feel helpful to the community. When the great painters, Vincent Van Gogh and Amedeo Modigliani painted their works, they went to the streets, trying to sell them for their survival, without any success. Both of them became ill and died early. Today their works are worth millions of dollars.

Furthermore, our Constitution assures the right to private property. That means that the owners of factories, farms, hotels, restaurants, banks, real estate and financial bonds have the right to receive the capital revenues, that is, the profits, rentals and interests. Do the Brazilian laws or of most other countries mention that to receive those revenues, the capital owners must demonstrate that they are working? No, and they usually work, and many of them also dedicate a good part of their time in voluntary works. Do they need to demonstrate that their children are going to school? No. Nevertheless, their children usually attend the best schools.

So, if we assure to those who have more resources the right to receive their revenues without conditions, why not extending to everyone, rich and poor, the right to participate in the nation’s wealth as our right for being Brazilians? Let’s consider certain aspects of our history. For more than three centuries, people were pulled away from Africa to come and work as slaves in Brazil, helping to accumulate capital of many families. Or, as President Lula has said, it seems that God is Brazilian, helping Petrobras to find oil reserves at the pre-salt layer in the depth of the Atlantic Ocean. Do you consider a good idea that all the Brazilians should participate in this wealth through a modest income that allows their survival, the same amount for everyone, as a citizen’s right?

It is a good sense proposal. Its bases were elaborated along the history of the human being and they are present in all the religions and in the thinking of a large spectrum of great philosophers, economists and thinkers. When you left your home today, did you pass through the window or any other way? Through the door? Well, as Confucius Said, 520 years before Christ that “uncertainty is even worse than poverty” and that “can anyone leave his home except through the door?” We want to demonstrate that, if we want to eliminate absolute poverty, becoming a more equal and fair society and assuring dignity and real freedom to everyone in the society, instituting the Citizen’s Basic Income is a solution as simple as leaving home through the door.

300 years before Christ, in the book “Politics” philosopher Aristotle taught that politics is the science that shows how to reach a fair life for everyone – the common good. For this, it is necessary political justice, which must be preceded by distributive justice that makes more equal those who are so unequal.

Which is the most cited Hebraic word in the Holy Bible, 513 times in the Old Testament? It is Tzedaka, which means social justice, justice in the society, which was the great longing of the Jewish people, as well as the Palestine people. In the New Testament, in the Acts of Apostles, we observe that they decided to join all their possessions, to live in solidarity, so as to provide to each one according to his/her needs. In Jesus’ parables, like in the Vineyard Landlord, we find similar principles. He hired several workers along the day. With each one he agreed what both considered fair. At the end of the journey he began to pay, starting with the last ones that had arrived, giving to everyone the same amount. When he reached the first peasant this one complained; you are paying the same to me as the last one that arrived here and I worked much more than he did. And the vineyard landlord answered; so, didn’t you realize that I’m paying exactly what we both considered fair, and that the last one that arrived here also has the right to receive enough for the needs of his family? In the Second Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, he recommends everybody to follow Jesus’ example. Despite being very mighty he had decided to join the poor people and to live among them. As it is written, in order to have justice and equality: “He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack”.

Also the followers of Muhammad, the Qurán and the Islamism, in this aspect, adopt the similar principles. In the Hadith Book, the second of the four caliphs, Omar, said: Everyone that had big properties should separate a part for the ones who had little or nothing. In Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, in “Ethics for the New Millennium”, affirms that if we accept the luxurious consumption of the very rich we should ensure before the survival of all humanity.

If we advance in the History, in the beginning of the XVI Century, we will find the teachings of a great humanist, Thomas More. In 1516, he wrote a very nice book, “Utopia”, a place where everything works well. The story contains a dialog about capital punishment that, after being introduced in England, did not contribute to the reduction of violent crimes. So, the character commented that much better than inflicting these horrible punishments to whom does not have another alternative of becoming first a thief and then a corpse, is to assure everyone’s survival. Based on this reflection, a friend of Thomas More, Juan Luis Vives, wrote to the mayor of the Flemish city Bruges, a subvention treaty for the poor in which, for the first time, he proposed the guarantee of a minimum income.

Two centuries later, Thomas Paine, considered one of the greatest ideologues of the French and American revolutions, explained to the National Assembly of France, in 1795, in “Agrarian Justice”, that poverty is originated by civilization and private property. In America, where he had been before the independence, he didn’t see such deprivation and poverty as in the European villages and cities. But he considered a good sense that the person who cultivates the land and makes some improvement should have the right to receive the outcome of that cultivation. However, he should separate a part of this revenue to a fund that belongs to all. This fund, once accumulated should pay a basic capital and income to each resident in this country, not as a charity, but as a right of everyone to participate in the wealth of the nation that was taken away when private property was instituted. This was a proposal for all countries.

Another Englishman, an elementary school teacher, Thomas Spence, in a pamphlet published in London under the title “The Rights of Infants“(1797), proposed that each city should have auctions to cover all public expenditures including the building and the maintenance of real estate, as well as taxes paid to the government, that will distribute quarterly equal parts of the surplus among all residents ensuring their subsistence.

In 1848, Joseph Charlier, in “Solution du problème social”, stated that everybody has the right to enjoy the usufruct of natural resources created by the Providence to meet all their needs. In “Principles of Political Economy” (1848), the English economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill defended that a minimum for survival should be assured to everyone with or without capacity to work.

In the XX century, philosophers and economists of several tendencies, after examining several ideologies and proposals, reached for a common conclusion, as expressed by Bertrand Russel, in 1918, in “Roads to Freedom: socialism, anarchism and syndicalism”:

The plan we are advocating amounts essentially to this: that a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries, should be secured to all, whether they work or not, and that a larger income, as much larger as might be warranted by the total amount of commodities produced, should be given to those who are willing to engage in some work which the community recognizes as useful.

In 1920, in “Scheme for a State Bonus”, the couple Dennis e Mabel Milner proposed that: All individuals, all the time, should receive a small sum of money from a central fund that would be sufficient to maintain their life and freedom, should all else fail; that all people should receive a part of a central fund, in a way that all would have some sort of income to contribute proportionality to their capacity.

In 1937, the great economist Joan Robinson in “Introduction to the Theory of Full Employment”, suggested distributing to everybody on Saturdays, one pound sterling. Her fellow at the University of Cambridge, in England, who also had acquaintanceship with John Maynard Keynes and that, in 1977, was honored with the Nobel Prize in Economics, James Edward Meade, was one of the defenders of Citizen´s Income. Since when he elaborated the “A Guide of Economic Policy for a Labor Government”, in 1935, until the works in more matured way in his trilogy about Agathotopia, in 1989, 1992 e 1995, he developed a beautiful argumentation.

Meade related his long journey in search of Utopia. No matter how much he sailed, he did not succeed in finding it. On the way back, however, he came across Agathotopia. An economist, who became his friend told him the Agathopians knew where Utopia was, but they would not tell him because they were different from the Utopians, perfect human beings who lived in a perfect place. The Agathopians were imperfect human beings that committed foolishness and perfidies, but that after all, had succeeded in building a good place to live.

Meade observed that in Agathotopia they had built institutions and social arrangements that were the best to attain simultaneously the objectives of freedom, in the sense that each one is able to work in his/her vocation and is able to spend what he/she receives on the goods that he/she wants; equality, in the sense that there are no great differences between income and wealth; and efficiency, in the sense to reach the highest possible life pattern with the resources and the technology in effect.

And what were the arrangements? Flexibility in prices and wages to reach the efficiency in resource allocation: forms of association between the entrepreneurs and the workers so that the workers were hired not only for wages, but also for output participation; and finally, a social dividend that provides a guaranteed income for everyone. Meade proposed the achievement of these objectives by stages, but with firm steps.

The greatest economist of the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes, in 1939, in “How to Pay for the War?”, published in “The Times”, tried to convince his compatriots, before entering into the war, that they should get ready for the defense, and also, to separate around 2% of the Gross National Product, thus 100 million sterling pounds from a total of 5 billion to ensure everyone a basic income.

Abba Lerner, who worked with Oskar Lange in “On the Economic Theory of Market Socialism”, in 1944, published “The Economics of Control: Principles of Welfare Economics”, containing the proposition of institution of a fixed sum as a negative income tax for everybody.

Other economists honored with the Nobel Prize in Economics, defenders of the market system, argued in favor of the guaranteed minimum income for those who do not have the necessary for survival. So did Friedrick Hayek, in “The Road to Serfdom”, in 1944. George Stigler, in “The Economics of Minimum Wage Legislation”, in American Economic Review, 36, of 1946, observed that if we want to eradicate absolute poverty and promote employment, better than a minimum wage, should be the institution of a negative income tax, which should provide a minimum income to those who do not reach the necessary with his/her income. The same subject, was popularized in a very didactic way by Milton Friedman, in “Capitalism and Freedom”, in 1992. Also the Nobel Prize James Tobin made a great effort in the elaboration and defense of a guaranteed minimum income through a negative income tax during the sixties and seventies. James Tobin in many aspects was different than Friedman, because he was a defender of the Keynes propositions. In 1972, James Tobin helped the democrat candidate George Mc Govern in the elaboration of the proposition of one “Demogrant” of US$ 1.000 per year for all Americans, exactly the concept of a basic income.

James Tobin, Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith, Robert Lampman, Harold Watts and 1200 economists, in 1968, sent a manifest to the U.S. Congress in favor of the adoption of a complement and guaranteed income. In 1969, President Richard Nixon invited Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an architect of social programs of the governments of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, to design the Family Assistance Plan, which institutes the guaranteed minimum income through a negative income tax. It was approved by the House of Representatives, but obstructed by the Senate. On that time, one who made a great effort in the defense of a guaranteed income was Martin Luther King Jr, as we can observe in his several essays in “Where Do We Go From Here: Caos or Community?”, of 1997, where he affirms, “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective – the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income”.

In 2005, while I was in USA, I called on ex-Senator Mc Govern, who had lost the presidential elections for Richard Nixon, in 1972, to tell him that Brazil had approved the institution of the Citizen’s Basic Income, a similar concept to what he defended in 1972. He was very happy and told me, “People say that I was a man with ideas before my time”.

In 1974, the US Congress approved a proposal of a partial negative income tax, only for those who work and do not reach a certain level of income, under the name of Earned Income Tax Credit, which had an important development. Today more than 23 million families receive this income complement that amount more than two thousand dollars per year in average. This scheme is added to the Aid for Families with Dependent Children, replaced in 1996, by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, to Unemployment Security, to Food Coupons, and to Social Security. In the last decades, almost all European countries created income guarantee and transference schemes, like the Minimum Income of Insertion, in France, Minimum Familiar Income, in Portugal, and child benefits in a very general way. In the Latin-American countries, conditional income transference schemes spread out, like Oportunidades in México, Chile Solidario, in Chile, Jefes and Jefas del Hogar, and more recently,Asignación Familiar, in Argentina, Avancemos in Costa Rica and Ingreso Ciudadano in Uruguai.

In 1986, in Louvain, Belgium, a group of social scientists, economists and philosophers, among them Philippe Van Parijs, Guy Standing, Claus Offe, Robert van der Veen, created BIEN, Basic Income European Network, to constitute a debate forum of forms of income transference in several countries, and to propose that in every country an Unconditional Basic Income should be instituted. Since then, every two years BIEN has held international congresses. In 2004, during the congress held in Barcelona, as there were researchers from the five continents, they decided to change BIEN into Basic Income Earth Network. During the 12th BIEN International Congress, in Dublin, in June 2008, a question was asked to us, Brazilians, whether we could host the next 13th BIEN International Congress. So it was defined that the 13th Congress will be held at the Faculdade de Economia, Administração e Contabilidade da Universidade de São Paulo, FEA-USP, in June 30th, July 1st and 2nd, 2010. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva accepted to deliver the inaugural speech of the event.

In the early sixties, in a fishermen’s village, the mayor observed that a huge amount of wealth under the form of fishing was produced, but many of its inhabitants were still poor. So he told its inhabitants about creating a tax of 3% on the value of fishing for the institution of a fund which belongs to everybody. He faced a great resistance: “Another tax? I´m against it”.

It took five years to persuade the community. Once instituted, it was so well succeeded, that ten years later he became the governor of the State of Alaska, where they discovered a large oil reserve in the late sixties. In 1976, Governor Jay Hammond told his 300 thousand co-citizens: “We should think not only about this current generation, but about the forthcoming one. Oil, like other natural resources is not renewable. So let us separate a part of the royalties originated from the natural resources for the constitution of a fund that shall belong to all residents in the state of Alaska. By 76 thousand votes for and 38 thousand opposed, 2X1, the proposal was approved. The law separates 25% of the revenue coming from the natural resources exploitation and invested in US bonds, Alaska´s companies stocks, contributing to diversify its economy, USA and international companies stocks, including some of the 30 most profitable companies from Brazil, like Petrobrás, Vale do Rio Doce, Itaú and Bradesco, which means we Brazilians are contributing to the success of this system, and real estate. The equity of the Alaska Permanent Fund increased from US$ 1 billion, in early eighties to US$ 40 billion recently. In 2009 it decreased because of the economic crisis, but is already in recovery.

Each person living for one year or more in Alaska could filled a one-page form, between January 1st to March 31th, that included his/her business and home address, if he/she lived there for one year or more, even if he/she had travelled, the number of people in the family up to 18 years of age, not being necessary to inform his/her income or possessions, a few more data and the witness of two persons about the veracity of the information. Who did that, since the early eighties, every year until the beginning of October, received in his bank account, by electronic transfer, or by a check sent to his house, first around US$ 300 and gradually more, up to US$ 2.069 per person in 2008. In 2009, the sum decreased to US$ 1305, because of the economic crisis that affected the economy and reduced the oil and stock prices in the New York Stock Exchange.

As shown by Professor Scott Goldsmith’s, of the University of Alaska, in Anchorage, in his paper presented in the IX BIEN International Congress, in 2002, in Geneve, the FPA has distributed around 6% of the Gross Domestic Product during the last 27 years to all its inhabitants – presently, there are about 700 thousand, among which 611 thousand complied with the requirements in 2008 – and has made Alaska the most equalitarian of the 50 American states. If in 1976 a referendum approved the proposal in the ratio of two to one, Goldsmith observes that, presently, proposing the end of the dividend system of the Permanent Fund of Alaska is political suicide for any leadership.

During the period 1989-99, while the per capita family income of the 20% richest families in USA increased 26%, the per capita income of the 20% poorest families increased 12%. In Alaska, due to the dividends paid equally to all its inhabitants, the increase of the per capita family income of the 20% richest families was 7%. The increase of the per capita family income of the 20% poorest families was 28%, thus 4 times more. This means that for the objective to reach a more fair society, the experience has been very successful. These results were shown by Scott Goldsmith in his lecture to the XI International Congress of BIEN, in Geneva, 2002. He mentioned that today it is political suicide for a political leader to propose the end of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend system.

In 1999, professors Bruce Ackerman and Ann Alstott, from the University of Yale, published the book “The Stakeholder Society”. Based on the proposal of Thomas Paine, they proposed that everyone in USA when turning 21 should have the right to receive a sum of US$ 80 thousand to start his/her adult life with the possibility to spend in anything that he/she wants, to conclude his/her studies, to start an enterprise or any other thing. One of his post-graduate students, member of the Fabian Society presented the idea to his personal friend, the former First Minister Tony Blair. When Blair announced that his wife Cherie was pregnant of their fourth son, Alexander, he said that from that time on every child born in England would receive a bank deposit when the child is born and completes 6, 11 and 16 years of age, respectively the amounts of 250, 50, 50 and 50 sterling pounds. If the child’s family had an annual familiar income below a certain level, near to 17 thousand sterling pounds, those amounts should be 500, 100, 100 and 100 pounds sterling respectively. As these deposits earn interests, when the person turns 18, he/she would have an amount near to 4 thousand or 5 thousand pounds sterling, as a right to participate in the wealth of the nation. Under the name of “Child Fund Trust”, this law was approved by the United Kingdom Parliament on May 13th, 2003. Finally, in his birthplace, the proposition of Thomas Paine, formulated in 1795, was applied, even modestly.

In Brazil, we could consider the institution of the Citizen’s Basic Income as consistent with the values defended by the indigenous living in community, by the fighting “quilombolas” and abolitionists for the slavery abolition and by all those researchers and scientists who fight for the creation of a fair nation in Brazil. Among those we can cite Caio Prado Junior, Milton Santos, Josué de Castro and Celso Furtado. In 1956, as the federal deputy of PTB, in a speech in the Chamber of Deputies about the income unevenness, the author of “Geografia da Fome” and “Geopolítica da Fome”(Hunger Geography and Hunger Geopolitics), Josué de Castro, affirmed:

I defend the need of giving the minimum to each one, according to the right that all Brazilians should have the minimum for their survival.

It was during the years of 1966-68, when I studied for my Master´s Degree in Economics at the Michigan State University, USA, that I came across with the concept of the income guarantee through the negative income tax. When I did my Doctorate in Economics at the MSU, with 15 months of studies at the University of Stanford, USA, I became more acquainted with the concept. When I went back to Brazil, I interacted with professor Antonio Maria da Silveira, who, in 1975, in Revista Brasileira de Economia, proposed the institution of negative income tax in Brazil in the article “Moeda e redistribuição de renda” (Currency and Income Redistribution).. When I was elected Senator by PT-SP, for the first time in 1990, I called Professor Antonio Maria to collaborate in the proposition of the Guaranteed Minimum Income Scheme, PGRM. Every adult person, of 25 years or more, who does not earn at least 45 thousand cruzeiros per month, should have the right to a complement of 30% to 50%, under the criterion of the Executive Power, of the difference between that level (in that time, about US$ 150 per month) and the income level of the person. The project was approved by the Federal Senate, by consensus of all parties, on December 16th, 1991. It went to the Chamber of Deputies, where, at the Committee of Finance and Taxation, received an enthusiastic written opinion from Deputy Germano Rigotto (PMDB-RS).

Then, the debate on the subject flourished in Brazil. In 1991, during a debate among approximately 50 economists with affinity to PT, held in Belo Horizonte, where, invited by Walter Barelli, Antonio Maria da Silveira and I presented the proposal of the PGRM. Professor José Márcio Camargo, from PUC-Rio de Janeiro, observed that the guarantee of a minimum income is a good step, but should be granted to needy families, with children in school age attending school regularly. So, they would not be forced to work early to help their family maintenance. He wrote two articles about the subject in the newspaper “Folha”, in December 3rd, 1991, and in March 10th, 1993. In 1986, Professor Cristóvam Buarque, from Universidade de Brasília, developed a similar proposal.

So in 1995, taking into consideration these thoughts, Mayor José Roberto Magalhães Teixeira (PSDB), in Campinas, and Governor Cristóvam Buarque (PT), in Distrito Federal, started their minimum income schemes associated to education opportunities, the Bolsa-Escola. Every family that, at that time did not receive up to half minimum wage monthly per capita, that is 70 reais, would have the right to receive the difference to complete the 70 reais per capita, in Campinas, or one minimum wage, in Distrito Federal. Those experiences spread out by several municipalities, such as Ribeirão Preto, Piracicaba, Jundiaí, São José dos Campos, Belo Horizonte, Belém, Mundo Novo etc.. In the National Congress, several bills of law were presented, requiring the support of the Federal Government for the municipalities that were going towards this direction.

In 1996, I took Professor Philippe Van Parijs, philosopher and economist who has defended very well the Citizen´s Basic Income, for an audience with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the Minister of Education, Paulo Renato Souza, attended also by Representative Nelson Marchezan, one of those proponents. Van Parijs expressed that unconditional basic income should be a better objective, but starting a minimum income guarantee associated with education opportunities was a good step, because it was related to human capital investment. It was then when President Fernando Henrique Cardoso gave the positive sign for the National Congress to approve the Law 9.533, of 1997. The law authorized the federal government to grant a financial support of 50% on the amount spent by the municipalities with minimum income associated to social and education actions schemes.

In March 2001, the National Congress approved and President Fernando Henrique Cardoso sanctioned a new law, of his initiative, Nr. 10219/2001, authorizing the federal government to celebrate agreements with the government of all Brazilian municipalities to adopt the minimum income associated to education al opportunities, or Bolsa Escola. The President gave the name José Roberto Magalhães Teixeira to the law, in homage to the Mayor of Campinas who had passed away. Later on, the government instituted the Bolsa-Alimentação and the Auxílio-Gás programs. In 2003, the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva instituted the Vale – Alimentação program.

In October 2003, the government of President Lula decided to unify and rationalize the several programs such as Bolsa Escola, Bolsa Alimentação, Cartão Alimentação and Auxílio Gás in the Bolsa Família Program, which had 3.5 million families registered in December 2003. The number increased to 6.5 million families in December 2004, 8.5 million families in December 2005 and 11 million families in December 2006, and 12.5 million families in December 2009.

The Bolsa Família Program, among other economic policy instruments, contributed for the reduction of absolute poverty and inequality degree in Brazil. According to the studies of IPEA, Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada number 30, PNAD 2008, First Analysis, of September 24th, 2009, the Gini coefficient of inequality of domestic income per capita, which reached 0.599; in 1995, 0.581, in 2003; decreased gradually every year, reaching 0.544 in 2008. The proportion of families under extremely poor line, with income per capita below R$ 93.75 which was 17.5% in 2003, decreased to 8.8% in 2008. The proportion of poor families, with income per capita below R$ 187.50, decreased from 39.4% in 2003, to 25.3%, in 2008.

This favorable result can also be shown by the following way. The 20% poorest families had an income per capita increase 47% faster than the income of the richest 20%. While in 2001, the average income of the 20% richest families was 27 times in relation to the 20% poorest families, in 2008 it was 19 times, a reduction of 30% in inequality in 7 years.

Brazil, despite the achieved progress, is still one of the countries more unequal in the world. While the poorest 40% live with 10% of the national income, the richest 10% live with more than 40%. The income appropriated by the 1% richest is the same as of the 45% poorest. The creation and expansion of the Bolsa Família Program, preceded by Bolsa Escola, Bolsa Alimentação and others, had positive effects. To advance towards a more efficient and direct eradication of the absolute poverty and greater equality and the guarantee of greater real freedom for all is the reason for the application of the Citizen´s Basic Income.

During the nineties, more and more I interacted with the researchers who founded BIEN, participating in the bi-annual congresses. I was convinced that better that an income guarantee through a negative income tax, or conditioned forms, should be an unconditional Basic Income for all the population. For this reason, in December 2001, I presented a new bill of law to the Senate for the institution of the Citizen´s Basic Income, CBI. The designed committee reporter, Senator Francelino Pereira (PFL-MG), after having studied the proposition, told me: Eduardo, it is a good Idea. But you have to make it compatible with the Fiscal Responsibility Law, where for each expenditure, it is necessary to have the correspondent revenue. Would you accept a paragraph saying that it will be instituted step by step, under the criterion of the Executive Power, starting with the most in need, as it is done by the Bolsa-Escola, and then the Bolsa Família Programs, until it is extended to everyone someday? I thought that it was a good sense, I remembered the recommendation of James Meade, and I accepted. Due to this aspect the bill of law was approved by consensus by all parties in the Senate, in December 2002, and in December 2003, by the Chamber of Deputies. In January 2004, the Minister of Finance, Antônio Palocci when consulted by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said that since it is to be instituted gradually, it was feasible, so he may sanction it. Therefore, on January 8th, 2004, the President sanctioned the Law 10.835/2004, creating CBI. On this day, he received the following message from economist Celso Furtado:

At this moment when Your Excellency sanctioned the Citizen’s Basic Income Law I want to express my conviction that, with this measure, our country puts itself in the vanguard of those that fight for the building of a more harmonious society. Brazil was frequently referred as one of the last countries to abolish slave labor. Now with this act which is a result of the principles of good citizenship and the wide social vision of Senator Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy, Brazil will be referred as the first that institutes an extensive system of solidarity and furthermore, it was approved by the representatives of its people

In the same way as the first minimum income associated to education programs started locally, in Campinas and in the Federal District, it is possible to start the Citizen’s Basic Income in communities or municipalities.

Among the developing countries, a significant experience started in Namíbia, in the village Otjivero/Omitara, 100 km from the capital Windhoek, in January 2008. All its 1000 inhabitants of this rural village, since then, started to receive 100 Namibia dollars, or about US$ 12, per month for each citizen. The initiative was taken by the Coalition in Favor of Basic Income of Namibia, which has one of its enthusiasts, Bishop Zephaniah Kameeta, from the Lutheran Church, and who collected voluntary contributions from several sources, including from the Workers Union in the Federal Republic of German, to get the necessary fund. The magazine Der Spiegel of August 2009, published an extensive report about “How A Basic Income Scheme Saved a Namibian Village”, where it stressed lots of positive effects of the experience. The economic activity improved, lots of micro entrepreneurial initiatives started, absolute poverty diminished, the frequency of children in schools increased, the nutrition degree improved, the self esteem of the people increased, and there was a great interest of the society in the pioneer experience.

In Brasil, Recivitas – Instituto pela Revitalização da Cidadania, after having created in Vila de Paranapiacaba, on Serra de Mar, with 1.200 inhabitants, a Free Library and a Free Toy Center, so that people could have access to books and toys for their usufruct, decided to propose to its inhabitants the creation of the Citizen’s Basic Income. The President, Bruna Augusto Pereira and the coordinator Marcus Brancaglione dos Santos are waiting for the steps of the Mayor of Santo André, where the village is located, to carry on the project. While waiting, they started a pioneer experience in the village Quatinga Velha, in Mogi das Cruzes, where, since the beginning of 2009, they have paid R$ 30 per month to 61 persons.

Another propitious experience is taking place in Santo Antonio do Pinhal, in Serra da Mantiqueira, 177 km from São Paulo, on the way to Campos de Jordão. There, on October 29th, 2009, the Municipal Chamber, by consensus of its nine councilmen, approved the Municipal Bill of Law for a Basic Income, proposed by Mayor José Augusto Guarnieri Pereira, from PT, elected in 2004 by 55% of the votes and reelected in 2008, by 79.06% of the votes. The law was sanctioned by the Mayor on November 12th, 2009. It is the first, among the 5.564 Brazilian municipalities which approved a law instituting the CBI. Its first article declares:

With the purpose to turn Santo Antonio do Pinhal into a Municipality that harmonizes sustainable social and economic development with the application of justice principles, meaning the solidarity practice among all its inhabitants, and, above all, to grant a higher level of dignity to all its inhabitants, the Citizen´s Basic Income of Santo Antonio do Pinhal – CBI is instituted, consisting in the rights of all registered residents or residents in the Municipality for at least 05 (five) years, regardless of their social and economic status, to receive a monetary benefit.

Exactly as the federal law, it will be the same amount for everyone and sufficient to meet the minimum vital needs of each person, taking into account the development level of the municipality and its budgets possibilities. It will be attained by stages, upon the criterion of the Conselho Municipal de RBC, giving priority to the most needed segments of the population.

To finance the payment of the CBI, a Municipal Fund will be created with the following sources: 6% of the tax revenues of the municipality; donations from individuals or corporations, public or private, national or international; money transfers from the State of Federal Government; yields generated by the investment of the available funds and other resources. Santo Antonio do Pinhal, with 7.036 inhabitants (in 2008, according to IBGE), a half in the rural area and another half in the urban area, has 60 lodging houses, corresponding to 1,300 beds, 32 restaurants, small and medium farmers, artisans and several activities in the commerce and industry. There are good schools and low criminality index, zero homicides.

It is perfectly possible that the visitors, who on season holidays fill up the lodging houses and restaurants, feel enthusiastic to contribute for the pioneer achievement of the CBI and the principles of justice elaborated by philosopher John Rawls in “A Theory of Justice” (1971). According to Professor Philippe Van Parijs, in “Real Freedom for All” What (if anything) may justify capitalism?” (1995) Oxford, the CBI is one of the instruments that contribute for the realization of these three principles:

1. Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all (the principle equal liberty);

2. The inequalities of social and economic advantages are justified only if (a) they contribute to the improvement of the less advantaged of the society (the principle of difference), and if (b) they are linked to positions that everybody has equal opportunities to occupy (the principle of equal opportunities).

To turn the CBI feasible, it would be necessary to obtain a great amount of resources. If we want to give a farther better than the Bolsa Família, even modest, we should begin with at least an amount higher than the average paid by this scheme, R$ 95 per family, what means something like R$ 31.66 per person in a family of three members. So, if we think about a CBI of R$ 40, it would be R$ 240 per month in a family of 6 members. In 12 months, the yearly amount would be R$ 480 per person. If we multiply to consider 192 million of Brazilians in the beginning of 2010, we would need R$ 92.160 billion, something around 3.5% of the Gross National Product of R$ 2.6 trillion in 2009, about 6.7 times the Bolsa Familia budget of R$ 13.6 billion for 2010, a considerable leap.

R$ 40 per month is a modest amount, but along the time, with the progress of the country and the growing approval from the population, the CBI could turn into somewhat as 100, someday R$ 1.000 and so on. A way to make it feasible is the creation of the Citizen’s Brazil Fund, according to the Bill of Law nr. 82/1999, which I presented to the Senate. It was already approved by consensus by the Senate, and is in legal procedures in the Chamber of Deputies, where it was already approved by the Committee of Family and Social Security and is waiting for the written opinion of Deputy Ciro Gomes (PSB-CE), at the Committee of Finance and Taxation. This Fund is constituted by 50% of the resources generated by authorization or concession of the natural resources exploitation; 50% of the revenues from rentals of the Government real estate, which belong to all the population; 50% of the revenues generated by the concession and services and public works and other resources. The output generated by the investments of the Fund resources, like the Alaska Permanent Fund, will be used to pay CBI to all the Brazilian residents

Especially when more people understand how CBI could contribute for the construction of a fair and more civilized Brazil, more voices will be saying to the President of the Republic, to the Governors and Mayors: It is a good proposal. Let’s put it into practice right away. How are the 2010 election presidential candidates and their parties viewing the perspective of the CBI?

During the IV National Congress of the PT in Brasilia, February 19-21 of this year, by the unanimous vote of the 1.350 delegates, the following point was added to the National Program of Dilma Rousseff who was acclaimed Presidential candidate by consensus:

“The Great Transformation

The accelerated growth and the fight against racial, social, regional inequalities and the promotion of sustainable development will be the axis of the economic development structure.

19) The expansion and the strengthening of the popular consumption goods, that produces strong positive impact over the productive sector system, will be attained by:


f) permanent improvement of the income transfer programs such as the Bolsa Família, to eradicate hunger and poverty, to facilitate access of the population to employment, education, health and higher income;

g) transition from the Bolsa Família Program towards the Citizen´s Basic Income, CBI, unconditional, as a right of every person to participate in the wealth of the nation, such as set by the Law 10.853/2004, a PT initiative, approved by all parties in the National Congress and sanctioned by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in January 8, 2004.”

In July 2008, after visiting Iraq, under the invitation of the President of the National Assembly, and before attending the invitation of President José Ramos Horta from East Timor, to propose the CBI for them, I asked for an audience to Minister of the Civil House, Dilma Rousseff. For one hour and 45 minutes I had the opportunity to explain to her all the development and the advantages of the CBI, In conclusion, she said that it was very interesting. In December of that year, I told her that I understood well her personnal merits that had made President Lula to choose her as his candidate for succeeding him. And since she had shown herself in favor of the CBI, I would support her mainly to help her in implementing it.

Senator Marina Silva, the PV candidate, informed me that she is also in favour of the CBI and that she told of the main formulators of her program to consider it among the socio environmental policies. Therefore, Professor José Eli da Veiga, from the University of São Paulo, wrote in the Marina Silva´s presidential program:

Both the uses of natural resources as well as the negative impacts over the ecosystems – in its various forms – may generate contributions to a Fund that allows the distribution of an annual dividend to all Brazilians and foreign residents for an year or more. It is a form of effective participation in the wealth generated by the nation as a citizen’s right.

[1]Work for the XIII International Congress of BIEN at FEA/USP, June 30, July 1st and 2nd, 2010. This is a relatively simple text, summarizing what I explained in deeper detail in my books “Renda de Cidadania. A Saída é pela Porta” (Cortez Editora e Ed. Fundação Perseu Abramo, 6th. ed. 2010) and “Renda Básica de Cidadania. A Resposta dada pelo Vento” (L&PM, 3rd. ed. 2008). You may find a more complete bibliography in both books.

[2]Eduardo Matarazzo Suplicy is Senator from PT-SP, Professor in Economics at the Escola de Administração de Empresas e de Economia de São Paulo, from Fundação Getúlio Vargas, Ph.D. in Economics by Michigan State University, USA, author of the Bill of Law that originated Law 10.835/2004 which institutes the Citizen´s Basic Income in Brazil and Honorary Co-President of BIEN, Basic Income Earth Network.

Eduardo Suplicy
email : eduardo.suplicy [at] [dot] br

The Hidden Shame in the Global Industrial Economy
by Ed Ayres / December 15, 2003

Where do the raw materials to build our paneled offices, airplanes, and cell phones come from? Maybe you really don’t want to know. A lot of them come from plunder, of a kind we’d like to think came to an end long ago. In the 16th century, Hernando Cortez sailed to Mexico seeking gold for the Spanish empire. He found a lot of it, and seized it without compunction, killing any Aztecs who stood in his way. Today, that kind of plunder may seem antiquated-abhorred by the community of nations. Of course, we still suffer the depredations of various transnational criminal cartels and mafias. But those are the exceptions, the outlaws. Today, no self-respecting nation or corporation would engage in the kind of brutal decimation of a whole culture, simply to seize its treasure, that Cortez did. Or would it?

In fact, the plundering of precious metals and other assets is far more prevalent today than in centuries past, and on a larger scale. Now it’s not just Spain and a few other military powers seeking global dominance, but scores of nations seeking cell phones and teak furniture, that are seizing materials from native cultures-some of these materials in quantities that the conquistadors could never have imagined. Now it’s not just silver and gold, but coltan (for those cell phones), copper, titanium, bauxite, uranium, cobalt, oil, mahogany, and teak. And now, in place of the extinguished Aztecs and other now decimated cultures, it’s hundreds of still surviving cultures that are being overrun, in perhaps a hundred countries. And most significantly, while the looting is still done by invaders from across the oceans, it is often sanctioned and facilitated by the victimized peoples’ own national governments.

But while the plunder is greater now, it is in some respects less openly pursued and less visible than it would have been for Cortez, had the technology to observe it been available in his day. The conquistadors would likely have reveled in seeing their exploits shown on TV. Today such publicity is avoided, for compelling reasons: First, plunder usually entails invasion, and in the centuries since Cortez the world’s nations have moved toward nearly unanimous condemnation of unprovoked invasion-as reflected in their widely shared shock at the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There has been parallel progress in recognizing the wrongness of enslaving other people or simply killing them for their property. There’s an evolving appreciation of human diversity, and of the idea of a global (as opposed to European, or nationalist) community. Yet the incentives for seizing the wealth of others are as economically irresistible today as they ever have been, and the means of doing so are now far more widely available. So the seizing continues, but not necessarily by military assault. That’s not to say there aren’t still places where the job is done with outright killing, as the following pages will detail. In Indonesia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, there have been cases in which people who opposed extractive operations on their land were given Cortez-style removals from the discussion. But where the scrutiny of the global media is present, the means are more indirect, and appear to be accidental. People living near uranium mines that have left piles of radioactive waste on their land die of cancer in unusual numbers, and their children have unusual numbers of birth defects. Indians whose land has been taken over by oil-drilling operations are slowly poisoned by petrochemical contamination of their water and soil. Those living downstream from large gold mines find their drinking water laced with cyanide. Food sources are destroyed, as are sacred places-and people die of spiritual, as well as physical, deprivation. Those kinds of dying don’t make the evening news.

Second, the plunder is less visible now because it rarely need be witnessed by the people who end up with the wealth-the major purchasers of gasoline or gold chains or tickets to fly on aluminum-bodied planes. In gold rush days, the lucky miner who found a nice nugget could buy a fancy watch. In the modern economy, the man with the Rolex has likely never been anywhere near a gold mine. The big extractive industries are far from the urban centers where most of the affluent live. In poorer countries from which much of the world’s mineral and forest wealth is taken, the extractive operations are often in remote jungles or subsistence farming regions-homelands to people who are largely left out of the global dialogue and trade.

Finally, there is the unspoken disincentive of the world’s media giants to expose the exploitative nature of the industries that provide the raw materials of the economy that pays their way. Nearly all media, whether print or electronic, are funded by advertising for consumer goods that too often originate with raw materials largely taken from indigenous land or from ostensibly protected parkland. It would perhaps be unfair to say the media are part of a conspiracy of silence, because in all likelihood most media executives rarely stop to think about what fuels the economy that allows them to profit. But it’s fair to suggest that there’s a reluctance to undermine the foundations of the economy on which their whole business rests.

Not all extractive industries operate in the shadows. Many are honest businesses, run by people who are attentive to the human and environmental impacts of their operations. But those businesses are far too few. By some estimates, for example, some 80 percent of the logging done in Indonesia-one of the largest producers of wood in the world-is illegal. Some of the largest mines in the world, dumping thousands of tons of deadly poisons into their surroundings each day, are operating without the consent of the people whose land they have taken over.

Big Footprints
Mining and logging operations-the “extractive industries”-aren’t just small pin-pricks in the Earth’s skin, though they may appear that way on maps. Apologists may think of them as small holes discreetly drilled in large territories, for which small compensations to the impoverished inhabitants of those territories may be sufficient. But in fact, extraction has far-reaching impacts and costs. Because nature is not static but involves continuous movement of wind, water, and wildlife, contaminants released by mines can cause Pandora-like destruction. One of the most alarming forms of contamination is that of heap-leach gold mining, a modern technique that involves pouring rivers of cyanide on huge piles of low-grade ore to extract the gold. Cyanide is extremely poisonous: a teaspoonful containing a 2-percent cyanide solution can kill an adult. In February 2000, a dam holding heap-leach waste at a gold mine in Romania-the Baia Mare gold mine owned by an Australian company, Esmeralda Exploration-broke and dumped 22 million gallons of cyanide into the Tisza River. The poison flowed more than 500 kilometers downstream into Hungary and Serbia, wreaking what some called the worst environmental disaster since the Chornobyl nuclear explosion in 1986. Unfortunately, this event could not be written off as the last gasp of an outmoded technology. Heap-leach gold mining is on the increase. In Peru, the Yanacocha gold mine-second largest in the world-sits atop the South American continental divide, from which any similar breech would run all the way to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. And in Tanzania, the Geita mine has just been sited on the Nyamelembo River, which drains into Lake Victoria. One of the largest and most valuable fresh-water lakes on the planet, Victoria is essential to the economies of Kenya and Uganda as well as Tanzania. A Kenyan environmental professor, Wangari Maathai (now the country’s environment minister), described the Geita mine as “the most insensitive economic undertaking I have ever come across,” explaining that “it is not just a matter of poisoning people. Very soon, the European Union will ban all fish exports from East Africa just because some toxic elements have found their way into the fish, and it will be a great economic loss to the local people whose life depends entirely on fishing.”

The kinds of spills produced by modern mines shouldn’t be compared to the relatively petty crime that occurs when someone dumps dry cleaning fluid into the sewer drain, or drops his old batteries into the garbage. Mine waste sends huge plumes of poison into the world’s rainforests, groundwater, and food. In Zortman, Montana, in 1982, the Zortman-Landusky gold mine spilled 52,000 gallons of cyanide into the local groundwater, and it was discovered only when a local mine worker smelled cyanide in his faucet at home. Cyanide was the agent used to kill Jews in Hitler’s gas chambers. Today, in West Papua, Indonesia, a gold mine owned by the U.S. company Freeport McMoRan dumps 120,000 tons of cyanide-laced waste into local rivers every day. In Papua New Guinea, the Ok Tedi copper mine, which was built on the local people’s land without their consent, dumps 200,000 tons of waste per day into the Fly River and has brought the once biologically rich region to ruin.

There are other means, besides rivers, by which damage from extraction can be spread. Wind, in particular, can be as dangerous a factor with big mines as with broken nuclear plants. Uranium mines produce huge piles of crushed ore waste, or tailings. According to the Center for World Indigenous Studies, the most common health risk associated with uranium mining is breathing radon-222 gas, which will continue to seep from the tailings for thousands of years to come. In Australia, the tailings dam of an abandoned uranium mine was burst by monsoon rains, and subsequent dispersal of the waste by river and wind has polluted an area of 100 square kilometers of land-driving out the Aboriginal people who lived there. In the U.S. Southwest, radioactive waste from an abandoned uranium mine owned by El Paso Natural Gas Company has blown toward an area used by Navajo Indians for shepherding.

In some cases, the extraction is not at a single point at all, but takes place over a wide area. Logging operations have decimated some of the world’s most biologically valuable forests. Many of these operations are either illegal or are sanctioned by corrupt national governments over the desperate objections of indigenous inhabitants. In Bolivia, in the late 1990s, the government granted logging concessions covering 500,000 hectares of Guarayo Territory and 140,000 hectares of Chiquitano de Monte Verde Territory. In Cambodia, illegal logging has led to severe deforestation, flooding, and destruction of rice crops-and to the displacement of people who depended on those forests for subsistence. In Liberia, in the year 2000, some $100 million worth of timber was cut down and sold, mainly to European consumers, to enrich the dictator Charles Taylor and to buy arms for his henchmen. In Indonesia, the looting of forests has reached new levels, with about 2 million hectares disappearing every year.

Buying Silence
Cortez did not have to worry about bad PR. Companies like Shell Oil or Freeport McMoRan may do their extraction in remote places, and with the tacit acceptance of the global media, but they can no longer escape the attention of activists and groups like Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, and the Mineral Policy Center. Shell was burned badly when it was accused of collusion with the Nigerian government in the murder of the Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who had dared to protest Shell’s ruination of his people’s homeland. So, the major extractive industries have learned to become more discreet about how they take what they want. One of the most common strategies is to offer employment in the mines to indigenous people who are not well informed about the hazards, and to develop a dependency that the workers and their families are unable to break even when their health begins to break-a contemporary form of indentured servitude. An Aborigine writer, Vincent Forrester, describes how this dependency was established at the Ranger uranium mine in his people’s region of Australia. Mining royalties are paid to the government, not to the local people. (Most mining companies don’t pay royalties to anyone at all.) The government then supplies the community with essential services, but does not inform the people about the effects of the mining on their land and health. “This dependency, I believe, is a form of ransom,” writes Forrester. “White Australia says to the under-serviced, fledgling outstation movement, ‘You can have money for Toyotas, for bores, to help you set up, but if mining stops the money stops too.'”

A more hardball way of buying acquiescence is simply to find individual members of the local community who are willing to publicly support a proposed mining project in exchange for a small payment, which in an impoverished area can be a large inducement. The offers open rifts in the local community, causing enough disarray to allow the project to gain a foothold. In the late 1990s, for example, the Navajo Times reported that the HRI corporation, which wanted to open a uranium mine near the Navajo community of Crownpoint, New Mexico, had arranged to give lease payments to some of the Indian landowners living in the community. According to a report by Chris Shuey of the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, the total amount of the payoff came to $367,000. The population of Crownpoint at that time was 2,700, which meant HRI was paying $136 per citizen to begin a process that would use the community’s underground water-bearing strata as a medium for “in situ leach” processing of uranium-turning the water into a “pregnant solution” from which the uranium would be extracted within one-half mile of several churches, schools, businesses, and most of the homes in the community.

In Madagascar, the Anglo-Austrialian mining giant Rio Tinto has tried to buy off the natives for even less. Rio Tinto wants to mine 40 kilometers of coastal dunes, bulldozing an indigenous homeland that is also a habitat for numerous rare and endangered plant species. The company’s strategy has been to invite the villagers to dinners at which they can eat and drink while watching PR films that extol the proposed operation but make no mention of likely damage. In hundreds of mining or logging operations around the planet, the main economic incentive for capitulation is the lure of jobs. Where people are poor, that lure of short-term cash can easily blind young workers to the long-term impacts of the project on their culture and health-and on the long-term sustainability of their local economy. In the Arctic, Inuit communities are now divided about whether to welcome more intensive oil drilling. Those who see a threat to their traditional way of life have put up strong resistance, but it’s rarely enough to fend off the incursions, especially when their own national governments have been bought off. In a globalized economy, the buying-off of governments has become widespread. A few years ago in India, for example, the indigenous Bhagata, Khond, Konda Reddi, and Samantha communities found themselves targeted by foreign companies interested in the bauxite (aluminum ore) deposits on their lands. Indian constitutional law protects indigenous peoples from unwanted exploitation of this kind, but that did not stop the state of Andhra Pradesh from secretly inviting the companies-and giving them leases-to begin mining. The opposing parties have been litigating ever since.

Is There Really No Alternative?
When economists talk about “extractive industries” they’re usually referring to mining, oil or gas drilling, or logging-essentially, the use of heavy machinery to cut raw materials from the planet. The concept could easily be broadened to include pumping water from aquifers, hauling fish from the oceans, shooting monkeys for bushmeat, or collecting honey from wild bees. We focus here on mining, oil drilling, and logging because they have been so heavily concentrated in places that are both the homelands of the world’s marginalized peoples and the habitats of the most threatened ecosystems. These industries are therefore the most direct-and least regulated-assaults of industrial society on the Earth’s cultural and biological stability.

To some extent, the lack of restraint in these industries may reflect an implicit belief, in the governments of industrial nations, that the genie long ago exited the bottle, and that trying to undo any damage it has done now is as unrealistic as trying to undo the damage done by the seizing of Indian territories by Europeans two or three centuries ago. But the idea that redressing past injustices is now “unrealistic,” too, makes a questionable assumption-that the descendants of the conquered Indians have long since been assimilated into the modern industrial economy and share the same benefits as the descendants of their conquerors. Yet, the reality of places like the Navajo reservations in the U.S. Southwest belies that assumption. Native American communities are far more impoverished, with far higher rates of disease, unemployment, and suicide, than the rest of the country. And it’s on Native American lands that the most blatantly exploitative extractive operations are concentrated. A similar observation can be made of the oil-rich Ogoni lands of Nigeria, or the Guarayo territory of Bolivia, among scores of others.

The political inertia that has allowed colonial-era racial distinctions to be perpetuated in the twenty-first century economy has also allowed outmoded assumptions about industrial productivity to be perpetuated. The prevailing belief is that if we want to continue having the rich lifestyle to which we are now accustomed, we have no choice but to keep on drilling and digging in the places where we already are-and, indeed, to commence new drilling in any place where more resources can be found. If the Inuit are hunting caribou in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), but the war on terror and the fueling of American Hummers and Expeditions demands oil and there’s oil under ANWR, sooner or later the Inuit will have to step aside-will have to forget their antiquated ways, learn to speak English, head south, and find jobs at Exxon gas stations or Wal-Mart.

Such assumptions have been amply discredited, though you might never know it from following the mainstream news media and its conservative-dominated commentary. The discrediting takes several forms, each of which involves the exploding of a persistent myth about the materials economy: “Economic growth requires increasing materials and energy consumption.” In other words, population momentum (the unavoidable population growth of the coming years even with maximum stabilization policies), plus rising standards of living across the planet, will necessarily drive up demand for raw materials. Historically, economic growth has meant soaring material consumption. But the idea that this link must continue assumes that the efficiency of materials use must remain constant, which it need not. If cities were redesigned to be more compact, for example, the quantities of materials required to provide housing and transport per capita could be greatly reduced while actually improving the quality of urban life. As asphalt and gasoline use declined, so would the psychic and physical ravages of traffic congestion, auto accidents, air pollution, and suburban isolation. At the same time, growing efficiency in energy use, both from technological advances and from changes in consumer behavior (how about trading in your Expedition for a Prius, or your leaf blower for a rake?) could vastly reduce the per capita demand for oil or aluminum without compromising the pursuit of happiness. For the 2 billion people who are poorest, hopes for a better life do not have to require further impoverishment for those of their indigenous counterparts whose land is being mined or deforested.

“Meeting the need for increased supply of materials requires taking more out of the ground.” When the benefits of more efficient design and use have been exhausted, we may indeed need to increase the supply, at least until population has stabilized. But to assume that the increase must come from the ground falsely assumes that the new materials must be virgin. In the long-term ecology of the planet, nearly all materials are eventually recycled, and now we need to do that in the short term as well. The mines of the future will be, increasingly, the cities rather than the rainforests. Already, in some areas, aluminum recycling has reduced the need for bauxite mining by half.

“Mining or timbering in indigenous areas is cheap.” This argument is similar to the one employed by Wal-Mart, which says it’s economical to get poor people, who have few alternatives, to clean toilets and wash floors for cheap wages. That thinking is just one expression of the more general myth that industry can profit by not paying the externalities, or social and environmental costs, of production. But while economic practice remains entrenched in reactionary doctrine, moral consciousness has come a long way since the days when few people had any qualms about slavery. Exploiting cheap labor is a form of quasi-slavery, and the hundreds of organizations dedicated to raising public sensitivity to that have long since brought us past the point where social costs can be ignored. The true costs of extractive industries will inexorably become more internalized-for example, in requiring oil companies to bear the medical costs of diseases brought by their polluting of indigenous water supplies. As that happens, the prices of oil and other raw materials will rise, and there will be more incentives to develop sustainable substitutions-of renewable energy for oil, of recycled metals and wood for virgin, and of more efficient use for more supply.



History of Basic Income, Part One
The idea of an unconditional basic income has three historical roots. The idea of a minimum income first appeared at the beginning of the 16th century. The idea of an unconditional one-off grant first appeared at the end of the 18th century. And the two were combined for the first time to form the idea of an unconditional basic income near the middle of the 19th century.

1. Minimum income: the humanists More (1516) and Vives (1526)
Raphael’s cure for theft – The idea of a minimum income guaranteed by the government to all the members of a particular community is far older than the more specific and radical idea of an unconditional basic income. With the advent of the Renaissance, the task of looking after the welfare of poor people ceased to be regarded as the exclusive preserve of the Church and of charitable individuals. Some of the so-called humanists started playing with the idea of a minimum income in the form of public assistance. In Thomas More’s (1478-1535) Utopia, published in Louvain in 1516, the Portuguese traveller Raphael Nonsenso, walking on the central square of the City of Antwerp, narrates a conversation he says he had with John Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Such a scheme, he argued, would be a more astute way of fighting theft than sentencing thieves to death, which had the unpleasant side effect of increasing the murder rate.

“I once happened to be dining with the Cardinal when a certain English lawyer was there. I forgot how the subject came up, but he was speaking with great enthusiasm about the stern measures that were then being taken against thieves. ‘We’re hanging them all over the place’, he said. ‘I’ve seen as many as twenty on a single gallows. And that’s what I find so odd. Considering how few of them get away with it, how come we are still plagued with so many robbers?’ ‘What’s odd about it?’, I asked – for I never hesitated to speak freely in front of the Cardinal. ‘This method of dealing with thieves is both unjust and undesirable. As a punishment, it’s too severe, and as a deterrent, it’s quite ineffective. Petty larceny isn’t bad enough to deserve the death penalty. And no penalty on earth will stop people from stealing, if it’s their only way of getting food. In this respect, you English, like most other nations, remind me of these incompetent schoolmasters, who prefer caning their pupils to teaching them. Instead of inflicting these horrible punishments, it would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood, so that nobody’s under the frightful necessity of becoming, first a thief, and then a corpse.” [1]

A pragmatic theological plea for public assistance – It is, however, Thomas More’s close friend and fellow humanist, Johannes Ludovicus Vives (1492-1540), who should be regarded as the true father of the idea of a guaranteed minimum income, as he was the first to work out a detailed scheme and develop a comprehensive argument for it, based both on theological and pragmatic considerations. Juan Luis Vives was born in Valencia in a family of converted Jews. He left Spain in 1509 to escape the Inquisition, studied at the Sorbonne but soon got fed up by the conservative scholastic philosophy that was prevailing in Paris at the time and moved on to Bruges in 1512, and in 1517 to Louvain, one of the main centres of the humanist movement, where he was appointed professor in 1520. He taught more briefly at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, but spent most of his adult life in the city of Bruges, where his statue can still be seen on the bank of one of the main canals. In a memoir addressed to the Mayor of Bruges in 1526 under the title De Subventione Pauperum (On the Assistance to the Poor), he proposed that the municipal government should be given the responsibility of securing a subsistence minimum to all its residents, not on grounds of justice but for the sake of a more effective exercise of morally required charity. The assistance scheme would be closely targeted to the poor. Indeed it is because of their ability to target them more efficiently that public officials should be put in charge of poor relief. To be entitled to the latter, a poor person’s poverty must not be undeserved, but he must deserve the help he gets by proving his willingness to work.

“Even those who have dissipated their fortunes in dissolute living – through gaming, harlots, excessive luxury, gluttony and gambling – should be given food, for no one should die of hunger. However, smaller rations and more irksome tasks should be assigned to them so that they may be an example to others. […] They must not die of hunger, but they must feel itspangs.” Whatever the source of poverty, the poor are expected to work. “Even to the old and the stupid, it should be possible to give a job they can learn in a few days, such as digging holes, getting water or carrying something on their shoulders.” The point of requiring such toil from the beneficiaries of the scheme is in part to make them contribute to the funding of the latter. But it is also to make sure that “being busy and engrossed in their work, they will abstain from those wicked thoughts and actions in which they would engage if they were idle”. Indeed, this concern should consistently extend to those born rich: Emperor Justinian was right, according to Vives, “in imposing a law that forbade everyone to spend his life in idleness”. If the poor cannot be parasites, why could the rich? [2]

At two junctures, Vives anticipates some insights that will drive later thinkers in the direction of a basic income. “All these things God created, He put them in our large home, the world, without surrounding them with walls and gates, so that they would be common to all His children.” Hence, unless he helps those in need, whoever has appropriated some of the gifts of nature” is only a thief condemned by natural law, because he occupies and keeps what nature has not created exclusively for himself”. Further, Vives insists that relief should come “before need induces some mad or wicked action, before the face of the needy blushes from shame… The benefaction that precedes the hard and thankless necessity of asking is more pleasant and more worthy of thanks”. But he explicitly discards the more radical conclusion that it would be even better if “the gift were made before the need arose”, which is exactly what an adequate basic income would achieve.

From Vives to the Poor Laws – Vives’s plea explicitly inspired a scheme put into place a few years later by the Flemish municipality of Ypres. It also contributed to inspiring incipient thinking and action about forms of poor relief, from the School of Salamanca of Francisco de Vitoria and Domingo de Soto (from 1536 onwards) to England’s Poor Laws (from 1576 onwards). Less well remembered than his friends and protectors Erasmus and More, Vives’s pioneering thinking on the welfare state has been recently rediscovered. [3]

He is also still remembered in his Alma Mater, the University of Louvain: A stone from his house has been incorporated in the wall of the “Universitaire Halle”, which houses the rectorate in the old town of Leuven. And the meeting room of the Chaire Hoover in the new town of Louvain-la-Neuve, where the Collectif Charles Fourier met in 1984-86 to discuss basic income and organise the founding meeting of the Basic Income European Network, has been named “Salle Vives”.

Vives’ s tract is the first systematic expression of a long tradition of social thinking and institutional reform focused on the public exercise of compassion through government-organised means-tested schemes directed at the poor. Despite the difficulties and doubts aroused by the operation of the poor laws, the thinkers of the nouveau régime made public assistance an essential function of the government. Thus, Montesquieu (L’Esprit des Lois (1748), section XXIII/29, Paris: Flammarion, Vol.2, p. 134): “The State owes all its citizens a secure subsistence, food, suitable clothes and a way of life that does not damage their health”. This line of thought eventually led to the setting up of comprehensive, nationally-funded guaranteed minimum income schemes in a growing number of countries, most recently, France’s RMI (1988) and Portugal’s RMG (1997).

2. Basic endowment: the republicans Condorcet (1594) and Paine (1596)
Condorcet on social insurance – However, towards the end of the 18th century, a different idea emerged that was to play an even greater role in the alleviation of poverty throughout Europe. The first known person to have sketched the idea is the first-rate mathematician and political activist, Antoine Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794). After having played a prominent role in the French revolution, both as a journalist and as a member of the Convention, Condorcet was imprisoned and sentenced to death. While in prison, he wrote his most systematic work, the Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain (published posthumously by his widow in 1795), whose last chapter contains a brief sketch of what a social insurance might look like and how it could reduce inequality, insecurity and poverty.

“There is therefore a necessary cause of inequality, of dependency and even of misery, which constantly threatens the most numerous and most active class of our societies. We shall show that we can to a large extent removing it, by opposing luck to itself, by securing to those who reach old age a relief that is the product of what he saved, but increased by the savings of those individuals who made the same sacrifice but died before the time came for them to need to collect its fruit; by using a similar compensation to provide women and children, at the moment they lose their husbands or fathers, with resources at the same level and acquired at the same price, whether the family concerned was afflicted by a premature death or could keep its head for longer; and finally by giving to those children who become old enough to work by themselves and found a new family the advantage of a capital required by the development of their activity and increased as the result of some dying too early to be able to enjoy it. It is to the application of calculus to the probabilities of life and to the investment of money that one owes the idea of this method. The latter has already been successfully used, but never on the scale and with the variety of forms that would make it really useful, not merely to a handful of individuals, but to the entire mass of society. It would free the latter from the periodic bankruptcy of a large number of families, that inexhaustible source of corruption and misery.” [4]

This distinct idea, which will end up inspiring, one century later, the birth and development of Europe’s massive social insurance systems, starting with Otto von Bismarck’s old age pension and health insurance schemes for the labour force of unified Germany (from 1883 onwards). Though not targeted to the poor and involving massive transfers to the non-poor, these systems soon started having a huge impact on poverty as their development quickly dwarfed public assistance schemes and relegated them to a subsidiary role. In one way, social insurance brought us closer to basic income than public assistance, as the social benefits it distributed were not prompted by compassion, but by an entitlement, based in this case on the premiums paid into the insurance system. But in another way, it took us away from basic income, precisely because entitlement to the benefits is now based on having paid (or having had one’s employer paying) enough contributions in the past, typically in the form of some percentage of one’s wage. For this reason, unlike the most comprehensive versions of public assistance, even the most comprehensive forms of social insurance cannot provide a guaranteed minimum income.

Condorcet and Paine on basic endowment – However, it is the very same Marquis de Condorcet who was the first to briefly mention, in the context of his discussion of social insurance, the idea of a benefit restricted neither to the poor (deserving of our compassion) nor to the insured (entitled to compensation if the risk materialises), namely the idea of “giving to those children who become old enough to work by themselves and found a new family the advantage of a capital required by the development of their activity.” Condorcet himself is not known to have said or written anything else on the subject, but his close friend and fellow member of the Convention Thomas Paine (1737-1809) developed the idea in far greater detail, two years after Condorcet’s death, in a memoir addressed to the Directoire, the five-member executive that ruled France during most of the period separating the beheading of Robespierre and the rise of Napoleon.

“It is a position not to be controverted, he writes, that the earth, in its natural, uncultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race.” As the land gets cultivated, “it is the value of the improvement, only, and not the earth itself, that is in individual property. Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated lands, owes to the community a ground-rent (for I know of no better term to express the idea) for the land which he holds; and it is from this ground-rent that the fund proposed in this plan is to issue.” Out of this fund, “there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property. And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age”. Payments, Paine insists, should be made “to every person, rich or poor”, “because it is in lieu of the natural inheritance, which, as a right, belongs to every man, over and above the property he may have created, or inherited from those who did.” [5]

From Paine to the Stakeholder Society – This idea of an equal basic endowment given to all as they reach adulthood, has reappeared now and then, for example in the writings of the French political philosopher François Huet. In his attempt to combine liberalism and socialism, he proposed that young people should all be given an endowment financed out of the taxation of the whole of that part of land and other property which the bequeather has himself received (see esp. Le Règne social du christianisme, Paris: Firmin Didot & Bruxelles: Decq,1853, pp. 262, 271-3).
The same endowment idea, combined as it was by Paine with a basic pension, has been more recently revived and developed in great detail by two Yale Law School Professors, Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott (The Stakeholder Society, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999). The justification for this $80.000 unconditional grant, however, is no longer common ownership of the earth, but more comprehensive conception of justice as equality of opportunities. [6]

3. Basic income: the utopian socialists Charlier (1848) and Mill (1849)
Charles Fourier’s right to subsistence – What equal ownership of the earth justifies, in Paine’s view, is an unconditional endowment for all, not a guaranteed income. A number of 19th century reformers, such as William Cobbett (1827), Samuel Read (1829) and Poulet Scrope (1833) in England (see Horne, Thomas A. “Welfare rights as property rights”, in Responsibility, Rights and Welfare. The theory of the welfare state, Boulder & London: Westview Press, 1988, 107-132, for a useful survey), have rather interpreted it so as to give guaranteed income schemes a firmer basis than public charity. Most famous among them is the eccentric and prolific French writer Charles Fourier (1836: 490-2), one of the radical visionaries Marx contemptuously labelled “utopian socialists”. In La Fausse Industrie (1836), Fourier argues that the violation of each person’s fundamental natural right to hunt, fish, pick fruit and let her/his cattle graze on the commons implies that “civilization” owes subsistence to everyone unable to meet her/his needs, in the form of a sixth class hotel room and three modest meals a day.

“Le premier droit, celui de récolte naturelle, usage des dons de la nature, liberté de chasse, cueillette, pâture, constitue le droit de se nourrir, de manger quand on a faim. Ce droit est dénéié en civilisation par les philosophes et concédé par Jésus-Christ en ces mots: (…). Jésus, par ces paroles, consacre le droit de prendre quand on a faim, son nécessaire où on le trouve, et ce droit impose au corps social le devoir d’assurer au peuple un minimum d’entretien: puisque la civilisation le dépouille du premier droit naturel, celui de chasse, pêche, cueillette, pâture, elle lui doit une indemnité. (…) Si l’ordre civilisé enlève à l’homme les quatre branches de subsistance naturelle, chasse, pêche, cueillette, pâture, composant le premier droit, la classe qui a enlevé les terres doit à la classe frustrée un minimum de subsistance abondante, en vertu du neuvième droit (subsistance abondante). Mais voici de nombreux obstacles à la concession de ce droit: D’abord, il faudrait chercher et découvrir le mécanisme sociétaire d’industrie combinée qui, donnant quadruple produit, fournirait de quoi satisfaire en minimum. D’autre part, comme la multitude assurée d’un minimum abondant ne voudrait que peu ou point travailler, il faudrait découvrir et organiser un régime d’industrie attrayante qui garantirait la persistance du peuple au travail, malgré son bien-être.” [7]

Fourier, however, is as clear about the non-universality of the delivery of this income in kind (only a minority would be accommodated in those sixth class hotels) as he is about the absence of a work test: it is an unconditional entitlement for the poor by way of compensation for the loss of direct access to natural resources. His disciple and leader of the Fourierist school, Victor Considérant (Exposition abrégée du système Phalanstérien de Fourier, Paris, 1845) makes a step in the direction of a genuine basic income when emphasizing that, when work will have been made attractive thanks to the Phalansterian system, “one will be able to forward a minimum income to the poor members of the community with the certainty that they will have earned more than the expenditure by the end of the year”. But despite the nature of the underlying justification, poor relief is still not being turned into a universal income.

“La distribution des travaux par groupes et séries ayant la propriete de les rendre attrayants, toutes les classes de la société recherchent avec ardeur des places dans toutes les branches infiniment variées de fonctions sociales. Il n’y a donc plus de paresseux: on pourra faire aux sociétaires pauvres l’avance d’un minimum, avec la certitude qu’ils auront gagné plus que leur dépense à la fin de l’année. Ainsi, l’établissement du régime sociétaire extirpera la misère et la mendicité, fléaux des sociétés basees sur la concurrence anarchique et le morcellement. Il serait impossible aujourd’hui de faire au peuple l’avance du minimum: il tomberait aussitôt dans la fainéantise, attendu que le travail est répugnant. Voilà pourquoi la Taxe des pauvres, en Angleterre, n’a fait qu’élargir la plaie hideuse du paupérisme. – L’avance du minimum, c’est la base de la liberté et la garantie de l’émancipation du prolétaire. Pas de liberté sans minimum; pas de minimum sans attraction industrielle. Toute la politique d’émancipation des masses est là.” [8]

Joseph Charlier’s territorial dividend – In 1848, however, while Karl Marx was finishing off the Communist Manifesto in another neighbourhood of Brussels, the Fourierist author Joseph Charlier (1816-1896) published in Brussels his Solution du problème social ou constitution humanitaire (Bruxelles, “Chez tous les libraires du Royaume”, 1848, 106p.), which can be regarded as containing the first formulation of a genuine basic income. Undoubtedly inspired by the Fourierist tradition, he saw the equal right to the ownership of land as the foundation of an unconditional right to some income. But he rejected both the right to means-tested assistance advocated by Charles Fourier himself and the right to paid work advocated by his most prominent disciple Victor Considerant. The former, he reckoned, only dealt with the effects, and the latter involved too much mingling by the state. Under the labels “minimum” or “revenu garanti” (and later “dividende territorial”), he proposed giving every citizen with an unconditional right to a quarterly (later, monthly) payment of an amount fixed annually by a representative national council, on the basis of the rental value of all real estate. In a later book, in which he further develops his proposal, he relabels it “dividende teritorial” (La Question sociale résolue, précédée du testament philosophique d’un penseur, Bruxelles, Weissenbruch, 1894, 252p.). Such a scheme, he argues, would end “the domination of capital over labour”. Would it not encourage idleness? “Hard luck for the lazy: they will be put on short allowance. Society’s duty does not reach beyond securing each a fair share of the enjoyment of what nature puts at his disposal, without usurping anyone’s rights.” Anything above the minimum will have to be earned. [9]

Mill’s most skillfully combined form of socialism – Charlier’s obstinate plea was hardly heard, and he was himself quickly forgotten. This is not quite what happened to another admirer of Fourierism: John Stuart Mill. The relevant passage is the sympathetic discussion of Fourierism which he added to the second edition of his Principles of Political Economy, published the year after Charlier’s first book. This discussion unambiguously ascribes to the Fourierists the proposal of a non-means-tested basic income:

“The most skilfully combined, and with the greatest foresight of objections, of all the forms of Socialism, is that commonly known as Fourierism. This System does not contemplate the abolition of private property, nor even of inheritance; on the contrary, it avowedly takes into consideration, as elements in the distribution of the produce, capital as well as labour. […] In the distribution, a certain minimum is first assigned for the subsistence of every member of the community, whether capable or not of labour. The remainder of the produce is shared in certain proportions, to be determined beforehand, among the three elements, Labour, Capital, and Talent.”

The idea is clearly there, and under the pen of one of the most influential political thinkers of the century. But it will take another six decades before something like a real discussion arose for the first time. [10]

1. Thomas More, Utopia (1st Latin edition, Louvain, 1516), English translation by Paul Turner, Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1963, p. 43-44.
2. Juan Luis Vives, De Subventione Pauperum, Sive de humanis necessitatibus, 1526; Dutch translation on behalf of the Magistrates of Ypres: Secours van den Aermen, Antwerp, 1533, reprinted by Valero & Fils, Brussels, 1943, 114p.; French translation by Ricardo Aznar Casanova: De l’Assistance aux pauvres, Brussels: Valero et Fils, 1943, 290p; English translation of part II only by Alice Tobriner: On the Assistance to the Poor. Toronto & London: University of Toronto Press (“Renaissance Society of America Reprints”), 1998, 62p.
3. Vives’s impact on social policy thinking has been emphatically recognised in Spain, for example, through the creation (in 1987) of the Fundacion Luis Vives, a foundation supporting Spanish NGO’s in the area of social policy with seats in Madrid and Brussels (, or through the creation (in 1998) of the Instituto de Seguridad Social Juan Luis Vives, a research institute on the welfare state at Madrid’s Universidad Carlos III (
4. Condorcet, Esquisse d\’un tableau historique des progres de l’esprit humain (1st edition, 1795), Paris: GF-Flammarion, 1988, p. 273-274.
5. Thomas Paine 1796, p. 611; 612-613.
6. For discussions of basic endowment proposals in connection with basic income, see The Ethics of Stakeholding, Keith Dowding, Jurgen De Wispelaere, and Stuart White eds., Basingstoke: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2003; and “Rethinking Distribution”, Erik O. Wright ed., special issue of Politics and Society, 2003.
7. Charles Fourier, La Fausse industrie (1836), Paris: Anthropos, 1967, p. 491-492.
8. Victor Considrant, Exposition abrege du systeme Phalansterien de Fourier, Paris, 1845, section “Plus de paresse – extinction de la misere et de la mendicite – armees industrielles”, p. 49.
9. For more details, see Cunliffe, John & Erreygers, Guido, “The Enigmatic Legacy of Charles Fourier: Joseph Charlier and Basic Income”, History of Political Economy 33(3), Fall 2001, 459-484. Note that this idea of equal ownership of the value of natural resources justifying a universal basic income is not restricted to the Fourierist tradition. It later appears, for example, in the early Herbert Spencer’s (Social Statics, London: J. Chapman, 1851) writings on land reform, in Henry George’s (Progress and Poverty (1879) London: The Hogarth Press, 1953) advocacy of a “single tax”, in the normative writings of Leon Walras (Etudes d’economie Sociale (1896), Lausanne: Rouge; Paris: Pichon & Durand-Auzias, 1936.), one of the founding fathers of mathematical economics, and, most rigorously, in the writings of the Canadian left-libertarian political philosopher Hillel Steiner (An Essay on Rights, Oxford: Blackwell, 1994).
10. J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 2nd ed. 1849, New York: Augustus Kelley, 1987, pp. 212-214, Book II, chapter 1.

History of Basic Income, Part Two.
The 20th century saw three periods when discussion about basic income was particularly intense. Firstly, under names like “social dividend”, “state bonus” and “national dividend” proposals for a genuinely unconditional and universal basic income were developed in inter-war debates in England. Secondly, after some years of silence this type of ideas was rediscovered and gained considerable popularity in debates about “demogrants” and “negative income tax” schemes during the 1960s and 70s in the United States. Thirdly, a new period of debate and exploration emerged as basic income proposals were actively discussed in several countries in North-Western Europe from the late 70s and early 80s. Quite independently, this century also saw the introduction of the world’s first, full-blown basic income scheme through the birth of the Alaska Permanent Fund, providing annual dividends to all the inhabitants of Alaska.

1. From militancy to respectability: England between the wars
Russell’s combination of anarchism and socialism – Things start waking up in Britain in 1918, towards the end of the First World War. In Roads to Freedom, a short and incisive book first published in 1918, the mathematician, philosopher, non-conformist political thinker, militant pacifist and Nobel laureate in literature Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) argues for a social model that combines the advantages of socialism and anarchism. One central component of it is a UBI “sufficient for necessaries”.

“Anarchism has the advantage as regards liberty, Socialism as regards the inducement to work. Can we not find a method of combining these two advantages? It seems to me that we can. […]

Stated in more familiar terms, the plan we are advocating amounts essentially to this: that a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries, should be secured to all, whether they work or not, and that a larger income – as much larger as might be warranted by the total amount of commodities produced – should be given to those who are willing to engage in some work which the community recognizes as useful…When education is finished, no one should be compelled to work, and those who choose not to work should receive a bare livelihood and be left completely free.” [1]

Milner’s State Bonus – In the same year, the young engineer, Quaker and Labour Party member, Dennis Milner (1892-1956), published jointly with his wife Mabel a short pamphlet entitled “Scheme for a State Bonus” (1918). What they argued for, using an eclectic series of arguments, was the introduction of an income paid unconditionally on a weekly basis to all citizens of the United Kingdom. Pitched at 20% of GDP per capita, the “State bonus” should make it possible to solve the problem of poverty, particularly acute in the aftermath of the war. As everyone has a moral right to means of subsistence, any obligation to work enforced through the threat of a withdrawal of these means is ruled out. Milner subsequently elaborated the proposal in a book published by a respectable publisher under the title Higher Production by a Bonus on National Output. Many of the arguments that played a central role in later discussions can be found in this book — from the unemployment trap to labour market flexibility, from low rates of take up to the ideal complement of profit sharing, but the emphasis is on the “productivist” case: the state bonus can even be vindicated on grounds of efficiency alone. Milner’s proposal was enthusiastically backed by fellow Quaker Bertram Pickard, supported by the short-lived State Bonus League — under whose banner Milner took part in a national election —, discussed at the 1920 British Labour Party conference and definitively rejected the following year [2].

Major Douglas and the Social Credit movement – It did not take long, however, for another English engineer, Clifford H (“Major”) Douglas (1879-1952), to take up the idea again with significantly greater impact. Douglas was struck by how productive British industry had become after World War I and began to wonder about the risks of overproduction. How could a population impoverished by four years of war consume the goods available in abundance, when banks were reticent to give them credit and their purchasing power was rising only very slowly? To solve this problem, Douglas (1924) proposed in a series of lectures and writings, often quite confused, the introduction of “social credit” mechanisms, one of which consisted in paying all households a monthly “national dividend”. The social credit movement enjoyed varying fortunes. It failed to establish itself in the United Kingdom but attracted many supporters in Canada, where a Social Credit Party governed the province of Alberta from 1935 to 1971, although it rapidly dropped the idea of introducing a national dividend.

Cole and Meade on social dividend – While the popularity of the Social Credit movement was first swelling and next shrinking in broad layers of the British population, the idea of the UBI was gaining ground in a small circle of intellectuals close to the British Labour Party. Prominent among them was the economist George D.H. Cole (1889-1959), the first holder of Oxford’s Chichele Chair of Social and Political Theory (later held by Isaiah Berlin, Charles Taylor and G.A. Cohen). In several books, he resolutely defended what he was the first to call a “social dividend” (Cole, 1935). “Current productive power is, in effect, a joint result of current effort and of the social heritage of inventiveness and skill incorporated in the stage of advancement and education reached in the arts of production; and it has always appeared to me only right that all the citizens should share in the yield of this common heritage, and that only the balance of the product after this allocation should be distributed in the form of rewards for, and incentives to, current service in production.” (Cole 1944: 144) In his presentation of J.S. Mill in History of Socialist Thought (1953), Cole also seems to have been the first to refer to the idea of a UBI by using the English expression “basic income”, which quickly spread as the discussion became international in the 1980s [3].

Politically less active, but with a far wider international reputation than Cole, another Oxford economist, the Nobel Laureate James Meade (1907-1995), defended the “social dividend” with even greater tenacity. The idea of a social dividend is present in his Outline of an Economic Policy for a Labor Government (1935) and in several other early writings (Meade 1937, 1938) as a central ingredient of a just and efficient economy. And it was to become a crucial component of the Agathatopia project, to which he devoted his last writings (1989, 1993, 1995): partnerships between capital and labor and a social dividend funded by public assets are there offered together as a solution to the problems of unemployment and poverty. Around the same time and place as the notion of “social dividend” appeared in the writings of James Meade, it also surfaced in a famous discussion on market socialism by two professors at the London School of Economics Oskar Lange (1904-1965) and Abba Lerner (1903-1982): in reply to a remark by Lerner (1936), Lange (1937) made clear the expression “social dividend”, which he used to refer to the return on collectively owned capital, had to be understood as contribution-independent.

It is on the background of this inter-war discussion that the liberal peer Juliet Rhys-Williams (1943) proposed a “new social contract”, whose central element consisted in a basic income. Universal, but not quite unconditional, as it made availability for work a necessary counterpart for the uniform grant. Payment of the grant is suspended during strikes, for example. However, it was the alternative proposal for a national minimum income (tied to a broader program of unified national child benefit and social insurance) made in 1942 by another liberal peer, William Beveridge, director of the London School of Economics, that prevailed in Britain — and soon started spreading elsewhere in Europe —, thus relegating UBI-type proposals to the fringe of the UK’s policy-relevant debate.

2. Short-lived effervescence: the United States in the 1960s
Three American approaches to the guaranteed minimum – It is in the turbulent America of the 1960s, at the peak of the civic rights movement, that a real debate on universal basic income resurfaced, with three main sources of inspiration. Firstly, Robert Theobald (1929-1999) and his Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution (1964) defended in various publications a vaguely specified guaranteed minimum income on grounds reminiscent of Douglas, such as the belief that “automation is rendering work for pay obsolete, and that government handouts are the only way to give the public the means to buy the immense bounty produced by automatons”. Secondly, in his popular Capitalism and Freedom (1962), the American economist and Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman (1912-2006) proposed a radical simplification of the American Welfare State through the introduction of what he there called a “negative income tax”. Friedman’s proposal of a linear negative income tax would fully integrate the income tax and transfer systems. It was offered as a simple and radical alternative to the patchwork of existing social welfare schemes. And it was itself meant as a transitional stage on the way to an ideal, transfer-free capitalist society (For Friedman’s own account of where he got the idea from and relevant references, see the Suplicy-Friedman exchange in BIEN NewsFlash 3, May 2000). Finally, and most importantly, James Tobin (1918-2002), John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) and other liberal economists started defending in a series of articles the idea of a guaranteed minimum income more general, more generous and less dependency-creating than the existing assistance programs.

Tobin’s demogrant – Tobin, Pechman and Miezkowski published the first technical analysis of negative income tax schemes in 1967, where they came out in favor of a variant involving an automatic payment to all citizens – a genuine UBI which Joseph Pechman proposed calling a demogrant. In contrast with Friedman’s proposal, Tobin’s demogrant scheme was not meant to replace the whole system of social assistance and insurance schemes — let alone to help extinguish the welfare state altogether —, but only to reconfigure its lower component so as to make it a more efficient and work-friendlier instrument for raising the incomes of the poor.

Under Tobin’s proposal, more generous than Friedman’s and more precise than Theobald’s, each household was to be granted a basic credit at a level varying with family composition, which each family could supplement with earnings and other income taxed at a uniform rate. (For relevant references and Tobin’s own account of how his demogrant proposal evolved, see the Suplicy-Tobin exchange in BIEN NewsFlash 11, September 2001)

Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan and McGovern’s support for the demogrant – In this lively and promising context, a petition was organized in the Spring of 1968 calling for the US Congress “to adopt this year a system of income guarantees and supplements”. It was supported by James Tobin, Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith, Robert Lampman, Harold Watts and over one thousand more economists, though not by Milton Friedman. In a context in which dependence on the existing means-tested welfare system was increasing dramatically, this petition contributed to creating a climate in which the administration felt it had to move ahead. This led to the Family Assistance Plan (FAP), an ambitious social welfare program prepared by the democrat senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) on behalf of Republican President Richard Nixon’s administration. The FAP provided for the abolition of the aid program targeting poor families (AFDC) and incorporated a guaranteed income with financial supplements for workers which came close to a negative income tax scheme. It was publicly presented by President Nixon in August 1969, adopted in April 1970 by a large majority in the US House of Representatives, rejected by the relevant Commission of the US Senate in November 1970, and definitively rejected in 1972, despite several amendments meant to assuage the opposition, owing to a coalition between those who found it too timid and those who found it too bold. A more ambitious “demogrant” plan was included on James Tobin’s advice in democrat George McGovern’s platform for the 1972 presidential election, but dropped in August 1972. Combined with McGovern’s defeat by Nixon in November 1972, the beginning of the Watergate affair in March 1973 and Nixon’s resignation in November 1974, the defeat of the FAP in the Senate marked the end of the short but strong appearance of UBI-type ideas in the US debate. The discussion continued however in a more academic vein, on the basis of five large-scale experiments with negative income tax schemes (four in the USA and one in Canada) and controversies over the results.

3. New departure: North-Western Europe in the 1980s
The first initiatives: Debates in Denmark and the Netherlands – Towards the end of the 1970s, while the demogrant debate was virtually forgotten in the United States, a debate on a UBI started up from scratch in a number of European countries, in near total ignorance of previous discussions, whether in Europe or in America. Thus, in Denmark, three academics defended a UBI proposal by the name of “citizen’s wage” in a national best-seller later translated into English under the title Revolt from the Center (Meyer et al, 1978). But it is above all in the Netherlands that the new European discussion on UBI took off. The first voice to be heard in this discussion was that of J.P. Kuiper, a professor of social medicine at the Free University of Amsterdam. Struck by how sick some people were able to make themselves by working too much while others were making themselves sick because they could not find work, he recommended uncoupling employment and income as a way of countering the de-humanizing nature of paid employment: only a decent “guaranteed income”, as a called it, would enable people to develop independently and autonomously (Kuiper, 1976). In 1977, the small radical party (Politieke Partij Radicalen), grown out of the left of the Dutch Christian-democratic party, became the first European political party with parliamentary representation to officially include a UBI (basisinkomen) in its electoral program. The movement grew quite rapidly, thanks to the involvement of the food sector trade union Voedingsbond, a component of the main Trade Union Confederation FNV. With its exceptionally high proportion of women and part-time workers among its members, the Voedingsbond played a major role in the Dutch debate throughout the 1980s. It initiated a series of publications and actions defending a UBI combined with a drastic reduction in working time and hosted the Dutch UBI association on its premises. In 1985, the Dutch discussion reached a first climax when the prestigious Scientific Council for Government Policy created a sensation by publishing a report in which it recommended unambiguously the introduction of a so-called “partial basic income”. Such a partial basic income is a genuine UBI, but at a level insufficient to cover the needs of a single person and hence not meant to replace the existing conditional minimum income system.

Developments in Britain and Germany – Around the same time, the debate began to take shape in other countries too, albeit more discretely. In 1984, a group of academics and activists gathered around Bill Jordan and Hermione Parker under the auspices of the National Council for Voluntary Organizations formed the Basic Income Research Group (BIRG) – which was to become in 1998 the Citizen’s Income Trust. Despite the consistent support of independent minds such as the assistant editor of the Financial Times Samuel Brittan and the sympathy shown for the idea by liberal-democrat party, the UBI did not manage to reach mainstream politics — except in the very attenuated form of a baby bond — in Blair’s New Labour era any more than under Thatcher’s neo-liberalism. In Germany, Thomas Schmid, an eco-libertarian from Berlin, got the discussion going with his Liberation from False Labor (Schmid ed. 1984). Several collective volumes emanating from the green movement pursued and developed this first initiative (Opielka & Vobruba 1986; Opielka & Ostner 1987). At the same time, Joachim Mitschke (1985), professor of public finance at the University of Frankfurt, began a long campaign in favor of a citizen’s income (Bürgergeld) administered in the form of a negative income tax. However, the fall of the Berlin wall (1989) and the consequent reunification of Germany (October 1990) stopped this incipient public discussion for many years, despite the support it enjoyed from reputed academics like Claus Offe (1992, 1996), close to the greens, and to a lesser extent Fritz Scharpf (1993), close to the social democrats. It is only around 2005, after reunification was more or less digested, that a surprising convergence generated a rich national debate.

The basic income debate in France – In France, the debate got off the ground more slowly. The influential left-wing sociologist and philosopher André Gorz (1923-2007) initially defended a life-long basic income coupled to a universal social service of 20,000 hours (Gorz 1985). However, his fear of social life getting entirely colonized by paid employment drove him towards the defence of an unconditional income (Gorz 1997). In a very different vein, Yoland Bresson (1984, 1994, 2000), self-described as a “left Gaullist” economist, offered a convoluted argument for a universal ”existence income” supposed to be pitched at a level objectively determined by the “value of time”. Alain Caillé (1987, 1994, 1996), leader of the “Movement against Utilitarianism in the Social Sciences” (or MAUSS) advocated an unconditional income as the expression of society’s fundamental trust in those excluded from the labor market and in their ability and willingness to invest in activities of collective interest. And Jean-Marc Ferry (1995, 2000), a political philosopher in the Habermas tradition, developed a plea for a UBI as a right of citizenship at the level of the European Union, in a context in which he reckons full employment, conventionally understood, is forever out of reach and in which a “quaternary” sector of socially useful activities needs to be developed.

The birth and expansion of BIEN – These modest national debates emerged independently from one another and the intellectual contributions that fed them were unaware of most of the history of the idea, if not the whole of it. However, they gradually came into contact with one another thanks to the creation of BIEN. In March 1984, a group of researchers and trade unionists close to the University of Louvain (Belgium) published a provocative UBI scenario under the collective pseudonym “Collectif Charles Fourier”. The scenario was entered in a competition on the future of work earning the Collectif a prize with which it organized in Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium) in September 1986 the very first meeting gathering UBI supporters from several countries. Pleasantly surprised to discover how many people were interested in an idea they thought they were almost alone in defending, the participants decided to set up the Basic Income European Network (BIEN), which published a regular newsletter and organized conferences every two years. The birth of similar networks in the United States, South America and South Africa, the intensification of contacts with pre-existing networks in Australia and New Zealand, and the presence of an increasing number of non-Europeans at the BIEN conferences, led BIEN to re-interpret its acronym as the Basic Income Earth Network at its 10th congress, held in Barcelona in September 2004. The first congress outside Europe of the newly created worldwide network was held at the University of Cape Town (South Africa) in October 2006.

4. Modest but real: Alaska’s dividends
The introduction and development of the only genuine universal basic income system in existence to this day took place many leagues from these debates. In the mid 1970s, Jay Hammond, the Republican governor of the state of Alaska (United States) was concerned that the huge wealth generated by oil mining in Prudhoe Bay, the largest oilfield in North America, would only benefit the current population of the state. He suggested setting up a fund to ensure that this wealth would be preserved, through investment of part of the revenue from oil. In 1976, the Alaska Permanent Fund was created by an amendment to the State Constitution. In order to get the Alaskan population interested in its growth and continuity, Governor Hammond conceived of the annual payment of a dividend to all residents, in proportion to their number of years of residence. Brought before the United States Supreme Court on grounds of discrimination against immigrants from other states, the proposal was declared in contradiction with the “equal protection clause”, the fourteenth amendment of the Federal Constitution. The proposal was modified in order to overcome this objection, and transformed into a genuine universal basic income. Since implementation of the program in 1982, everyone who has been officially resident in Alaska for at least six months – currently around 650,000 people – has received a uniform dividend every year, whatever their age and number of years of residence in the State. This dividend corresponds to part of the average interest earned, over the previous five years, on the permanent fund set up using the revenue from oil mining. The fund was initially invested exclusively in the State economy, but later became an international portfolio, thus enabling the distribution of the dividend to cushion fluctuations in the local economic situation instead of amplifying them (Goldsmith, 2004). The dividend stood at around $300 per person per annum in the early years but was close to reaching $2000 in 2000, when the stock market plummeted and cut the dividend in half in the course of a few years. In 2008, however, the size of the annual dividends reached a new all-time high with payments of $2069 per person. Alaska’s oil dividend scheme has repeatedly been proposed for other parts of the world, but still remains unique — and helps make Alaska the most egalitarian among US states.

“The history of basic income” is based on chapter 1 of L’allocation universelle by Yannick Vanderborght and Philippe Van Parijs (expanded English version in progress, to be published by Harvard University Press). The web version has been edited and abridged by Simon Birnbaum and Karl Widerquist. For the full list of references, see Vanderborght, Yannick & Van Parijs Philippe (2005), L’allocation universelle, Paris: La Découverte.

1. Bertrand Russell, Roads to Freedom. Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism, London: Unwin Books (1918), pp. 80-81 and 127.
2. On the Milners, Bertram Pickard, Major Douglas, James Meade, G.D.H. Cole and other aspects of this first public emergence of the UBI proposal, see Van Trier (1995).
3. The term basic income appears in the following context:”Mill did, however, regard as much nearer practicability those forms of socialism which, at a sacrifice of idealism, accepted a moderate degree of economic inequality. On this score he praised the Fourieristes, or rather that form of Fourierism which assigned in the first place a basic income to all and then distributed the balance of the product in shares to capital, talent or responsibility, and work actually done.” (p. 310). The Dutch equivalent (basisinkomen) had already been used in 1934 by Nobel laureate Jan Tinbergen, in the context of discussions about the program of the Labour Party (PvdA) in his own country, the Netherlands.





“The area around our own solar system showing the location of known extrasolar planetary systems (purple circles). The red sphere represents Earth’s radio signature, or the distance our radio/television broadcasts have so far traveled outward.”





“During a meeting between Washington and military representatives with the Mobe, a lengthy, surreal discussion developed over the height the Pentagon could be levitated. The military claimed that Abbie’s original plan to levitate the building twenty-two feet would be too high for structural reasons. According to a friend of Abbie’s, Sal Gianetta, who was in attendance at the meeting, “Ab came down from twenty-two feet to three feet, the military agreed to three feet and they sealed it with a handshake.” (qtd. in Sloman 98)







from History is Made At Night : Dancing with EG

“The anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) is perhaps best known today for one quote attributed to her: ‘If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution’. It seems that she never actually said these words, but in her autobiography Living My Life her joy in dancing is obvious.

At one point she recalls her first ball in St. Petersburg, aged 15: “At the German Club everything was bright and gay… I was asked for every dance, and I danced in frantic excitement and abandon. It was getting late and many people were already leaving when Kadison invited me for another dance. Helena insisted that I was too exhausted, but I would not have it so. “I will dance!” I declared; “I will dance myself to death!” My flesh felt hot, my heart beat violently as my cavalier swung me round the ball-room, holding me tightly. To dance to death – what more glorious end! It was towards five in the morning when we arrived home”.

After moving to the United States, she was involved in supporting a strike by Jewish women cloakmakers in New York’s East Side in the 1890s, including dances for the strikers: ‘At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for, a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to became a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world – prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal’.

Goldman, Emma (1869-1940)

Once called “one of the most dangerous women in America,” by the F. B. I.’s J. Edgar Hoover, Emma Goldman was an energetic political organizer, a fiery radical, and a passionate free spirit. She was also one of the first outspoken allies of gay and lesbian people anywhere in the world. Firmly believing that “the most vital right is the right to love and be loved,” Goldman braved not only the disapproval of the mainstream, but also opposition within the radical left to defend the rights of homosexuals.

Born in a Jewish ghetto in Lithuania on June 27, 1869, Goldman grew up learning the politics of liberation under the shadow of discrimination and pogroms. In 1884 she emigrated to the United States to join her sister in Rochester, New York. Working under sweatshop conditions as a sewing machine operator in a corset factory, Goldman continued her education about oppression and the struggle for human rights.

She was politically galvanized when a violent political demonstration in 1886 led to the execution of four anarchists in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. She moved to New York City and became an active anarchist. Over the next years Goldman became an effective speaker and organizer for anarchist causes. She was attracted to anarchism as a philosophy not only because it sought economic and political justice, but also because anarchists advocated free speech, atheism, and sexual freedom.

Goldman had already left one unhappy marriage, and she valued the freedom to love without bondage as much as she valued the right of workers to adequate pay. She spoke out boldly in favor of contraception and against marriage, which she deemed a form of female slavery. Goldman’s political speeches, writings, and other activities earned her admiration from many working people and fear and hostility from those in power. She was arrested and jailed in 1893, 1901, 1916, 1918, 1919, and 1921 for her radical activities.

In an era when gay writer Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for two years (1895-1897) for “gross indecency,” Goldman spoke out publicly in defense of gay and lesbian people, defending their right to choose who and how they would love. For this outspokenness she faced criticism from her colleagues on the left who feared that embracing the cause of homosexuality would damage their other political work. Goldman was as unaffected by these fears as she was by the condemnation of those on the right, and she continued to support homosexuals throughout her life. In attacking the stigmatization and persecution of homosexuals, she drew upon the works of Edward Carpenter, Havelock Ellis, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Sigmund Freud, and other sexologists.

Goldman herself embraced free love as a lifestyle and had many passionate affairs, notably with Alexander Berkman, her co-editor of the anarchist journal Mother Earth, and Ben Reitman, a Chicago radical. While she did not write or speak about her own relations with women, it is likely that she did have some. Margaret Anderson, lesbian editor of The Little Review, was a member of Goldman’s circle, as were other lesbians and gay men. One of her admirers, Almeda Sperry, implied a sexual relationship, but it was never acknowledged by Goldman.

In words that still ring true almost a century later, Goldman wrote in a 1923 essay: “Modern woman is no longer satisfied to be the beloved of a man; she looks for understanding, comradeship; she wants to be treated as a human being and not simply as an object for sexual gratification. And since man in many cases cannot offer her this, she turns to her sisters.” However, she also criticized some lesbians, whose “antagonism to the male,” she wrote, “is almost a disease.”

Goldman was arrested in 1917 for speaking out against military conscription for World War I, and in 1919, she was deported to Russia. Although she left Russia disillusioned by the failures of the Communist revolution there, she continued to work for progressive social and political causes until her death on May 14, 1940. She was buried near Haymarket Square in Chicago, where her political inspiration had been ignited.



War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919

Though she was not a pacifist, Emma Goldman insisted on the anarchist principle that the state has no right to make war. She believed that most modern wars were fought on behalf of capitalists at the expense of the working class, and that the draft was a form of illegitimate coercion.

As the United States appeared to be drifting toward war in late 1916, Goldman threw her energy into opposing the government’s military preparations, using her magazine, Mother Earth, as a forum. Goldman was not alone in this cause: the antiwar effort was the product of a broad coalition of liberals, socialists, anarchists, and progressive unionists. Ultimately, however, the federal government crushed this movement and repressed its elements in an almost hysterical patriotic prowar and antiradical crusade orchestrated by President Woodrow Wilson. Mother Earth was banned, along with other periodicals opposing the war. Hundreds of foreign-born radicals were deported.

Although Goldman knew federal government officials had been looking for grounds to deport her for years, she pressed on with her antiwar activities. Within weeks of America’s entry into World War I, she helped launch the No- Conscription League to encourage conscientious objectors and spoke repeatedly against the draft, attracting eight thousand people to one meeting. Predictably, the government responded, arresting Emma Goldman and her comrade Alexander Berkman on June 15, 1917. Charged with conspiring against the draft, they were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison with the possibility of deportation at the end of their term.

After an unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court, Goldman began serving her term at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. On September 27, 1919, Emma was released, only to be re-arrested shortly afterward by the young J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Justice Department’s General Intelligence Division. Hoover advanced his career by implementing to the fullest extent possible the government’s plan to deport all foreign-born radicals. Writing the briefs and presenting the case against Goldman himself, Hoover persuaded the courts to deny Goldman’s citizenship claims and to deport her.

On December 21, 1919, Goldman, Berkman, and over two hundred other foreign- born radicals were herded aboard the Buford and, accompanied by a fearsome block of nearly one hundred guards, set sail for the Soviet Union.










Having a Ball at the Inauguration
by Eric Felten  /  January 16, 2009

‘Inaugurations are jolly events,” Judith Martin wrote in “Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior.” But they are not without their hassles, inconveniences that may well be encountered Tuesday when Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th American president. Traditionally the most chaotic challenge at inaugural festivities is not “messy weather” or “spectator events you can’t see” but the quest to get a cocktail. Drinks are “acquired after massive physical exertion only to be spilled on one’s best clothes.” Which is why Miss Manners suggests that inaugurations have less in common with coronations than with football weekends. Will the day be, as Mr. Obama and his team have repeatedly promised, “the most open and accessible inauguration in our nation’s history”? Unlikely — and not just because of the security imperatives of the modern presidency. The bar for inaugural openness was set so high by Andrew Jackson (and the parched mob that followed him into the White House) that no modern president could hope, or would want, to best it. “A monstrous crowd of people is in the city,” Daniel Webster wrote on Inauguration Day, 1829. “I never saw any thing like it before. Persons have come five hundred miles to see General Jackson; and they really seem to think that the country is rescued from some dreadful danger.”

After the oath and his address, the old general climbed on his horse and headed for the White House. As one witness told it: “The President was literally pursued by a motley concourse of people, riding, running helter-skelter, striving who should first gain admittance into the executive mansion, where it was understood that refreshments were to be distributed.” The unruly bunch pushed into the White House, clods standing on the silk-upholstered furniture in muddy boots to get a glimpse of the new president (who was trying not to be crushed by his well-wishers). “The reign of King Mob seemed triumphant,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, appalled. When the stewards finally delivered buckets full of Orange Punch, the crowd lunged for the pails, overturning furniture, smashing the glassware, and — perhaps worst of all — spilling the punch itself. Quick-thinking waiters lugged the remaining barrels of punch out onto the White House lawn, enticing Jackson’s admirers to take the party outside.

I scoured 19th-century cookbooks for Orange Punch recipes and found them to be fairly consistent: Make a sugar syrup and infuse it with orange peel; use it to sweeten a mix of orange juice, lemon juice, rum and brandy. Some also added a taste of orange curaçao (orangey overkill) or maraschino liqueur. As specified, the drink isn’t bad, but it isn’t anything I’d trample White House furniture to get at. So I tweaked it a bit. I flavored the sugar syrup not only with orange peel but also with mulling spices and brightened the punch with the judicious addition of soda water. And to counteract the drink’s tendency toward over-sweetness, I added a dash of Angostura bitters to each glass. I’ve given the recipe in proportions, easy to make by the bucketful if you’ve got a mob of your own to serve on Inauguration Day.

Inaugural Orange Punch
3 parts fresh orange juice
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part mulled orange syrup
1 part dark rum
1 part cognac
2 parts soda water

Combine in a punch bowl with a large block of ice. Serve in punch cups with a little crushed ice, and give each glass a dash of Angostura bitters.

Mulled Orange Syrup
Combine 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water and heat to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Add the peel from an orange and mulling spices (a couple of cinnamon sticks, some whole cloves and allspice berries). After 15 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit for several hours. Strain.

The trashing of the White House that was Andrew Jackson’s inauguration
by Tony Perrottet   /  30 September 2008

The most riotous party scene in the U.S. political arena occurred when the war hero Andrew Jackson, considered a country bumpkin by many a patrician Easterner, arrived in Washington, D.C. An estimated 30,000 of his supporters converged on the young capital city, mostly from the South and West, to whoop it up for the March 4 swearing-in. These frontier crowds didn’t just want to fill the saloons of the capital — they wanted to shake Jackson’s hand and pay a visit to his swank new home, the President’s House, which had recently been painted a glossy white. The scenes of debauchery that ensued would make the city’s genteel, fashion-obsessed locals blanch.

Scoring an Invitation
Until this time, inauguration receptions had been discreet and civilized affairs. Straight-laced members of the American aristocracy would gather at the President’s House and offer their formal congratulations over coffee and biscuits, while quietly rejoicing that power was remaining in the hands of the land-owning elite. 1828 would change all that. Jackson was the first truly popular president: Leading a faction that would later become the Democratic Party, he swept into power by taking advantage of new laws that almost tripled the numbers of registered American voters from 365,000 to a million, and. He himself was one of the country’s fabled self-made men, a poor autodidact from the Tennessee frontier who served in the Revolutionary War as a teenage foot soldier and rose in the ranks to become a successful general in the War of 1812 (he had a dent in his skull from a British sword). He was so popular that any man who had cast a ballot for Jackson in the 1828 election felt that he had been extended a personal invitation to attend the inauguration. What’s more, the election of 1824 had been “stolen” — Jackson had swept the popular vote but had not gained a majority in the Electoral College — and his supporters wanted to make sure they finished the job.

Pre-party Planning
Ever since the British burned Washington to the ground 16 years earlier, successive mayors had been trying to make the capital presentable. It was an uphill job. The artificial city was still a ramshackle and provincial affair, far from the fine metropolis envisioned by designer Pierre Charles L’Enfant — “a parody upon all the other capitals that were ever actually built up and inhabited since the beginning of the world,” scoffed the architecture critic for the Philadelphia Monthly. The city had only one decent thoroughfare, Pennsylvania Avenue, which ran between Congress and the Presidential House, while the rest was bleak swamp and sand. In fact, Washington was completely unprepared for the hordes, wild-haired or otherwise, that arrived upon it. The hotels filled up days beforehand, as did those in nearby Georgetown and Alexandria, so innkeepers happily tripled their room rates and rented space on their kitchen floors. Thousands simply camped out under the open sky. For the coarse Jackson supporters, mostly outdoorsmen of sorts, this was no hardship: They were simply bivouacking as if they were on a hunting trip in the Adirondacks. Many of them had never seen a real city before, so even Washington was an awe-inspiring site.

What to Wear
Unwashed hayseeds they may have been, but on the big day it would be Sunday best — every man with his beaver-skin hat, every woman with a bonnet.

Party Progress
At dawn, a 13-cannon salute woke the city, and crowds began to gather outside the modest hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue where Jackson himself had taken a suite. At 11 a.m., the gaunt, white-haired object of the peoples’ affections emerged dressed in funereal black (he was mourning his beloved wife, who had died after his election), to ear-splitting huzzas. In this era before Presidential assassinations, Jackson walked to the Capitol on foot with fans surging all around him, some on horseback, some in carriages, a bevy of pretty girls in a wagon alongside. At the Capitol, he took his oath of office and gave an inaudible speech. No sooner had he finished than things began to get out of hand. The crowd had become a sea covering every available space, and it now surged through the barriers and mobbed the new President. Jackson’s friends had to force a way for him back along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, where he and his men had prepared some modest refreshments for his supporters.

This “reception” went awry from the start. When the staff opened the doors to bring out the first barrels of orange and rum punch, the exultant crowd burst in and knocked several over, soaking the floor in sticky booze and smashed glasses. The guests were, said eyewitness Margaret Bayard Smith, “a rabble, a mob, of boys, negros, women, children, scrambling, fighting, romping… Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses, and such a scene of confusion as is impossible to describe.” The crowd quickly took possession of the White House: So many people were squeezed inside that the building itself creaked and shuddered dangerously. A bodyguard of loyal friends had to form a ring around the scarecrow figure of Jackson so he wouldn’t be crushed to death or asphyxiated by well-wishers. The strangers behaved if they were in a Mississippi saloon, standing in mud-caked boots on the damask chairs for a better view. But it wasn’t all riff-raff. Even some of the stuffy D.C. toffs got into the anarchic spirit. “Everyone from the highest and most polished,” marveled one attendee, Joseph Story, an associate judge of the Supreme Court, “down to the most vulgar and gross of the nation,” wanted their slice of the action. There are numerous accounts from well-to-do white observers who were shocked to see free African-Americans in the throng, including bevies of children and one “stout black wench” (noted Senator James Hamilton Jr. with disdain) who sat by herself in a back room, “eating in this free country a jelley with a gold spoon in the President’s House.” Some compared the crowd to the barbarians in Rome. It was too crowded to get through the front door, so anyone who wanted to leave had to crawl out a first floor window. At 4 p.m., friends managed to spirit Jackson back to his hotel, but the party continued at the White House for hours. At around dusk, servants struck upon the idea of passing barrels of liquor and ice cream out the window in order to get the revelers out onto the lawn, where they could do less damage. It worked.

High Points
Despite the chaos, even the most dubious observers admitted that something “sublime” had occurred at Jackson’s party. There was no doubt that a new era of American democracy had begun. “It was the People’s day, and the People’s President, and the People would rule,” wrote Margaret Smith.

The After-Party
When the dust settled on the evening, the White House looked like a war zone. Thousands of dollars worth of china and glassware had been smashed or taken as souvenirs, the carpets were shredded, the upholstery ruined. Jackson was not abashed. He took the near-riot as an opportunity to have Congress allocate enough money to actually finish the President’s abode to the original design of Benjamin Latrobe. He got $50,000 to refurbish it, acquiring sumptuous new furniture, elegant dining ware, and no less than 20 spittoons for the East Room.

{Source: Brands, H.W., Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times, (New York, 2005); Remini, Robert, Andrew Jackson, vol. 2: The Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832, (Baltimore, 1999).}

“Popular legend has it that the lack of content on three pages of George Washington’s diary can be traced directly to a bowl of punch. But it wasn’t just any old punch–it was Fish House Punch, a concoction that packs… well, you can probably fill in the blank. Therecipe for true Fish House Punch was kept secret for almost 200 years. The formula was first developed at the Fish House Club, a.k.a. the State in Schuylkill, or simply the Schuylkill Fishing Company in Philadelphia, an organization formed in 1732 by a group of anglers who liked to cook. They spent their days fishing for perch in the Schuylkill River, and as the sun went down, they headed to the clubhouse to make dinner with their catch.

These days, if you want to join the Fish House Club, you’d better be prepared to learn their culinary methods the hard way–you must perform “menial tasks” in their kitchen until a spot opens up, and it’s mandatory that you’re cheerful about it. But you’ll be in good company–they say that Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette donned a white apron and helped prepare dinner when he visited the club a few years after Washington’s 1787 visit. The club seems to attract the right sort of people.”

“I recently received mail from a descendant of the creator of Fish House Punch, informing me that the recipe on site “bears not the least resemblance to the recipe in my care…”

Original Fish House Punch Recipe
A decent batch consists of:
30 limes, cut in half and squeezed, such pulp as gets through is fine
15 lemons, treat as above
This constitutes a “part” for measuring the rest of the ingredients:
1 part dark rum
2 parts light rum… Use a reasonable quality, these are friends you will be poisoning so treat them well
1 part brandy
1 part brown sugar
1 part water, in the form of a block of ice

Kenyans toast Obama presidency with beer, parties
by Elizabeth A. Kennedy

Nairobi, Kenya (AP) — From the shantytowns of Kenya’s capital to the rural homestead of Barack Obama’s relatives, thousands of Kenyans slaughtered goats, hoisted American flags and partied into the night Tuesday as a man they see as one of their own ascended to the world’s most powerful office. In Nairobi’s sprawling Kibera slum, residents raised a U.S. flag and declared Kenya to be America’s 51st state. In the village of Kogelo, where Obama’s father was born and some family members still live, 5,000 people gathered as 10 bulls and six goats were slaughtered for a luxurious feast at a time when the country is enduring a crippling food crisis. Women dressed in colorful print cloths performed traditional dances to the rhythms of cowhide drums. “Yes, yes, yes!” shouted Maurice Odoyo, 34, joining hundreds of people trying to catch a glimpse of Obama’s speech on a 12-inch television set up in a clearing in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums. “His father comes from this country. Obama will remember us, how we are suffering.” The election of a black American president with African roots stands as a powerful symbol on a continent where so many people’s hopes are hobbled by crushing poverty and corruption. And in Kenya, a struggling country of 38 million riven a year ago by a deadly post-election crisis, Obama’s presidency was a source of pride and inspiration.

Kibera is a stark reminder of the poverty in a country where one in five people get by on less than a dollar a day. The slum is a maze of tin-roofed shacks where raw sewage flows through dirt tracks. On Tuesday, children wearing Obama T-shirts huddled by a bonfire to keep warm. Despite Kenya’s problems, Obama’s victory has enthralled the nation. “We missed the Kenyan presidency but we got a bigger one, the American throne,” Seth Oloo, a physician in the western town of Kisumu, told The Associated Press.

Obama was born in Hawaii, where he spent most of his childhood raised by his mother, a white American from Kansas. He barely knew his late father, an economist from Kogelo. Obama has visited his Kenyan relatives three times there, and his step-grandmother, Sarah, and other relatives traveled to Washington for the inauguration. She says they are close, although they have to speak through an interpreter. Since Obama was elected, the road to Kogelo has been tarred and the government has brought in electricity and water. Local youths hope Obama will bring factories for them to work in. Samuel Omondi said if Obama could bring such changes, he was welcome to take over from his own country’s scandal-wracked government. “I hope Kenya to be one of the American states,” the 33-year-old Kogelo resident said. At the biggest hospital in nearby Kisumu, Christine Aoko named her newborn daughter Michelle, after Obama’s wife. “I hope my girl will grow as tough as Michelle,” Aoko said. Nairobi’s popular Carnivore restaurant, where tourists dine on alligator and giraffe, ordered an extra 240 crates of beer for partygoers watching the inauguration. But many caution against placing too much hope in the idea that Obama will make Africa a top priority. “It is lost on many of us that despite his Kenyan roots, Barack Obama is as American as apple pie, and will never be president of Kenya,” said a column in Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper. “True, he does have an attachment to this country, but it would be foolish of us to wait for him to direct Air Force One and the entire American fleet to bring goodies to our starving shores.”

Party Time : Inauguration Night in Nairobi
by Alex Robinson  /  January 21st, 2009

Obama was everywhere from the moment I stepped off the plane in Nairobi, Kenya — on T-shirts, on the front page of all the papers, printed on the backs of buses and trucks on the traffic-choked highway into town. “This is a new era,” said my taxi driver, “a happy day for Kenyans, for Africans, a day to celebrate.” “So how will you be celebrating?” I asked. “There are parties all over the city. The clubs will be alive.” And yes they were. At the international conference center downtown, where thousands of Kenyans sat watching CNN, I met a couple of young Nairobians who invited me to what they called “the coolest bar in the city,” Casablaca. One of them was Ella Ciiru, who would be singing there later. As we headed out of town in a convoy of trucks, rickshaws, limousines and bicycles, Ciiru spoke to me about her Obama-era hopes. “I think people will manage to see another side of Kenya through this. Beyond the safaris and pith helmets, the political violence and prejudice. They will see that we are modern people. I hope it will encourage people to come and know the real Kenya.”

That Kenya was out in force at Casablanca. Packed with Nairobi’s beautiful movers and shakers, this was cool, contemporary East Africa. Models with tiny waists in Imani gowns wafted through the Morroccan-themed bar. Musicians and media types sucked on hookahs and sipped mojitos. People danced to D.J. Dudu Sarr’s fashionable African mix: Senegalese hip-hop, Suzanna Owiyo, Kenyan Genge music. By the time the vice-presidential inauguration had come and gone, the club was beginning to hush. Soon everyone was sitting at red-white-and-blue-draped tables in the garden in front of huge flat-screen TV’s.  Obama stepped forward, and Casablanca was so quiet I could hear the singing of the cicadas and tree frogs. The moment hung in the thick night air, and when the new president gave a shout out to Kogelo, the village where he traces his roots, the crowd burst into a cheer. Then Nairobi began to party in earnest. The garden started thumping to the dance music of Afro-Project, Nairobi’s hottest new act. And Ciiru finally took to the stage for her Beyoncé moment, singing rich, resonant African soul. Soon I was dragged away again, this time by my two new friends Sidney and Arthur, who were bored of the fashionable crowd. They were after beer, not cocktails. So we ended up downing bottles of Tusker in the rustic-chic K1 Klubhouse, a kind of mock jungle bar where everyone wore Diesel jeans and danced to high-energy Kenyan Kapuka music.

From there it was on to Gallileo, which was full of locals waving Kenyan flags inscribed with “Obama.” D.J. Riggs played L.A. hip-hop, and young couples grooved to the image of the president and first lady dancing together at the Neighborhood Ball. As the night stretched into the morning, we all ended up in a field full of students smiling and shouting. One group was brandishing an American flag and cheering, “Obama! Obama! Obama!” Two girls rushed up to me, the only white face in the crowd. “Where you from?” they asked. “America? Welcome to Kenya!” They laughed and kissed me on the cheek. “Tell your friends to come and see our country!”

“Chinese volunteers have donated over 100 tonnes of rice to Sarah Obama, U.S. President Barack Obama’s step-grandmother, to help her AIDS orphans in western Kenya. Sarah Obama, 87, has adopted 82 orphans, aged four to 18, most of whose parents died from AIDS, the China Daily and Beijing Youth Daily said. “She will be very happy to see the support from China after she returns from Obama’s inauguration,” Kenyan Ambassador Julius Ole Sunkuli, who attended a donation ceremony on Tuesday, was quoted as saying. Kenya launched a $470 million aid appeal on Friday to help millions suffering from drought and lack of food at a time when the government is mired in corruption scandals.”

Family Affair Stretches Across the Ocean
by Brigid Schulte  /  January 21, 2009

In the hours before Barack Obama was sworn in as president, as celebrities flitted through town and the beautiful and the powerful began to party, the African cousins of the soon-to-be leader of the free world clambered into the back of a van for the long ride from their National Harbor hotel to a house in Silver Spring. There would be no balls or fancy suits for this trio, a shopkeeper, biology teacher and banking professor on their first visit to America. Dressed in casual slacks and bundled against an unfamiliar cold, they were headed to an impromptu gathering of Kenyans at a local businessman’s home. “We have come to welcome our son!” one of their countrymen exclaimed in Swahili as life-size images of President Obama filled the big-screen TV in the basement party room. During a day of historic and unusual firsts, the mere presence in Washington yesterday of more than 30 Obama relatives from Kenya was living testimony to the theme of the day: transformation. Obama has often told the story that “only in America” could the son of a man who grew up herding goats in a dusty African village become president of the United States. In his inaugural speech, he made note of that extraordinary journey, referring to “the small village where my father was born.”

As the new president spoke, not far behind him sat a wrinkled woman in a white headdress, beaming. Sarah Onyango — Obama calls her “Granny” or “Mama Sarah” — raised Obama’s father during his boyhood in the Kenyan village of Kisumu. Until recently, she lived in a hut with no running water or electricity, and chickens darted in and out. Now, along with Obama’s Kenyan half-sister, four of his five living half-brothers and other family members — including his father’s first wife — she was a witness to history. Obama’s family narrative is something entirely new in U.S. history. No son of an immigrant has risen to be president since James Buchanan, whose father was born in Ireland in 1761. “This is a completely new phenomenon,” said Gary Boyd Roberts, who has spent a lifetime studying the lineage of U.S. presidents and is senior research scholar emeritus with the New England Historic Genealogical Society. “We haven’t ever had a president who was this connected to family overseas or to a culture that is this distant.” And no one has ever had overseas relatives attend his inauguration, according to Jim Bendat, author of “Democracy’s Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President.”(Stanislaw Albert Raziwell, a Polish prince, did attend John F. Kennedy’s inaugural, Roberts added, “but he was an in-law.”)

The three Obama cousins at the celebration in Silver Spring came as part of a 20-member delegation from Kogelo, the Obama homeland. They were among the quietest in the boisterous, good-humored crowd. With few words, each tucked into heaping plates of ugali (a semihard cake of maize), mandazi sweet buns, roast potatoes, a whole fish, turkey, fried chicken, creamed spinach and grapes. Wilson Obama ate the traditional way: with his hands. Although he wore a blue baseball cap pulled low on his brow, the others soon teased that they could tell right away that he was an Obama. “It’s the ears!” they shouted. Wilson Obama’s ears, like his famous cousin’s, stick out famously.

In Kisumu, Wilson Obama, 59, runs a small store of “consumables,” selling wheat, flour, sugar, detergent and cooking oil. John Ogembu, 43, teaches biology and chemistry at a secondary school. They are both the president’s second cousins. Moses Obama, 35, is a lecturer on banking and finance at a local university. His mother was Barack Obama Sr.’s older sister, making him the president’s first cousin. They have met the president and eaten meals with him when he has visited Kenya. They’ve followed every twist of the campaign. Why they decided to come is simple: They could not let history as strange and wonderful as this pass them by. “What has happened is not just for America,” Ogembu said. “It is for the whole world.” Ogembu and his cousins didn’t make it to the swearing-in in time. They desperately showed their passports with the Obama name, but Secret Service agents would not let them in the secure area near the president, said Grace Owuor, who was organizing the family’s travel. They returned to their hotel and watched the event on television.

Nicholas Rajula, the spokesman for the 20-member delegation from Kogelo, said that village tradition required that they come and stand as “witnesses” and to “wish our son well.” (Some watched on TV as well.) They claim him, Rajula laughed, even though villagers called him “mzungu,” Swahili for white, when they first saw him. Just after Obama was sworn in as a U.S. senator, Rajula, 49, journeyed to Washington on behalf of the ancestral homeland to bring him the traditional Luo symbols of leadership: a fly whisk, a three-legged stool and a shield. “We wanted to bring him a spear, too,” Rajula said. “But we couldn’t get it through security at the airport.” This time, they did not bring gifts. They can be given only once, Rajula explained. And, he said, Obama has already used their powers well.

“The Kogelo, Kenya, primary school served as the “Official Obama Office” during inauguration festivities in the new President’s ancestral village. The school was the main inauguration gathering spot in Kogelo, but the institution may face stiff competition during future festivals. Kenya has allocated the equivalent of about a million U.S. dollars for an Obama cultural center in the village, according to Kenya’s Daily Nation. Meanwhile, Obama: The Musical was enjoyed an inauguration-inspired revival at Nairobi’s Kenya National Theatre this week.”

Obama fever calms Niger Delta youths
by Victor Emeruwa  /  20 January 2009

“There will be no reckless kidnapping and pipeline vandalism at least Tuesday at the prominently restive oil rich community in Nigeria. The youths of Niger Delta are ecstatic today with a plan to raise the flags of America and dance round the about 200 miles fishing community. Obuama indigenes in Niger delta are rolling out the drums in thick celebration of the Barack Obama’s Presidential inauguration taking place in Washington DC. The predominantly fishing community is filled with enthusiasm as they have mapped out plans to roll out programs to mark Obama’s inauguration. Obuoma, a small community in the delta was discovered about 127 years ago, the community remained primitive until 1999 when it embraced Christianity. The indigenes are excited because they share a name that sounds similar to the name of the President-elect of America. “The indigenes do not claim that the American President is a descent of the village but are inspired by the guts and philosophy of Obama” said the clan traditional ruler. It also seems that the village is getting inspired by the courage and guts of the first black President of the United States of America. “I am training my three children and grooming them well with hopes that one day they could grow to become presidents of Nigeria or even the world like Barack Obama” Duru Okpoka, an enthusiastic peasant farmer said.”


Many new faces in America’s extended first family
New York Times News Service  /  January 21, 2009

The president’s elderly Kenyan stepgrandmother came, bearing a gift of an oxtail fly whisk. Cousins journeyed from the South Carolina town where the first lady’s great-great-grandfather was born into slavery, while the rabbi in the family came from the synagogue where he had been commemorating Martin Luther King’s Birthday. The president and first lady’s siblings were there, too, of course: his Indonesian-American half-sister, who brought her Chinese-Canadian husband, and her brother, a black man with a white wife. When President Barack Obama was sworn in on Tuesday, he was surrounded by an extended clan that would have shocked past generations of Americans and instantly redrew the image of a first family for future ones. As they convened to take their family’s final step in its journey from Africa and slavery to a White House built partly by slaves, the group seemed as if it had stepped out of the pages of Obama’s memoir — no longer the disparate kin of a young man wondering how he fit in, but the embodiment of a new president’s promise of change.

For well over two centuries, the United States has been vastly more diverse than its ruling families. Now the Obama family has flipped that around, with a Technicolor cast that looks almost nothing like their overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly Protestant predecessors in the role. The family that produced Obama and his wife, Michelle is black and white and Asian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. They speak English; Indonesian; French; Cantonese; German; Hebrew; African languages, including Swahili, Luo and Igbo; and even a few phrases of Gullah, the Creole dialect of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Very few are wealthy, and some — like Sarah Obama, the stepgrandmother who only recently got electricity in her metal-roofed shack — are quite poor. “Our family is new in terms of the White House, but I don’t think it’s new in terms of the country,” Maya Soetoro-Ng, the president’s younger half-sister, said in an interview last week. “I don’t think the White House has always reflected the textures and flavors of this country.”

Though the world is recognizing the inauguration of the first African-American president, the story is a more complex narrative, about immigration, social mobility and the desegregation of one of the last divided institutions in American life: the family. It is a tale of self-determination, full of refusals to follow the tracks laid by history or religion or parentage. Obama follows the second President Bush, who had a presidential son’s self-assured grip on power. Aside from a top-quality education, the new president came to politics with none of his predecessor’s advantages: no famous last name, no deep-pocketed parents to finance early forays into politics and, in fact, not much of a father at all. So Obama built his political career from scratch, with best-selling books and long-shot runs for office, leaving his relatives astonished at where he has brought them. “It is so mind-boggling that there is a black president,” Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s brother, said in an interview. “Then you layer on top of it that I am related to him? And then you layer on top of that that it’s my brother-in-law? That is so overwhelming, I can’t hardly think about it.”

Though Barack Obama is the son of a black Kenyan, he has some conventionally presidential roots on his white mother’s side: abolitionists who, according to family legend, were chased out of Missouri, a slave state; Midwesterners who weathered the Depression; even a handful of distant ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. (Ever since he became a U.S. senator, the Sons of the American Revolution has tried to recruit him.) But far less is known about Michelle Obama’s roots — even by the first lady herself. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, “it was sort of passed-down folklore that so-and-so was related to so-and-so and their mother and father was a slave,” Robinson said.  Drawing on old census data, family records and interviews, it is clear that Michelle Obama is indeed the descendant of slaves and a daughter of the Great Migration, the mass movement of African-Americans northward in the first half of the 20th century in search of opportunity. Michelle Obama’s family found it, but not without outsize measures of adversity and disappointment along the way.

Only five generations ago, the first lady’s great-great-grandfather, Jim Robinson, was born a slave on Friendfield Plantation in Georgetown, S.C., where he almost certainly drained swamps, harvested rice and was buried in an unmarked grave. As a child, Michelle Obama used to visit her Georgetown relatives, but she only learned during the campaign that her forebears had been enslaved in the same town where she and her cousins had played.According to Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist who has uncovered the roots of many political figures, Michelle Obama has ancestors with similar backgrounds across the South. The public records they left behind give only the briefest glimpses of their lives: Fanny Laws Humphrey, one of Michelle Obama’s great-great-grandmothers, was a cook in Birmingham, Ala., born before the end of the Civil War. Another set of great-great-grandparents, Mary and Nelson Moten, seem to have left Kentucky for Chicago in the early 1860s, a hint they might have been free before official emancipation. And in 1910, some of Michelle Obama’s ancestors are listed in a census as mulatto, adding some support to family whispers of a white ancestor.

The jobs that her relatives held in the early 20th century — domestic servant, coal sorter, dressmaker — suggest an escape from sharecropping, the system that trapped many former slaves and their children in penury for generations. Still, the family’s progress was uneven. Jim Robinson was born into slavery, but his son, Fraser, ran a lunch truck in Georgetown. In turn, his son, also named Fraser, struck out for Chicago in search of something better. But he was unable to find work, and left his wife and children for 14 years, according to his son, Nomenee Robinson. As a result, Michelle Obama’s father was on welfare as a boy and started working on a milk truck at 11. After serving in the Army in World War II and finally securing a job as a postal clerk, Fraser Robinson Jr. rejoined his family. He was so thrifty that he would bring home chemicals to do the family dry cleaning in the bathtub. But his son — Michelle Obama’s father, Fraser Robinson III — became overwhelmed with debt and dropped out of college after a year. He worked in a city boiler room for the rest of his life, helping to send his four younger siblings to college, then his two children, Michelle Obama and her brother, to Princeton.

For all of the vast differences in the Obama and Robinson histories, a few common threads run through. Education is one of them. As a young man, Barack Obama’s father herded goats, then won a scholarship to study in the Kenyan capital. When Barack Obama lived in Indonesia as a child, his mother woke him up for at 4 a.m. for English lessons; meanwhile, in Chicago, Michelle Obama’s mother was bringing home math and reading workbooks so her children would always be a few lessons ahead in school. Only through education, generations of Robinsons taught their children, would they ever succeed in a racist society, relatives said. “My mother would say, ‘When you acquire knowledge, you acquire something no one could take away from you,’ ” Craig Robinson said.

The families also share a kind of adventurous self-determination. In the standard telling, the Obama side is the one that bent the rules of geography and ethnicity. Yet the first lady’s family, the supposed South Side traditionalists, includes several members who literally or figuratively ventured far from home. Nomenee Robinson was an early participant in the Peace Corps, serving in India for two years; later, he moved to Nigeria, where he met his wife; the couple now live in Chicago. Capers Funnye Jr., a cousin of Michelle Obama’s and a rabbi, was brought up in the black church, he said, but as a young man, he felt a calling to Judaism he could not ignore. In daring cross-cultural leaps, no figure quite matches Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, Barack Obama’s mother. As a university student in Honolulu, she hung out at the East-West Center, a cultural exchange organization, meeting two successive husbands there: Barack Obama Sr., an economics student from Kenya, and later, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian. Decades later, her daughter, Maya Soetoro was picking up fliers at the same East-West Center when she noticed Konrad Ng, a Chinese-Canadian student, now her husband.

Now the Obama-Robinson family’s move to the White House seems like a symbolic end point for the once-unquestioned idea that people of different backgrounds should not date, marry or bear children. In Barack Obama’s lifetime, racial intermarriage not only became legal everywhere in the United States, but has started to flourish. As many as a third of white Americans and over half of black Americans count someone of a different race among their close relatives, estimates Joshua R. Goldstein of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. Diversity inside families, said Michael J. Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Stanford University, is “the most interesting kind of diversity there is, because it brings people together cheek by jowl in a way that they never were before.” “There’s nothing as powerful as family relationships,” Rosenfeld said, “and that’s why interracial marriage was illegal for so long in the U.S.” Initially, some of the unions in the Obama family caused consternation. “What can you say when your son announces he’s going to marry a Mzungu?” said Sarah Obama in an interview, using the Swahili term for “white person.” But it was too late, she said, because the couple was deeply in love.

If the Obama-Robinson family faced other suspicions, misunderstandings or double-takes in knitting the clan together, they are barely acknowledged. In interviews, the relatives say their family feels natural and right to them, that they think of each other as individuals, not as members of groups. Maya Soetoro-Ng said that she was not “the Indonesian sister,” but just Maya. On Monday, some of Barack Obama’s Kenyan relatives milled around the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel here, their colorful headscarves earning them more curious glances than even the sports and pop music stars in the room. Zeituni Onyango, the president’s aunt, explained that their family had always been able to absorb newcomers. Pointing out that her male relatives used to take on multiple wives, she said, “My daddy said anyone coming into my family is my family.” (Onyango, who lives in Boston, recently faced deportation charges, but those orders have been stayed and she is pursuing a green card.) At holidays and celebrations, “you get a whole lot of people who are happy to be around family,” Craig Robinson said. “They happen to be from different cultures, but the common thing is that they are all family.”

Like the inauguration, those celebrations draw on a happy mishmash of traditions and histories. Take the Obamas’ 1992 wedding, which included Kenyan family in traditional dress, an African-American cloth-binding ceremony in which the bride and groom’s hands were symbolically tied, and blues, jazz and classical music at the reception (held at a cultural center that was once a country club where black and Jewish Chicagoans were denied admission). White House events may now take on some of the same feel. Four years ago, when the family descended on Washington for Barack Obama’s Senate swearing-in, Ng strolled over to the White House gates and took a picture of his then-infant daughter, Suhaila — “gentle” in Swahili — sleeping in her stroller. Days before leaving Hawaii for the inauguration, Ng stared at the picture and wondered how much had changed since it was taken. After Tuesday’s ceremony, he said, “folks like me will have a chance to be on the other side.”


“Dear Mister President:
We are greatly honored to join the millions around the globe congratulating you on taking office as the president of the United States of America. We believe that we are witnessing something truly historic not only in the political annals of your great nation, the United States of America, but of the world. Your election to this high office has inspired people as few other events in recent times have done. Amidst all of the human progress made over the last century the world in which we live remains one of great divisions, conflict, inequality, poverty and injustice. Amongst many around the world a sense of hopelessness had set in as so many problems remain unresolved and seemingly incapable of being resolved. You, Mister President, have brought a new voice of hope that these problems can be addressed and that we can in fact change the world and make of it a better place.

We are in some ways reminded today of the excitement and enthusiasm in our own country at the time of our transition to democracy. People, not only in our country but around the world, were inspired to believe that through common human effort injustice can be overcome and that together a better life for all can be achieved. Your presidency brings hope of new beginnings in the relations between nations, that the challenges we all face, be they economic, the environment, or in combating poverty or the search for peace, will be addressed with a new spirit of openness and accommodation. There is a special excitement on our continent today, Mister President, in the knowledge that you have such strong personal ties with Africa. We share in that excitement and pride.

We are aware that the expectations of what your Presidency will achieve are high and that the demands on you will be great. We therefore once more wish you and your family strength and fortitude in the challenging days and years that lie ahead. You will always be in our affection as a young man who dared to dream and to pursue that dream. We wish you well.”

N R Mandela

The Future
BY Chris Davis / 6 Nov 1998

When scientists first measured how much of the energy of sunlight was
being converted by plants into biomass, they were surprised to find
that only something like 1% of incident energy was being used to
produce new plant material. They were surprised at how “inefficient”
life was. But such “inefficiency” supposes that plants are working to
maximize their size and numbers, to reproduce as rapidly as possible.
They were supposing that Nature, like a farmer, was trying to maximize
the yield of its fields, and the size of its flocks. Is Nature a
farmer? If it was, would there be any need for human farmers to cross-
breed and select and cultivate in order to produce what the natural
world has not produced in 500 million years of evolution? But if
plants, as Idle Theory suggests, are trying to minimize effort, the
conversion of a mere 1% of incoming solar energy into plant mass
indicates a very high degree of “efficiency” of the kind that hundreds
of millions of years of evolution might be expected to produce.

If there is any truth to Idle Theory, then laziness is a virtue, not a
vice. A disinclination to work is not a disorder, but an indispensable
survival trait that evolved with the earliest forms of life. If so,
the modern attempt by governments, industrialists, economists, and the
like, to keep people busy and “usefully employed” runs entirely
contrary to the nature, not only of human beings, but of life itself.
This may begin to explain the anomie of modern Western culture.

“The story of the modern epoch, at least on the level of mind, is
one of progressive disenchantment… Translated into everyday life,
what does this disenchantment mean? It means that the modern
landscape has become a scenario of “mass administration and blatant
violence,” a state of affairs now clearly perceived by the man in the street.
The alienation and futility that characterized the perceptions of a
handful of intellectuals at the beginning of the century have now come
to characterize the consciousness of common man at its end. Jobs are
stupefying, relationships vapid and transient, the arena of politics
absurd. In the vacuum created by the collapse of traditional values,
we have hysterical evangelical revivals, mass conversions to the
Church of the Reverend Moon, and a general retreat into the oblivion
provided by drugs, television, and tranquilizers. We also have a
desperate search for therapy, by now a national obsession, as millions
of Americans try to reconstruct their lives amidst a pervasive feeling
of anomie and cultural disintegration. An age in which depression is a
norm is a grim one indeed.” (Morris Berman. The Reenchantment of the
World. Bantam 1984)

From the point of view of Idle Theory, modern human society is being
organized to work against real human interests, and such cultural
disintegration is inevitable. Instead of society being organized to
minimize work, it has become organized to maximize work. The mismatch
between what people are culturally required to do – to work -, and
their natural inclination – to play -, results in deepening
psychological conflict, breakdown, and disorder.

An intense sense of guilt characterizes modern life. People feel that
they ought to be happy, and feel inadequate because they are not.
Blaming themselves, they try to reform themselves through counselling,
therapies, guidance. And when that fails, they seek oblivion in drugs
and TV. The therapies all fail because there is actually nothing wrong
with them, and everything wrong with the society in which they find
themselves. It is simply not possible for people to live happy lives
in a society which is organized as a labour camp. It is no more
possible for anyone to live a happy or fulfilled life in modern
Western society than it was for the inmates of such camps.

As Idle Theory sees it, the problem began at the outset of the modern
epoch when Western society abandoned the goal of Christian salvation
of ‘fallen’ humanity – the liberation of humanity from work -, and
began to regard human life as already liberated, as a kind of game,
and the economy as an arena in which human free agents chose to work
manufacturing and trading luxuries and amusements which enhanced
their ‘standard of living’. The inevitable result was that, with the goal of
liberation from work discarded, human life in Western society became
one of increasing rather than decreasing toil. It became ever more
stressed, rushed, hurried, and urgent. Technological innovation simply
acted to shift obligatory work from the production of necessities to
production of luxuries. And the resultant vast absurd productive
effort now loots the world’s resources and poisons its seas and its

Underpinning all this is not science, but an irrational post-Christian
ideology, which is itself arguably a Christian heresy. Almost all
modern economic and political and ethical thinking is built upon this
ideology. And it is precisely because this ideology has no basis in
science, that science holds out the principal hope for its overthrow.
For it requires an explanation of the world which is at least as
coherent and general to replace such an ideology. For science and the
ideological humanities – ethics, politics, and economics – have always
been rigidly separated. The cultural ideologues began to set out their
stall in the late 17th century, with Locke, Hume, and Adam Smith. The
scientists – Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and their successors – pursued
entirely separate enquiries. Their science had nothing at all to say
about life, human society, ethics, or economics. It has only been in
the past century or so that science has even begun to take a grip upon
the nature of life.

Seen from Idle Theory, what is most needed by modern Western society
are realistic economic theories, which distinguish wants from needs,
and whose primary goal is the minimizing of human toil, rather than,
as at present, the maximizing of production. With effective economic
control, the present obligation for many people to produce luxuries in
order to buy necessities would vanish. The overheated modern economy
would effectively shut down, and the pollution of the planet, the
depletion of resources, and sweated labour would end. It would mean
the end of Big Business and the start of Big Idleness. With little
work, and a great deal of disposable free time, people would be able
to easily acquire the necessities of life. Many people would freely
choose to use this disposable time to make and trade luxuries. They
would determine their own “standard of living”, either opting for a
simple life with few possessions and a great deal of idle time, or a
choosing to work for a materially richer existence, with less free

Human society evolves. Human technology, in the past few centuries,
has broached abundant new energy sources – in coal, gas, oil,
hydroelectricity, and nuclear power. Once machines could perform the
work of men, slavery became unnecessary, and the medieval social
organization of masters and slaves became redundant. Contemporary
human society is in transition from a medieval serf culture to an
automated culture in which most work is performed by intelligent
machine tools, and in which humans themselves will be largely idle.
Politically, this has meant the rise of democracies in which everyone
had a say, and not just the erstwhile slaveowners. Economically,
exponentially multiplying technologies have resulted in a increase in
production and trade unprecedented in human history, and equally
unprecedented economic puzzles and problems, ranging from
unemployment to boom and bust, inflation and stagnation. Socially, it
has meant that, since fewer human hands are needed to drive industry,
previously high human reproduction rates are unnecessary, and the
human families that produced the human workforce redundant. Those
religions which asked their adherents to look forward to bliss in an
afterlife are being replaced by new religions that reach for bliss right
now. War, subjection, and enslavement – the traditional means of
increasing wealth for a minority – have become counter-productive.

The scale of contemporary change in human society is so great, and
disturbs so many aspects of traditional human life, that it has
produced a conservative reaction which seeks to restore traditional
life. Since the family has been the centre of human life for
millennia, attempts are made to bolster the flagging institution.
Since work, from childhood to old age, has been the norm of human life
since remotest antiquity, attempts are made to invent new forms of
employment. Contemporary conservatism attempts to maintain and
restore traditional values, and traditional ways of life, in the face of
social, political, and economic forces which destroy all traditions.
At the same time, much of contemporary thought is still medieval in
character, assuming the values and circumstances of a previous era. A
master-slave mentality still permeates political thought and political
structures. Human technology has far outstripped human political and
ethical and economic thought. This is a time when everything needs to
be rethought, when imagination is at a premium, and when everyone can
contribute. The impending world is one of a human freedom which has
never been experienced in the entirety of human history.



BY Chris Davis / 12 May 2001

A forest fire exhibits metabolism: it burns. Such a fire can also grow
and develop. And it can reproduce itself, by sending out blazing
sparks to ignite new fires. The flame of a fire is a complex, highly
organized, recognizable entity. The fire moves as it burns through the
forest: it moves. The fire responds to external stimulus: it follows
the wind, and is doused by water. And eventually, when it has consumed
all the fuel it can, it dwindles and dies. A forest fire thus exhibits
many of the components of a living creatures!

But a forest fire might not be said to be self-regulating – it is
largely determined by the quantity of fuel available to it. As more
fuel becomes available, it burns more fiercely. Also forest fires do
not evolve over time. They begin in some tinder-dry forest, perhaps
from a lightning strike, the focus of sunlight, or the discharge of
static electricity. And then they burn, producing secondary fires,
until finally they have exhausted the available timber, baulked by
seas, rivers, wastelands, mountains. Forest fires may burn for weeks,
even months, but they eventually burn themselves out. They are like
some life form which grows and multiplies, and then one by one its
offspring die, and it becomes extinct, leaving no further generations.

But not all fires burn with the intensity of forest fires. Slow-
burning, cooler, smouldering embers, that show no flame, can slowly
eat through dry wood, consuming over hours what a blazing fire might
consume in minutes. It is possible to imagine such fires slowly eating
their way through a forest, or some fuel source. And because they burn
slower and cooler, they burn much longer. Such fires might burn for
years, or centuries. And if, in some forest, new plants grew up behind
them, such slow fires might be sustained indefinitely by new plant
growth. The cooler and more slow-burning the fire, the longer it would
burn, compared with hot, quick-burning wildfires.

And it then must be remembered that very, very slow fires burn in
every cell of every plant and animal. In this combustion process,
glucose and oxygen “burn” to produce carbon dioxide and water, and
enough energy to power the continuation of the combustion process,
just like in a forest fire. But in cells, the combustion process is
slowed into a multitude of stages, at a much lower temperature, so
that the energy of combustion (respiration) is released very
gradually, through a series of enzyme-catalyzed reactions, rather than
all at once.

If glucose is burned in air, it produces carbon dioxide, water, and heat.
C6H12O6 + 602 -> 6CO2 + 6H2O – 686 kcal/mole
But in cells, the reaction synthesizes energy-rich ATP molecules which
are used to power the sysnthesis of cell constituents, molecule
transport, and muscle contraction.
C6H12O6 + 602 + 36ADP -> 6CO2 + 6H2O + 36ATP

Each bond of ATP represents 7.3 kcal/mole, so 36 ATP molecules
represent 263 kcal/mole, a conversion efficiency of 38%. ATP is
synthesized in cell mytochondria. When ATP releases its energy (to
power muscular contraction or whatever), it breaks one phosphorus
bond, and becomes ADP, which is cycled back round to mytochondria to
get the phosphorus bond restored to make more ATP. If the reaction of
glucose and oxygen were to proceed as it does in air, plants and
animals would catch fire or explode. Slowing the reaction by taking it
through a series of stages, and using it to synthesize packets of
energy in the form of ATP, makes for a kind of slow burn.

The Natural Selection of Fire
Big, hot, blazing forest wildfires multiply and burn themselves out
very fast. Small, creeping, cool fires last far longer. The slowest,
coolest fires of all may last indefinitely. Life is such slow fire.
And it begins to become possible to consider life as being result of
the evolution of ever cooler, ever-slower-burning, longer-living fire.
With a variety of different fires, those which burn hot and fast lived
brief lives, while slower burning fires last longer. Then what is
called Life is the product of the evolution of fire to burn ever
slower and cooler, and live longer and longer. For paradoxically it is
the least energetic, slowest growing, and slowest reproducing
processes that gradually come to predominate – because high-energy,
fast reproducing processes burn out fast. Somehow, one kind of
continuous hot combustion, by degrees, gave rise to the cooler,
catalyzed reactions that take place in the cells of living creatures.

In plant life, solar-powered photosynthesis converts carbon dioxide
and water into glucose and oxygen, in the endothermic (heat-requiring)
reverse reaction to the combustion of glucose and oxygen. Thus
photosynthesis in plant cells continually feeds the glucose-oxygen
fires that “burn” within them. A forest of plants is already slowly
ablaze, before any forest wildfire overtakes it. And plants which are
made largely of cellulose – linked chains of glucose – in turn provide
the fuel for grazing animals to burn. Such grazing animals act like
forest fires, slowly consuming plants as they grow.

There are plenty of other exothermic (heat-producing) combustion
processes apart from that of glucose and oxygen. The first terrestrial
combustion processes may have involved neither of these. There does
not have to be timber and oxygen for combustion to take place, fires
to burn. If so then the first fire was of cataclysmically explosive
dimensions, and has been succeeded by successively slower and cooler
fires. The first fire was perhaps what we now call the Big Bang, and
the stars were secondary slower-burning cooler fires, and terrestrial
life is a fire several orders of magnitude slower and cooler. The
stars themselves have lifetimes which reflect those of forest fires,
with the largest and brightest stars burning out the fastest, the
smaller and cooler ones lingering longer, replicating themselves in
supernovas whose shock waves create new stars.

From this perspective, life started with the Big Bang, and has
continued ever since, in ever cooler, slower-burning fires. There
never was an origin of life on this inert and hitherto-lifeless
planet, but simply a continuation of the same process. What we call
“life”, the plants and animals that inhabit the surface of this
planet, are simply slow-burning fires which reflect, rather dimly,
their ancestral stars. In this approach, there isn’t really anything
special about terrestrial life. It’s just another kind of combustion
process. It was not that life started on this planet 600 million years
ago, but rather that some 6 million years after the planet had formed,
another kind of self-sustaining combustion process got under way. It
was not the first, and it won’t be the last.

The Internal Combustion model of Idle Life
Idle Theory’s original model of life was that of a continually-running
internal combustion engine which periodically pumped fuel into its own
fuel tank. When the engine was pumping fuel into its tank, it revved
up, and the frequency of combustion – and engine power output –
increased. When the engine idled, the frequency of combustion reduced
to whatever power was required to merely turn the engine itself
against its own frictional resistance.

In this model of life, the internal combustion engine actually
incorporates fire in the combustion of gasoline (refined from crude
oil made up of compressed fossil plants) and oxygen in its cylinders.
Internal combustion “life” fed not on living forests, but upon
subterranean fossilized forests. More deeply, in this conception of
life, the engine “died” when the combustion process ceased, and the
engine stalled. While the fire exploded in its cylinders, the engine
lived – once combustion ceased, the engine died.

In Idle Theory’s energy model of life a living creature works (burns
fuel to provide motive power) to acquire more fuel to sustain the
process. But it does so in a discontinuous duty cycle – first working
to fill itself up with fuel, then idling until falling fuel levels
require another bout of refuelling. The most efficient forms of this
kind of life were those which did the least work (or idled the most)
to keep their motors fueled and running.

Idle life – life that worked the minimum – was in some sense life that
burnt the slowest and coolest. Busy life, hard-working life, was life
in which combustion frequency was high, and which ran the hottest.
Idle life, leisured life, was life in which the combustion frequency
was low, and which consequently ran cool. Busy life was fast bright
fire, and Idle life was slow cool fire.


“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion,
butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance
accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders,
give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new
problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight
efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” – Robert


BY Chris Davis / 16 Nov 1998

Underlying Idle Theory is the incomprehension and disquiet that this
writer felt, looking on this industrious world. Technology, as he saw
it, was meant to free men from work. The whole point, he felt, of
yoking an ox to a plough, was to get the ox to perform the work of
turning earth which would otherwise have had to be carried out by men
with spades and hoes. And those spades and hoes were themselves tools
which enabled men to dig the soil more effectively and speedily than
they ever could with bare hands. And if technology in the form of
spades, hoes, and yoked oxen, and later powered tractors, served
primarily to speed men’s work, to free men from work, then would not
the result be, as technology improved, that men would live
increasingly more idle and leisured lives, free to do as they wished?
And yet this has not happened. Men work just as hard as they ever did.
In Western societies, instead of technology bringing leisure, it
appears instead to have increased the pace of life, so that it has
become ever more frenetic, hurried, leisureless. Why has this
happened? Why is that humanity working so hard, when they ought to be
hardly working at all?

This question is not addressed by political leaders, or economists, or
philosophers, or religious leaders, or even by their political and
economic opponents. For them, the whole point of spades and hoes and
oxen and tractors was not to reduce the labour of men, but to increase
production. If a spade enabled a man to dig a field in half the time
it took for him to dig it with bare hands, they had it that a man
could dig two fields in the same time, and produce twice the crop. And
with yoked oxen he could plough ten fields. And with a tractor he
could plough a hundred. And the 99 other men freed from the land could
then be set to work to make other goods, of great diversity and in
great numbers. Thus men would be supplied not only with food, shelter,
but any number of amusements, toys, games, diversions. They would
have a wealth, not of leisure time, but of possessions, which is – it was
held – what people really wanted. The political goal of contemporary
society is full employment in wealth creation. And the harder everyone
works, the richer they get. The only serious argument is concerned
with the distribution of this pile of goods, with some (the Left)
arguing that the social produce should be divided equally, and others
(the Right) arguing that with an ever-growing pile of goods even the
poorest in an unequal society would be far richer than they would
otherwise be.

These two views of the nature and purpose of economic systems are
radically different. In the first view, humanity is understood as
having to work, and technology in the form of spades, ox-drawn
ploughs, tractors and combine harvesters, acts to reduce their work.
In the second view, the economy is not driven by necessity, but by a
desire not just for food and shelter, but for all the good things in
life. In the first view, it is the physical need for food and shelter
to sustain their life which obliges men to work. In the second view,
it is their psychological disposition, their desire for possessions
and pleasures, which powers the economy.

Economic philosophy, in recent centuries, has been written by men who
saw the economy in this second way. This view also underpins the
principal ethical theory of the age, Utilitarianism, which had men
seeking pleasure and avoiding pain – both of which are psychological
states. It followed from this psychological account of human life,
that if one wanted to understand human nature, one had to understand
the workings of the human mind. This belief is so deep that many
scientists believe that, if science is ever to explain human life, it
will do so by explaining the inner workings of the human brain. This
belief also underpins a whole raft of modern political movements which
hold that if enough people change themselves, adjust their mentality,
the world would be a better place – that all that is required for
change is for enough people to want change. The conviction that
psychological adjustment is the key to a better world drives the use
of psychotropic drugs, and of a whole range of psychotherapies ranging
from Freudian psychoanalysis to meditation and yoga. Change the man,
and you change society.

Modern economic philosophy is not science. It does not grow from a
physical understanding of human life, but from a subjective
psychological account. We simply don’t have an economic science which
is an extension of physical science – real science. Idle Theory,
instead of starting out with a psychological account of human life,
begins instead with a physical account of life. It begins with a life
which must perform physical work to maintain itself. The role of mind
is one of directing that work. Psychological feelings of hunger, or
thirst, or cold, arise in response to real physiological conditions –
low blood sugar levels, dehydration, heat loss. And because they arise
in response to physical states, these psychological events are
secondary. They serve simply to prompt an individual to eat, to drink,
to find shelter.

This sort of approach to life is relatively new. It is found in
ecological studies of the energy flows in biotic systems. It sees life
in terms of energy. The idea of energy only emerged in physics in the
mid-19th century. It only began to be applied to living organisms in
the mid-20th century. Idle Theory is a variant of this approach. The
distinctive feature of idle theory is its description of life as
alternating between being idle and being busy working to maintain

Although Idle Theory started out as an economic idea, it rapidly
became an ethical and political and legal, and even religious idea.
The goal of human society was freedom from necessary work, and human
society, its moralities, laws, political organizations, religions, and
economy, all worked, more or less effectively, towards that end. And
since living creatures in general, as opposed to humans in particular,
fell under the same imperative of acting to increase idleness, the
whole of the natural world of plants and animals came to fall within
the province of Idle Theory. The survival of the fittest became the
survival of the idlest.

Idle Theory is a way of seeing. In Idle Theory, all life is seen as
attempting primarily to stay alive with minimal effort. The first
photosynthetic plants discovered how to capture the abundant radiant
energy of the sun. The first herbivores discovered an easier life
tapping the energy stored in plants. The first predators discovered an
idler existence by capturing the energy stored in herbivores.
Multicellular life was more idle than unicellular life. Human life is
simply another variant form of life, that acts to minimize effort.
Human society, the division of labour, tools, ethical codes, laws, and
trading systems have all acted to increase human idleness. The
subjection of humans by other humans in slavery was, for millenia, the
only way in which some people (the slaveowners) could lead an idle
life at the expense of others.




BY Chris Davis / January 2007

“There is no doubt that if the human race is to have their dearest
wish and be free from the dread of mass destruction they could have,
as an alternative, what many of them might prefer, namely, the
swiftest expansion of material well-being that has ever been within
their reach, or even within their dreams. By material well-being I
mean not only abundance but a degree of leisure for the masses such as
has never before been possible in our mortal struggle for life. The
majestic possibilities ought to gleam and be made to gleam before the
eyes of the toilers in every land and ought to inspire the actions of
all who bear responsibility for their guidance.” (Sir Winston
Churchill at the opening of Parliament, November 1953)

It might be remarked that the Idle Theory of Evolution is only a
slight variant of modern evolutionary theory (sans Darwin), and that
Idle Theory’s ethics is only a variant of Utilitarianism (sans
Utility). But Idle Theory’s Economics offers a radically different,
and perhaps mysterious, account of economic systems to that set out by
Classical and NeoClassical economic theorists.

Probably the principal difference is that, while it is orthodox
economic doctrine that the primary purpose of an economy is as far as
possible to provide work for everybody, in Idle Theory the primary
purpose of an economy is quite the opposite: it is to as far as
possible relieve everybody of the need to work. This is an inversion
of understanding that is perhaps as great as the change from thinking
that the Sun goes round the Earth to thinking that the Earth goes
round the Sun. Such an inversion will strike many people as being
completely upside down, and entirely contrary to common sense, and
with alarming consequences that extend far beyond the confines of
economics. And indeed they do.

The Economic Orthodoxy
Orthodox economic thought, Classical or NeoClassical, might be
described as being primarily concerned with the generation of Wealth –
where what is meant by Wealth is almost exclusively ownership or
access to material goods and services of every variety. The rich
typically own large villas or mansions on large private estates
serviced by maids, chefs, butlers, and gardeners; own a variety of
expensive cars, yachts, and private jets; are dressed in the finest
clothes; eat the choicest foods; drink the finest wines; live long
lives with the best medical care; etcetera, etcetera. By contrast, the
poor live in shacks or hovels; travel on foot; dress in cheap clothes;
eat bad food; drink contaminated water; and die young with inadequate
or non-existent medical care. The rich are held to enjoy a high
‘standard of living’, and the poor a low ‘standard of living’.

And the orthodox political goal of economic growth is to raise
standards of living, by increasing available wealth. If there is
political dissent over the goals of economic growth, it is almost
entirely concerned with the distribution of wealth. Socialist
political systems are generally concerned with lifting the poorest
members of society out of poverty, providing them with housing, roads,
services, education, and medical care, usually at the expense of the
richest members of society. In the extreme, socialist political
systems aim for an almost exact equality of wealth across society. By
contrast, extreme liberal laissez-faire political systems are
unconcerned with the distribution of wealth within society, and regard
personal wealth as the just reward for enterprise, innovation, and
hard work – with the poor usually being dismissed as lazy or feckless.
In between these extremes, there are a variety of political systems
which try to both reward enterprise with wealth, but also to ensure
that the poorest members of society are provided with some sort of
‘safety net’ to keep them from utter destitution.

Regardless of the distribution of wealth within society, socialist or
laissez-faire political systems tend to advocate policies of ‘full
employment in wealth creation’. The busier people are in creating
wealth, the more wealth there is to go round. If the gross national
product of a country is regarded as a cake – as it frequently is -,
then full employment in wealth creation means making a bigger and
better cake, regardless of quite how it is sliced up and divided
within society.

The formal study of the operation of economic systems, in which goods
and services are manufactured and traded, has been an oddly late
development within Western laissez-faire societies. And it has also
been one which has been subject to a variety of radical changes of
approach, which amount almost to fashions, usually associated with
single individuals such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes,
Milton Friedman, or some other guru. In the 18th century Classical
theories of value of economic thinkers such as Adam Smith, David
Ricardo, and the like, the exchange value or price of goods was
generally regarded as being a function of the time and effort taken to
manufacture or otherwise acquire them. This is usually known as the
Labour Theory of Value (where ‘value’ means ‘exchange value’)

“If among a nation of hunters, for example, it usually costs twice
the labour to kill a beaver which it does to kill a deer, one beaver
should naturally exchange for or be worth two deer. It is natural that
what is usually the produce of two days or two hours labour, should be
worth double of what is usually the produce of one day’s or one hour’s
labour.” (Adam Smith. The Wealth of Nations. B.I, Ch 6.)

One consequence of this theory was highlighted by Karl Marx in the
19th century, who pointed out that if goods exchanged at their costs
of production, then it followed that the labour employed in the
production of goods would also be sold at its cost of production, and
that wages must therefore tend to fall to subsistence levels that
simply kept labourers alive. However, at more or less the same time as
Marx was writing, another group of economic thinkers, the NeoClassical
theorists, who included Jevons, Walras, Menger, and others, began to
suppose that the price of goods was not so much determined by their
cost of production, but instead by their value in use, or their
utility – the pleasure or satisfaction derived from their use. Neither
school of theorists, however, had a very good explanation for profit –
the tendency for goods to be sold at prices higher than their cost of
production. At present, profit is generally explained as being the
compensation for the risks taken by entrepreneurs in making and
selling goods in volatile markets. Others have said that it was simply
the consequence of naked greed. Profit was, and has remained,
something of a dirty word.

Idle Theory
At the foundations of both Classical and Neoclassical economic thought
there lies the largely unstated assumption that the time needed to
perform work is the everyday datum of human life – that everyone is in
some sense given a lifetime, to freely dispose of as they will. And if
they are able to freely dispose of this time, it follows that such a
lifetime is a lifetime of leisure. And indeed Neoclassical economic
thinkers have frequently stated this quite explicitly, asserting that
when work is performed, leisure is foregone.

It is this assumption that Idle Theory rejects. The simple fact is
that a human lifetime is no sort of gift at all. Humans have to work
to survive. They have to grow food, haul water, build houses, weave
garments, without which they would starve or freeze to death. And
because they must work, on pain of death, there is no sense in which
their lives can be described as lives of leisure. On the contrary,
given that many societies have historically had one sabbath day of
leisure a week, it would be more accurate to describe such societies
as 1/7th leisured, rather than entirely leisured. To this it might be
added that it is around work, rather than leisure, that human life
revolves. As children they are taught the skills needed for a life of
work, which as adults they perform, and from which they retire in
frail old age.

And so the true reality of human life is that it is made up not solely
of leisure, but partly of leisure and partly of work, and is thus
inherently dual in its nature. And the fundamental dimension of this
part-busy, part-idle life is the degree to which it is idle (or
conversely and symmetrically, busy). And this degree of idleness is
one that can range from a minimum of zero idleness – a life of
unremitting toil completely devoid of leisure – to a maximum of
perfect or unit idleness – a life of complete leisure completely
devoid of toil. In addition, it may be added that a life of zero
idleness, or continual work, is a life lived at the threshold of
death. For if living should get any harder, and more work needs to be
done to survive, there will not be enough hours in a day to do it.
Conversely, the more idle a life anyone lives, the greater their
cushion against the prospect of death. In times of difficulty, which a
busy man might not survive, a relatively idle man merely finds himself
working harder.

And also, it must be pointed out that in work, an individual is
constrained to some particular necessary activity – ploughing fields,
drawing water -, and it is only in their idle time or leisure time
that they can freely choose between a range of leisure activities
which are theoretically infinite in number. And so work corresponds to
complete constraint, and leisure to complete freedom. Or, more
starkly, leisure corresponds with life, and work with death. And this
introduces an ethical dimension. Work and leisure are not
interchangeable. Men who naturally prefer life over death must also
prefer leisure over work. And this, in real life, they regularly do.

The primary economic problem is not the production and distribution of
wealth as it is ordinarily understood, but the emancipation of
humanity from toil, and their liberation into a life of the highest
degree of leisure. Given such leisure, people may well choose to
forego leisure in the manufacture and exchange of luxuries and
amusements, which are valued for the pleasure or satisfaction that
they afford. But this Neoclassical luxury economy is entirely
secondary in nature, and dependent on the amount of leisure available
in society. If no leisure, then no luxuries.

The Origin of Money and Profit
The economic goals of humanity, as described by Idle Theory, are thus
in direct contradiction of the economic goals of humanity as set out
by modern economic orthodoxy. Instead of seeking to keep everybody
busy working to create wealth, Idle Theory seeks to keep everybody as
idle and leisured as possible, while allowing that in their leisure
time they may choose to make and trade amusements and luxuries.

In what ways may individuals reduce their work, and increase their
idleness? One principal way is through the use of tools that speed or
otherwise assist them in their work. For example, if in the course of
their work, someone is required to carry 100 large fruits from one
place to another in a return journey that takes 10 minutes, then if
only one can be held in each hand, it will take 50 journeys and 500
minutes to move them all. But if a bag can used, which will hold 20
fruit, then only 5 journeys and 50 minutes will be needed to move all
the fruit. Thus, in this case a bag will save 450 minutes of work. And
in this saving lies the value of the bag in use. Of course, it will
take some time to manufacture such a bag, but even if it costs 50
minutes of effort to make a crude bag, and it disintegrates after 5
trips, the net saving of time will still be 400 minutes.

In this manner, a small outlay of time – the cost of making the bag –
will yield a larger return in the time it saves in carrying fruit –
the value of the bag -. And what is true of bags will also be true of
ropes, knives, hammers, spades, and every other variety of useful,
time-saving tool. And if someone makes such a bag, but does not use
it, but a second person desires to use it for the same task, then the
first may sell the bag to the second at some price, which may take the
form of a promise by the buyer to work for some period of time for the
seller. At what price should the bag be exchanged? Its cost to the
seller was the 50 minutes it took to make it, and any lower price than
this would result in a net loss of time for the seller. The value of
the bag to the buyer is the 450 minutes of work it will save in
carrying fruit, and any price higher than this will result in a net
loss of time to the buyer. But at some price in between these two
extremes, both buyer and seller will gain approximately equally from
the transaction, and it will be on some such equitable price that they
will settle.

In this manner, both buyer and seller profit from the transaction,
even though the bag has been sold at a price – say 150 minutes – which
is over three times its cost. And herein lies a robust and simple
justification of the origin and necessity of profit in exchange. If
the phenomenon of profit has regularly appeared inexplicable, and
therefore reprehensible, it is because the Classical economic
theorists recognised only the cost, and not the value of some
commodity. Thus while Adam Smith could see the cost to the hunter of
killing a deer, he could not see the value to its buyer of its flesh
as food, nor its skin as clothing. And the value of some item of food
is that it provides the energy required to power continued life for
some period of time.

The monetary unit of such exchanges need not, of course, be unreliable
promises of work. If a fruit, or a knife, or a piece of metal are
customarily bought with some amount of work, then conversely these
commodities can buy the same amount of work, and be used as monetary
units. But fruit rot, and knives are large, and so it much more likely
that highly divisible metal bars come to be used as money, and in the
longer term non-rusting metals such as gold. It is possible to explore
the logic of such economic systems by building computer simulation
models of them, using imaginary tool costs and values. It is also
possible to consider them analytically. Using such models it is
possible to begin to build a theoretical understanding of the
behaviour of such economic systems, and the various malaises that can
afflict them.

The Dual Nature of Economic Systems
As men make and trade useful time-saving tools in a primary, idleness-
generating economy, and thereby increase their idleness, they begin to
have long periods of time in which they have nothing to do. But in
such idle time they can invent and play games, create art and music
and poetry and literature. And as they come to make things like bats
and balls and sculptures and paintings, these also may be exchanged
for money, in exactly the same way as useful tools. And thus a
secondary, idleness-using economy may come into existence, in which
luxuries and amusements are manufactured and exchanged. And such a
secondary economy is the economy described by Neoclassical economic
theorists. And should any economy attain perfect idleness, so that the
primary economy ceased to exist, the resulting secondary economy would
be perfectly well described by modern Neoclassical economic theory.

In the secondary economy, the value of luxuries and amusements lies
not in any work time that they save, but in the pleasure which they
afford to their owners. In many ways, all such amusements simply
provide ways of disposing of idle time. A book takes hours or days to
read. A movie takes an hour or two to watch. A game of cricket may
last for days. A painting or a sculpture may be closely examined for
hours. Such a secondary economy might be regarded as acting in a
completely opposite sense to a primary economy, disposing of idle time
rather than producing it. It is perhaps helpful to think of a primary
economy as being akin to a supply of pure fresh water into a
household, which is subsequently used in drinking, washing, cooking,
and a thousand other ways, before finally being disposed of as waste
water through drains.

In some ways, this analogy with pure and waste water may be more apt
than it might otherwise seem, in that it suggests that just as the
supply of pure water should be kept separate from the waste water
drainage, so also the primary idleness-generating economy should
equally be kept separate from the secondary idleness-using economy.
The two economies, primary and secondary, ought furthermore to be of
entirely different characters. The primary economy is a matter of
profound seriousness, and of cold calculation, and absolute necessity,
and also – as far as possible – entirely equitable in its distribution
of the idle time it generates. The secondary economy ought, by
contrast, to be convivial, playful, optional, and inequitable.

The primary economy ought to be equitable in that everybody in society
has an equal stake in it, and an equal claim to an idle time that is
the foundation of their existence as free agents. But if, in their
idle time, some people choose to busy themselves making and selling
luxuries and amusements, while others opt to do nothing but sit and
talk, then there can be no requirement or necessity for the
industrious former to share their wealth with the indolent latter. Or,
put another way, nobody ought to get rich, in the ordinary
conventional sense, by making and selling the necessities of life; but
anyone may get rich by making and selling luxuries and amusements.

The Modern Dragon Economy
In the ideal progress of society, an innovative and dynamic primary
economy would act to steadily increase social idleness, progressively
and gradually emancipating its members from toil. And as the idleness
of society rose, a separate playful and convivial secondary economy
would gradually emerge to fill idle time with amusements and
diversions and pastimes.

But, in the present day, both primary and secondary economies are
entirely confused together with one another. And the result is neither
equitable nor convivial. The principal problem would seem to be that
in present day economies, a great many luxuries and amusements, which
properly belong in a secondary economy, are sold so as to acquire the
necessities of life generated in the primary economy. There are
artists and authors and musicians who earn their daily crust through
their art. This means that it has become a matter of necessity for
people to make and sell luxuries. And it never ought to be necessary
to perform such unnecessary work. If such a thing is happening, it is
most likely because monopoly producers of the necessities of life
(food, clothing, shelter, etc.) are selling them at such high prices
that they are obliging consumers to work far harder than they would if
prices were reduced through competition to something approaching costs
of production. While monopolies exist, and prices remain sky high, the
result is that a great deal of social idle time ends up in the pockets
of monopolists, who spend it buying the luxuries and amusements that
others are obliged to make, in what is called a ‘trickle-down
economy’. The result is a society with idle and super-rich people at
one end, and toiling poor people at the other, and a great many people
in the middle trying desperately to move from poverty to wealth by any
means possible.

In this kind of ‘dragon’ economy, in which pretty much everybody is
dragooned into work, almost all social idle time is converted into
luxuries and amusements. Dragon economies generate a wide range of
consumer choice, but very little time in which to choose what to do.
And an economic system which should be liberating people from work is
instead forcing them to work, and sometimes to work harder and harder.
And one result of this is that as the primary economy grows, and
generates more idle time, this idle time is simply converted into yet
more luxuries and amusements. And so economic growth, which should be
increasing social idleness, instead results in the ever-increasing
production of luxury consumer goods. And this vast, overheated
economic engine chews its way through natural resources, forests, oil
and gas reserves, and spews out wastes and toxins, at an ever-
increasing pace.

And since ultimately, according to Idle Theory, a society’s survival
demands that it seek to be as idle as possible, it follows that the
harder a society is perversely working, the nearer it approaches
disintegration and collapse. In seeking ‘full employment in wealth
creation’ our political and economic orthodoxies have set the ship of
state on course for the rocks. What is really needed is to reverse
course, and throttle back our overheated, overstressed, overworking
economies. If that were done, then if present day advanced economies
are nominally (rather than actually) over 80% idle (this is a wild
guess), then over 80% of the work now being done, in the obligatory
production of luxuries, would cease. Most factories would cease
production, cease consuming resources, and cease generating wastes.
Real human idleness, as experienced by humanity, would leap from its
present approximate one day a week (14%) to perhaps something like six

days a week (86%). There would be less choice, but far more choosing.

However, given an almost universal economic orthodoxy which regards
full employment in wealth creation as being benign rather than malign,
it is unlikely that any such step will be taken. But if there is a
single iota of truth in the economic vision of Idle Theory, then it
follows that our economic orthodoxy is fundamentally mistaken about
the nature of economic systems, and that we do not have a realistic
economic science, and thus have little or no real control over
economic events. So most likely our vast, overheated, overworking
economies will simply keep barreling on, making life worse and worse
for everyone, rich and poor alike, until they finally hit the rocks.

Idle Theory’s fundamental dualism of busy and idle time results in a
dualistic vision of economic systems. They are regarded as made up of
primary economies which produce idle time, and a secondary economies
(or trading systems) that consume idle time. A primary economy is a
matter of necessity, in which an approximate equality of outcome is
sought, and in which goods are valued in terms of the time labour cost
of making them, and their time value in the labour that they save. A
secondary economy is, or ought to be, a matter of pleasure, in which
there is no requirement for an equality of outcome, and in which goods
are valued according to the pleasure they provide, or the time that
they waste. These two economies, which are entirely different, and
indeed opposite in nature, ought properly to be separated from each
other. And it is when they become enmeshed together that economic
maladies of one sort break out.

And Idle Theory’s vision may be helpful in clarifying the modern left-
right divide between those who, on the one hand, seek a regulated
economy that produces complete social equality, and those who, on the
other hand, believe that the economy should be allowed to take its own
course, throwing up winners and losers. The main problem here is that
the two sides of this argument are generally arguing over the same
single economy. If the economy is divided in two, then the primary
economy is one that should be regulated to produce equality (left),
and the secondary economy is one that should be entirely unregulated
(right). Left and right should learn to stop arguing over these apples
and oranges: they are completely different things.

Idle Theory doesn’t at present propose ways of regulating economic
systems. In the absence of a fully developed economic science, such
regulatory devices are going to be rather hard to find. What is needed
is a complete economic theory, of which Idle Theory is, at best,
another single small foundation stone. In many ways, the principal
conclusion of Idle Theory is that we really don’t know very much about
the behaviour of economic systems, despite the best and honest efforts
of over 200 years of economic thinkers. We are, quite simply,

A further conclusion of Idle Theory is that nobody is to blame for our
present state of affairs. In their ignorance, men blunder around doing
stupid and often murderous things. They are forever acting out of a
partial understanding of the world, and one whose partiality and
incompleteness and uncertainty frequently drives them to become
paradoxically dogmatic. It seems to be almost a law of nature that,
the less mankind knows about something, the more obtusely dogmatic
they become about it. And so none of the foregoing is intended to
point any finger of blame at anyone whatsoever. Our greatest problem
is not human greed, or lust for power, or anything else. Our greatest
problem is human ignorance.

Finally, it might be added that it was in constructing this rather
perverse and upside down view of economic systems that Idle Theory was
born. Everything else – the physics, the theory of evolution, the
ethics, the politics, the law, and the religion – were simply a series
of afterthoughts to its peculiar economic vision. I searched the
libraries for this vision, but never found it. And so I concluded that
it was in some sense my duty to myself try to set out its strange and
paradoxical perspectives.

How to unplug from the grid
BY Gaia Vince / 03 December 2008

“I HAVEN’T paid an electricity bill since 1970,” says Richard Perez
with noticeable glee. He can afford to be smug. While most of us
fretted over soaring utility bills this year, he barely noticed. Nor
is he particularly concerned about forecast price hikes of 30 to 50
per cent in 2009. Perez, a renewable-energy researcher at the
University at Albany, State University of New York, lives “off-grid” –
unconnected to the power grid and the water, gas and sewerage supplies
that most of us rely on. He generates his own electricity, sources his
own water and manages his own waste disposal – and prefers it that
way. “There are times when the grid blacks out,” he says. “I like the
security of having my own electricity company.”

Perez is not alone. Once the preserve of mavericks, hippies and
survivalists, there are now approximately 200,000 off-grid households
in the US, a figure that Perez says has been increasing by a third
every year for the past decade. In addition, nearly 30,000 grid-
connected US households supplement their supply with renewables,
according to the non-profit Interstate Renewable Energy Council. In
the UK there are around 40,000 off-grid homes: the number has also
risen in recent years due to escalating house prices and now to more
expensive home loans, both of which have driven buyers far from
conventional utility networks in search of properties they can afford.

For people who live off-grid, self-sufficiency means guilt-free energy
consumption and peace of mind. “It feels brilliant to use clean, free
energy that’s not from fossil fuels,” says Suzanne Galant, a writer
who lives off-grid in rural Wales. “And if something goes wrong, we
can fix it ourselves.” Now even urbanites are seeing the appeal of
generating some if not all of their own power needs. So is energy
freedom an eco pipe-dream or the ultimate good life?

Whether you live in town or the middle of nowhere, the first
consideration for any wannabe off-gridder is to calculate how much
energy it takes to run your home and whether it is feasible to replace
this with alternative sources of power where you live. The good news
is that the energy you require is likely to be a fraction of what you
presently use, says Tony Brown, head engineer at the UK’s Centre for
Alternative Technology near Machynlleth in Powys. The average UK
household uses around 4500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity
annually, plus some 18,000 kWh of gas for cooking, hot water and
domestic heating. In the US the figure varies considerably from region
to region. For example, households in New York City use around 4700
kWh a year, whereas those in Dallas use 16,100 kWh: there are a lot of
air conditioners in Texas. In chillier regions where people use gas
for heating and cooking, on the other hand, they can burn up an extra
28,000 kWh or so per household.

It would be a struggle to generate this much energy from renewables
alone, so an important first step is to dramatically reduce wasted
energy. This may be less fun than installing shiny new energy-
generating gadgets, but it is almost as effective in cutting your
reliance on fossil fuels and the grid. The biggest energy savings will
come from properly insulating your home to minimise heat loss. That
done, you’ll need to work out what is eating up the rest of the power
you consume. The easiest way to do this is to buy an energy monitor
that can provide a live display of your total energy consumption or
that of individual appliances (see “What’s guzzling the juice?”). This
will help you focus on reducing consumption to the bare minimum, not
just by switching to low-energy light bulbs and energy-efficient white
goods, but also by turning unused appliances right off rather than

leaving them in standby mode. With a bit of effort and investment, you
should be able to get by on a few hundred kilowatt-hours of
electricity a year.

Now you are ready to start replacing this with home-grown energy. Some
80 per cent of off-gridders rely on the sun to do this, with good
reason: it blasts our planet with enough free energy every hour to
power the world for a year and you don’t need to live in the middle of
nowhere to get it. The simplest way to tap into this is to use a solar
collector for your domestic heating or hot water. In the summer, solar
thermal devices installed on a south-facing roof or wall (north-facing
in the southern hemisphere) could provide all your hot-water needs.
Even in winter, solar collectors can make a worthwhile dent in heating
bills, even if the water needs top-up heating from the grid or from a
stove that runs on logs, wood pellets or other biomass.
The sun blasts our planet with free energy and you don’t need to live
in the middle of nowhere to get it

For electricity generation, photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are also a
good option. They convert the sun’s rays into direct-current
electricity with up to 20 per cent efficiency, and most are guaranteed
to retain at least 80 per cent of their original efficiency after 25
years. A 2-square-metre panel rated to give 1 kW per square metre in
peak conditions could provide up to 1500 kWh per year in the UK. In
more southerly and reliably sunny latitudes – somewhere like Texas,
say – it would probably provide 2000 kWh per year.

With enough solar panels it is possible to cover all your electricity
needs with PV, year round; the downside is that it requires a
significant investment up front. Installing 8 square metres of PV
panels, enough to sustain a family of four in the UK, plus storage
batteries and accessories such as inverters to convert DC into
alternating current, can cost tens of thousands of pounds and will
take up more space than is available to most urban households. Until
the cost comes down substantially, switching to a grid supplier that
gets its energy from renewables may be a more realistic alternative –
although it will not free you from the risk of supply interruptions.

Outside towns and cities, though, there are more options. If you have
access to a nearby river or stream with a reliable flow, hydro is an
excellent, cheap source of power, and flow rate is usually greater in
winter when you need more power. Galant’s home, a five-bedroom house
in the second-wettest part of Europe, is powered by a fast-flowing
mountain stream that drives a turbine, plus solar water heating and PV
panels. All this reliably supplies her with around 5500 kWh per year.
“If you came to my house, you wouldn’t know it was off-grid,” she
says. “It’s always lovely and warm and there’s always plenty of hot

Anyone who has an exposed windy hillside can exploit wind power. Tony
Marmont, an off-grid pioneer from Loughborough, in the English
Midlands, gets 40,000 to 50,000 kWh per year from his two 25 kW
turbines. People with a lot of land can benefit from a ground source
heat pump, which works in the same way as a refrigerator, using
electricity to transfer heat from a cool space (the ground, in this
case) to a warm one (the house). A typical installation, with 500
metres of underground piping, will stabilise the temperature of a well-
insulated home, keeping further heating or cooling requirements to a
minimum. If, like Marmont, you have a lake to store the pipes, so much
the better: it saves the trouble of digging up the lawn.

Being completely off-grid, however, does mean you need to store excess
energy for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. Most
off-gridders use bulky, expensive lead-acid batteries for this
purpose. These can store electricity only for a couple of days and
their performance degrades over time, but for now they are the best
available option. A few pioneers, like Marmont, use excess electricity
to produce hydrogen by electrolysing water; the gas is then stored in
tanks and used to power fuel cells when needed. This allows
electricity generated in summer to be used in winter, but it is
prohibitively expensive for most: a system like Marmont’s will set you
back around £1 million. What’s more, the hydrogen tanks take up a lot
of space.

For most of us, the energy-storage issue is a major stumbling block to
going completely off-grid. And it’s one reason why, for most people,
it’s not yet worth pulling the plug. Cost is likely to be another show-
stopper – though not for those who live in really remote locations.
“If you live more than a quarter of a mile from the grid, then
installing your own systems works out considerably cheaper than
connecting to the grid,” says Otto van Geet of the US National
Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. Perez, for example,
was told it would cost him $280,000 to be connected, which made the
decision to install $25,000-worth of PV panels an easy one. Both of
these barriers are coming down, albeit slowly. Engineers are working
on reducing the size and cost of renewable-energy installations, while
fuel-cell and battery manufacturers are trying to increase power
output and storage life. The cost of generating and storing your own
energy will fall as the commercial and domestic generation market
grows and as new technologies emerge: thin-film PV panels, for
instance, are cheaper to make than existing PV cells, which use
crystalline silicon. For many, the transition is becoming easier and
less costly as newly built houses are increasingly offered for sale
with some of the infrastructure for renewables, such as inverters for
PV panels, already installed.

In the meantime, one way to beat the problem of how to store surplus
power and make good on your investment is to stay connected to the
grid – or connect if you are already off-grid – and sell what you
don’t use to a utility company. It may not be the energy freedom you
had in mind, but it does means that the grid effectively becomes your
battery – there when you need more electricity, and able to take your
excess power. The return you will receive for this varies widely, but
Germany has already shown that such a system can work. There,
homeowners selling back renewably generated power are guaranteed to
get four times the market rate charged to consumers for electricity.
As a result, Germany has a thriving market in domestically generated
energy, with 200 times the solar electricity output of the UK. The UK
is planning to bring in a similar “feed-in tariff” system in 2009,
although it is not yet clear what sort of price power-generating
homeowners can expect. In the US, California and New Jersey are
leading the way with feed-in tariffs in the range of 8 to 31 cents per
kWh, depending on the contract and the time of day when the power was
generated. Most other states have a long way to go.

There is no doubt that being off-grid has its problems and it is not
always the cheapest way to get your energy. Even so, pioneers like
Galant, Marmont and Perez have proved that it can be done, and without
giving up a 21st-century lifestyle. “I’ve got five computers, two
laser scanners, two fridge-freezers, a microwave, a convection oven,
vacuum cleaners – you name it,” says Perez. “There’s an external beam
antenna on the roof for the cellphone and a bidirectional satellite
for internet connection. I’ve got 70 kWh stored in batteries that
could last me five days. I have too much electricity.” Too much
electricity and no more bills. That’s got to be worth aiming for.

BY Chris Davis / 18 Dec 1998

Idle Theory is a slowly expanding way of seeing. A lot of the essays
on this website deal with the remote past, both in those parts
concerned with the theory of evolution, but also those which deal with
early human life. In many ways, Idle Theory as it presently stands has
yet to arrive at the present day, and the modern human circumstance.
This makes it difficult for any conclusions to be drawn. But some
tentative lines can be sketched out. One of these is that human
religious value systems look like they took shape in the remotest
antiquity, long before any modern religion had appeared. They are
survival values. They are values which got humanity through many
difficult times. They are wholly practical in character. They are the
values of low idleness societies – societies in which life was one of
near-continuous work simply to survive. In modern (and by “modern” is
meant of the last 500 years or so) Western society, human idleness has
risen sharply, largely thanks to technological innovations – steam
engines, internal combustion engines, nuclear power, computers. This
has tended to render the ancient values redundant, and has brought the
rise of a liberalism which sets out to overthrow ancient taboos and
restrictions. There is, as a result, a deep collision taking place
between conservatism and liberalism. The collision is more apparent
than real.

Probably the most pressing modern problem is to understand the nature
of economic systems. Almost all current problems are economic in
character: we can put astronauts on the moon, but we can’t feed and
clothe our own people. There remain enormous disparities in wealth
across the planet, and these seem to widen rather than narrow.
Usually, these disparities get put down to “greed” or “human
nature” (by which is meant greed). But, as Idle Theory sees it,
economic systems have their own logic, in which greed plays a minimal
role. As Idle Theory sees it, the inherent purpose of the economy is
to free people from work, and as such “unemployment” is what
economies ought to generate. In the view of Idle Theory, almost all the
economic theory generated over the past 200-300 years makes the
over-optimistic assumption that human life is largely idle, and that
wealth is created by setting people to work.

Idle Theory’s economic model is an attempt to construct another
understanding of economic systems – of values, prices, profits, etc.
But it is very simple, and almost entirely undeveloped. But it offers
an outline way of looking at economies, not seeing them as generating
“wealth”, but instead freeing people from work, providing them with
the leisure in which to do what they want to do rather than what they
must do. The modern economic problem is that technological innovation
has freed people from the production of necessities – only to oblige
them to produce luxuries. The result is that modern Western culture is
no more idle and leisured now than it has ever been.

I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the human future. If we
can understand, and then control, our economic systems, it seems
perfectly possible that there could be a human future of leisure for
everybody, in which luxuries are manufactured and traded because
people want to, and not – as at present – because they have to. In
that time, the vast engine of industry will more or less shut down.
And in shutting down, it will cease to pollute the world. The immense
pressure for everyone to somehow find work will vanish, and with it
all the stress-related psychological and physical disorders that
attend work and the search for gainful employment. At the same time,
the necessity to rob, cheat, steal (which is a form of gainful
employment) will also dwindle. In that idle world, life will become
99% play.

I have no idea what such a world would be like, because I don’t live
in such a world. I have no idea what people would do in such a world.
Since there are perfectly good explanations why some people rob and
cheat in our present condition, I see no reason to suppose that such
people would continue to behave that way in an idle world. There are
no Bad Guys in Idle Theory: there are only ignorant busy people. But
the absence of any realistic understanding of the nature of economic
systems at present is cause for pessimism in itself: economic chaos is
set to continue, for the time being. And war will accompany that
chaos. And since now, as for the past 3000+ years, weapons
development remains paramount, next to no effort will be put into
improving the human state. And human numbers are rising towards
unsustainable levels.




BY Chris Davis / September 2003

The only wealth I’ll ever have is the profound and sweet freedom to
sit idly by some river and gaze across its eddies and ripples on the
sliding water to the far green shore, to pick up and study a few worn
pebbles and leaves, to stroll along the bank and catch the scent of
nameless flowers.

It’s not the river and the pebbles and the flowers and trees that make
up this wealth. No. It’s just as sweet a freedom to gaze across some
parking lot filled with cars and trucks, pick up and study some
discarded hub cap, and smell the odour of oil and gasoline. The sweet
freedom is to be able to choose to gaze, to pick things up, to study,
to stroll around, to do this or that or the other. It is the freedom
to do what one wants to do. It is the freedom to do nothing at all. It
is the freedom to just be.

But human life – this interval between birth and death – has never
entirely consisted of such freedom. Instead it has almost always been
one of choiceless toil: to sow and reap plants, to shepherd flocks, to
grind and bake and eat bread, to haul water, to spin wool and weave
cloth and sew garments. There was little time to sit by rivers
watching the water slip by. If that sweet freedom was ever
experienced, it was mostly on public holidays on which all work was

All that work, all the sowing and reaping, the grinding and hauling,
the chopping and hammering, only ever had as its goal the sweet
freedom to choose what to do. It was never that Sunday was just a day
on which to recover from the far more important and meaningful working
week. No, that idle sabbath day was the reward and purpose of the
working week. Everything else, everything that is ordinarily called
“wealth”, is only icing on the cake of this fundamental freedom to
choose. All those fast cars, elegant clothes, fine houses, landscaped
gardens, swimming pools and tennis courts, are a mere thin veneer upon
the substantive mass of that primary freedom – like the mantle of
vegetation upon the vast sphere of this planet.

And all these things are anyway the product of idle time. A society
that has no idle time can produce no luxuries. For all luxuries are
made from idle time foregone in work to make them. And all these
luxuries require idle time for their enjoyment. What point a tennis
court, if there is no time to play the game. All these things provide
a wider range of choice: that instead of porridge every day, we can
eat bread or fish or lamb rogon josh or Kentucky fried chicken. But an
ever-increasing range of choice is not the same as an ever-increasing
ability to choose. And it is the ability to choose, not the range of
possible choices, that matters. Freedom does not consist in the
ability to choose from a wide range of products on a supermarket
shelf: freedom is the ability to continually choose.

A country is rich to the extent that its people are able to freely
choose how to dispose of their time, not to the extent that they have
the widest range of choice of toys and amusements. And indeed, to the
extent that wealth is identified with wider choice, any increase in
the range of choice only comes with a decrease in the ability to
choose. For all these various delights and pleasures are only ever
bought by surrendering the freedom to choose, by setting idle hands to
work to make them. And therefore it must be the primary purpose of any
society, not to increase the range of choice open to its members, but
instead to expand their ability to choose, by shortening the working
week, and correspondingly expanding the idle weekend. If, on extensive
idle weekends, some people choose to busy themselves making and
trading toys and amusements, so let them – if that is what they choose
to do. And if any society abandons the pursuit of idleness, and
instead sets up some other ambition, it will inevitably become busier
and busier, poorer and poorer, until it can no longer sustain itself,
and disintegrates and dies.

Chris Davis
email : author [at] idletheor [dot] .info

BY Chris Davis / 2 Mar 1998

Physicists have been curiously reluctant to produce a physical model
of life. It is not possible to flick through a physics textbook and
find a chapter on Life Processes appended to those concerned with the
Kinetic Theory of matter, or Thermodynamics, or Newton’s laws of
motion. The omission may be purely an accident of history, that the
study of life became, very early on, the province of naturalists,
biologists, ecologists, and more recently geneticists. Physicists,
with enough on their hands already, were perhaps content to leave the
matter in their hands. Yet one strange result is that, despite
constant complaints that the life sciences are reductionist and
mechanistic, there exists no mechanistic description of life. There
isn’t even agreement as to what constitutes Life. Thus the Idle Life
model will not be found in any physics textbook. Although its
description of life adopts the terminology of physics, it is no part
of the formal edifice of physics.

The Idle Life model attempts to mirror the behaviour of real life. It
has a metabolism that acquires and expends and stores energy. It can
grow and reproduce. It can die. Given such a model of life, it becomes
possible to construct populations of theoretical idle lifeforms, that
correspond to plants, grazers, predators, and simulate variation and
natural selection, and to do so knowing that the unfolding scene is
not physically implausible. Without some sort of model, such
theoretical explorations are impossible. The Idle Life model is a
simple, idealised model of life. There are probably no real living
creatures which are so simple. But a great many real living creatures
appear to behave in roughly the manner it describes. And that is
enough to begin with. Idle Theory is only concerned with the broadest
behaviour of life, not with particular details.

Life. In Idle Theory, life is treated in terms of energy. In Idle
Theory, living creatures are understood to be constantly decaying and
constantly repairing themselves. This is physical work. And in order
to repair themselves they have to extract fuel and raw materials from
their surrounding environment. This also is physical work. In physical
discussions of life, living creatures are quite ordinarily described
as having a power income and a power expenditure . But these incomes
and expenditures are usually implicitly continuous. In Idle Theory
power income and expenditure are discontinuous or intermittent.

The only reason that life manages to keep functioning is because the
amount of energy expended in maintenance and food capture over some
period of time is less than the amount of energy stored in the food it
can acquire from its environment over that period of time. The
creatures can only stay alive because they can acquire energy faster
than they expend it. And if life can acquire energy faster than it
expends it, then life need only work part-time acquiring energy. The
rest of the time it is idle. In Idle Theory, life alternates between
busy and idle states.

Two assumptions underlie the Idle Life model.
1. The creatures are assumed to work continuously at maintaining or
replacing their constituent components. This work is regarded as a
continual background activity, the intensity of which depends upon the
ease or severity of the environment in which these components exist –
temperature, salinity, acidity, etc.
2. The creatures work intermittently to acquire from their
environment the energy needed to power their maintenance work.

One argument for such intermittency lies in a the intermittent
availability of energy in the environment: plants can only acquire
solar energy during daylight hours, and many animals require daylight
by which to find food. Another argument is that even if energy is
continuously available in the environment, the creatures are likely to
be able to meet their energy requirements in a relatively short time.
Included in the assumption of intermittent work is an assumption that
the creatures have a constant sustainable work rate. This is a
simplification. But it reflects the important truth that, although
creatures may be able to increase their work rates by an order of
magnitude, they cannot sustain such work rates for long.

A further argument for intermittency is that if the creatures simply
worked continuously, at whatever rate required, to acquire energy to
power self-maintenance, they would have no need to store energy. But
in the natural world, creatures typically maintain substantial energy
stores, in the form of sugars, fats, starches.

Given these assumptions, it is possible to write some simple
Assume some lifeform continuously works at a rate Pm repairing itself.
Assume that it is able to work at a rate Pe to acquire energy to power

When it works to acquire energy, it acquires a power income of Pi. The
power income, Pi, that the creature gets for its expenditures is
dependent on the energy density of its environent. In an energy-rich
environment, Pi will be larger than in an energy-poor environment.

At equilibrium, it alternates between being busy acquiring energy for
Tbusy time, and being idle for Tidle time, and its energy store level
cycles between a maximum and a minimum.
At equilibrium, over unit time period, energy expended = energy

Energy received = Pi.Tbusy
Energy expended = Pe.Tbusy+ Pm
So Pi.T busy = Pe.Tbusy+ Pm
and T busy = Pm / (Pi – Pe)

and I = 1 – ( Pm / (Pi – Pe)) ( 1 )
where I is Idleness or Tidle/unit time, and 0 <= I < 1.

A variant of this equation is:
I = 1 – ( Pm / Pe(G – 1)) ( 2 )
where G is the energy gain per unit expended, and Pi = G.Pe

Given these assumptions, the Idleness of a lfeform is independent of
the length of the cycle. It makes no difference whether it maintains
its store at a high mean level, or allows its store to cycle more
slowly from a high level to a low level.

The power consumption of this lifeform over the cycle is given by:
(1 – I).Pi ( 3 )
Idle time need not be devoted to inactivity. A life form can work
during idle time to acquire an energy surplus. The power surplus or
work capacity of the life form is:
I.(Pi – Pe) ( 4 )
Where a creature is growing in size, or reproducing, the extra power
expenditure for reproduction, Pr is added to maintenance power
expenditure, and (1) becomes
I = 1 – ((Pm + Pr) / (Pi – Pe)) ( 5 )

Living creatures operate in the range 0 to 1 idleness. 0 (0r 0%)
idleness means working all the time. 1 (or 100%) idleness means they
are idle all the time. In practice, 100% or perfect idleness cannot be
achieved, because no combination of non-zero values of Pm, Pr, Pe, and
Pi can produce I = 1. Zero idleness, by contrast can be very easily
achieved. Inert matter might be construed as perfectly idle, since
(Pm, (Pr and (Pe are zero, and I = 1.

The creatures die when their energy stores empty, and no further
maintenance work or energy-acquisition work can be done, and the
unmaintained creatures disintegrate.

Taking Pm and Pe as constant, then as Pi rises, idleness approaches 1.
In this circumstance a creature spends next to no time meeting its
maintenance energy needs. But as Pi falls, idleness falls, and
continues to fall until idleness reaches zero. At this point, a
creature is spending all its time working to meet its maintenance
energy needs. If Pi falls further, the creature becomes unable to meet
its maintenance energy needs, because it can work no harder. In this
circumstance, it loses energy, and its energy store empties. Thus zero
idleness (I = 0) is the threshold of death for any lifeform. In Idle
Theory, reaching zero idleness is therefore usually taken to entail
death, even though there will be an interval while energy stores are
finally depleted.

All solutions of the equation I = 1 – ( Pm / (Pi – Pe)) with values
greater than zero and less than 1 correspond to life. All other values
(I 1) correspond to death. In practice, these absurd values
convert to zero idleness.

Reaching zero idleness is the only way that any life form in Idle
Theory ever dies:
Death by starvation results when the power income, Pi, falls
because there is less energy available in the environment, and
idleness is reduced to zero.
Death by disease entails increasing maintenance power, Pm, to
include feeding parasitic bacteria, which results in idleness falling
to zero.
Accidental damage may result in the stored energy rapidly being
lost – effectively increasing Pm -, or by disabling the lifeform so
that it is able to do less work to get food – reducing Pe -. Again, if
the damage is sufficient, idleness may fall to zero.
Old age entails an increasing inability to work to acquire food –
Pe steadily falls -. At some point, idleness reaches zero.


Blackout Anniversary Parade
BY Chris Bilton  /  August 15, 2008

TORONTO – “Where were you when the lights went out?” There’s about 100-150 of us amassed in front of Central Tech as local jazzer-about-town Richard Underhill leads the crowd through a few refrains of this tune, which he’s written for the fifth anniversary of the Big Blackout. It’s nearly 9pm, and the extensive horn section, goth-punk circus performers, costumed eccentrics, fire dancer, Streets Are for People enthusiasts, photobloggers, filmmakers and random curious citizens have just been joined by a legion of Critical Mass cyclists, all ringing bells and post-ride glow.

We’re waiting for the go code — the word from on high. We’re waiting for a man in a full Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey Mouse costume to lead us on a quest to reclaim the intersection of Bloor and Spadina in celebration of that one impossible day when Toronto (and most of the eastern seaboard) went dark.

The crowd has been growing steadily since the scheduled 8pm meet-up time. With a number of community groups participating — the aforementioned Streets Are for People and Critical Mass, along with Newmindspace, Reclaim the Streets, Drummers in Exile, Take the Tooker, Bike Pirates (you get the idea) — the word is out and everyone is in great spirits.

Even when I first arrived and people started getting calls about a huge storm over Dufferin Street, everyone seemed to be trying to ignore the impending doom-rain by watching the sky melt through a few layers of threatening hues: orange, rust, blood. The massive bursts of lightning that scraped across the westward Bathurst skyline at unreal angles elicit much cheering and awe. It’s almost as electric as the pent up energy of a crowd of people preparing to illegally parade though the main street of Canada’s biggest city.

Chatting with people as we wait, most were in the city for North America’s biggest power outage. The few who were out of the area say they were sorry to have missed it — I guess this is one disaster that qualified as being pretty fun.  One guy recounts how he was off that day hanging out in a park when all of a sudden scores of people started showing up and having picnics. It took him a little while to realize what was going on. I, like many people, was working that day and delighted in being set free well before my shift at a Queen Street home-furnishings shop was due to end. I still remember just hanging out on the curb with the rest of the staff and chatting with passersby, trying to piece together what was going on and what it all meant.

At 9pm, Mickey Mouse (who is actually Streets Are for People’s Shamez Amlani) gives the crowd its final instructions: the parade will creep along Sussex Street and up Robert. “And then when we hit Bloor, the shit busts open wide.”

As we begin to March and the crowd stretches out like a many-celled organism, I try to gauge just how many people are out here. We are rounding corners and Sussex Street is appropriately dark, but I can see people peering out their windows, shocked that the strange noise out on their quiet residential street is actually a parade in progress. I’m surprised that more of them don’t come down and join in. I mean, who wouldn’t want to join a seemingly random late-night parade?

As soon as Bloor Street is in sight, the big whoop-up begins. Underhill (pictured above) leads the band through a wicked Mingus-styled jam on his “Where were you?” theme, which works perfectly for the oddball ensemble now comprised of djembes, bagpipes, a percussion corps and a considerably expanded version of the Kensington Horns.

We overtake Bloor and Spadina for about 15 minutes. There’s so much dancing and drumming that it’s hard to decide what to do. A picnic table supporting a kiddie pool full of water is now a dancing station for three girls and a hose. Shamez/Mickey is scurrying around the intersection setting up pylons to divert the traffic. A bunch of young maple trees are posted around the perimeter. Eventually the police show up, but it’s already speech time and Shamez is explaining that we just demonstrated that this intersection could be a piazza with a fountain where people could hang out.

The intersection is clear within minutes and the crowd either disperses or joins up with the not-so-silent Street Rave beside the domino sculpture in the Art Park. I manage to corner Shamez for a few minutes to get his thoughts on the evening. “It went off without a hitch,” he says, “although we couldn’t get all the streetlights off. But this is fun and quirky. That’s why the costume: you can’t put handcuffs on these big mitts.”

“For a brief 10 minutes a hole opened up in the space-time continuum,” he says, explaining that it’s wrong to think that this intersection is static and can’t be changed. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a park where people can fall in love and hang out. The subway is still running below us. “Cars have enough streets,” he adds. “We need more streets for people.” If ever there was an appropriate occasion for thinking outside the urban box, the blackout certainly qualifies. If only we could make Aug. 14 some kind of civic holiday.



A Proposal for the Adoption of the Blackout as a Holiday

“In Berlin there is a blown up church you drive by everyday, still there from World War 2. They kept it there as a reminder of the time we bombed Berlin. It is a powerful, lucid monument to a complicated era of history. The reason we can reach no satisfying solution as to how to
memorialize Ground Zero is because we tore it down already. The shards were beautiful, like a tree struck by lightning, a natural and perfect horribly sordid shape. We should have kept it. Had we been braver, or more honest, we would have. Instead we treated it like vandalism, and cleaned it off. Any memorial at Ground Zero will never quite satisfy without it. Anyway, we feel we do not memorialize enough and it is in this spirit we call to formalize, as a holiday, the August 14 Blackout.

It could be our version of Carnival, and we could use one. It requires no municipal support. We as a people could simply do it. A harmless ritual: You come home from work, or wherever, switch off your circuit breakers, and that’s all, it begins. It is not a debauchery, not a wild night, but perhaps a free one. Free of the system, free of the machine, free of the exhaustive burdens of ambition. Free of electricity, and the 24 hours a day you-don’t-stop that goes with it. There was a time, before electricity, when people simply retired at night. What else could you do? It was dark. Not anymore. Progress has its compromise. The blackout took us back to the basics, of who we are as human beings, with none of this shine and polish to distract us from the truth.

As with anything good, the blackout as a holiday would be optional; none of the hospitals must shut down, no vital services would close. No one must do anything. But for those who can do it, and wish to, the blackout offers a pre-existing holiday so simple to celebrate there is almost no reason not to. Every August 14 we could easily stage a re-enactment of the largest-known naturally-occurring party in the history of the human race. The city went dark that night and 10 million people did not flip out or riot, or conduct themselves in any way sinister or foul. Newscasters were amazed at how peaceful it was. What we did do is get giddily drunk; we danced in the streets, we opened the hydrants, we made love on rooftops, we handed out sushi and ice cream. Enterprising restaurants will repeat this last aspect; bars will sell dollar beers, and those that do will remain beloved for their unnecessary generosity. Kindness, we have seen, is good business. The blackout instinctively reminded us, for it was in living memory, of our city’s experience during the weeks following 9/11. Everyone was kind to each other, thoughtful, considerate. You didn’t know which stranger passing by had had someone close to them die, and all normal modes of self segregation collapsed. With no real alternative, we were just kind to everyone. We were beautiful. We were as we would want to be, and as we would want others to be to us, if there weren’t so much wearying over-complicated bullshit to wear down our decency. We were not competitive; we all pulled together, looked out for each other, reached out. We held communion. This is a worthwhile sentiment to exercise, periodically.

And the blackout brought this out it us, instinctively, collectively, again. Do you remember how it felt? You could see stars in midtown. It was giddy and magical, like a snow day. It is in remembrance of this remarkable spirit that we advocate and endorse the unofficial popular acceptance of August 14 as the purely optional — but just fucking beautiful — New York citywide recreational blackout, an unequaled holiday opportunity. Flip the switch, and enjoy.”


The 2003 Northeast Blackout–Five Years Later
Tougher regulatory measures are in place, but we’re still a long way from a “smart” power grid
BY J.R. Minkel  /  August 13, 2008

On August 14, 2003, shortly after 2 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, a high-voltage power line in northern Ohio brushed against some overgrown trees and shut down—a fault, as it’s known in the power industry. The line had softened under the heat of the high current coursing through it. Normally, the problem would have tripped an alarm in the control room of FirstEnergy Corporation, an Ohio-based utility company, but the alarm system failed. Over the next hour and a half, as system operators tried to understand what was happening, three other lines sagged into trees and switched off, forcing other power lines to shoulder an extra burden. Overtaxed, they cut out by 4:05 P.M., tripping a cascade of failures throughout southeastern Canada and eight northeastern states. All told, 50 million people lost power for up to two days in the biggest blackout in North American history. The event contributed to at least 11 deaths and cost an estimated $6 billion.

So, five years later, are we still at risk for a massive blackout? In February 2004, after a three-month investigation, the U.S.–Canada Power System Outage Task Force concluded that a combination of human error and equipment failures had caused the blackout. The group’s final report made a sweeping set of 46 recommendations to reduce the risk of future widespread blackouts. First on the list was making industry reliability standards mandatory and legally enforceable. Prior to the blackout, the North American Electricity Reliability Council (NERC) set voluntary standards. In the wake of the blackout report, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which expanded the role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by requiring it to solicit, approve and enforce new reliability standards from NERC, now the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation.

FERC has so far approved 96 new reliability standards.* These cover the three Ts—”trees, training and tools”—identified by the blackout task force but are not limited to them, says Joseph McClelland, director of FERC’s Office of Electric Reliability, which was established last September. Standard PER-003, for example, requires that operating personnel have at least the minimum training needed to recognize and deal with critical events in the grid; standard FAC-003 makes it mandatory to keep trees clear of transmission lines; standard TOP-002-1 requires that that grid operating systems be able to survive a power line fault or any other single failure, no matter how severe. FERC can impose fines of up to a million dollars a day for an infraction, depending on its flagrancy and the risk incurred. If the standards have reduced the number of blackouts, the evidence has yet to bear it out. A study of NERC blackout data by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that the frequency of blackouts affecting more than 50,000 people has held fairly constant at about 12 per year from 1984 to 2006. Co-author Paul Hines, now assistant professor of engineering at the University of Vermont in Burlington, says current statistics indicate that a 2003-level blackout will occur every 25 years.

He says many researchers believe that cascading blackouts may be inherent in the grid’s complexity, but he still sees room for improvement. “I think we can definitely make it less frequent than once every 25 years.” The U.S. power grid consists of three loosely connected parts, referred to as interconnections: eastern, western and Texas. Within each, high-voltage power lines transmit electricity from generating sources such as coal or hydroelectric plants to local utilities that distribute power to homes and businesses, where lights, refrigerators, computers and myriad other “loads” tap that energy. Because electricity in power lines cannot be stored, generation and load have to match up at all times or the grid enters blackout territory. That can result from a lack of generating capacity—the cause of the 2000 California blackouts—or because of one or more faults, as in the 2003 blackout. The interconnectedness of the grid makes it easier to compensate for local variations in load and generation but it also gives blackouts a wider channel over which to spread.

Transmission system operators scattered across some 300 control centers nationwide monitor voltage and current data from SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems placed at transformers, generators and other critical points. Power engineers monitor the data looking for signs of trouble and, ideally, communicate with one another to stay abreast of important changes. One of the realizations since 2003 is that “you can’t just look at your system. You’ve got to look at how your system affects your neighbors and vice versa,” says Arshad Mansoor, vice president of power delivery and utilization with the Electric Power Research Institute of Palo Alto, Calif.

Until recently, there was no one place to view information from across the grid. McClelland says FERC is working with industry and other government agencies to pull data into a prototype coast-to-coast real-time monitoring system at its Washington, D.C., headquarters. “We have put the system together and it is functional,” he says, although “some parts are better than others”: FERC has full coverage of the western U.S. and good information from the Southeast, he says, but data from Texas and other areas is still spotty. Gathering the data is only the beginning. The holy grail is a smart grid capable of monitoring and repairing itself, similar to the way air traffic control systems are used to coordinate aircraft routes. Mansoor says that dream is still a good 20 years away because it depends on better data, a reliable communications network and computer programs capable of making decisions based on the data.

One promising tool for collecting better data is called a phasor measurement unit (PMU), which measures voltage and current on power lines and uses GPS (global positioning system) connections to time-stamp its data down to the microsecond. That level of resolution across a network of PMUs could reveal an important electrical property of power lines called phase, which tells whether power generators are rotating in sync with respect to one another, Hines says. When a blackout approaches, that difference, called the phase, is believed to grow rapidly. “A lot of people have conjectured that if we could have seen that the [phase] distance between generators was increasing [on August 14, 2003], we could have prevented the blackout,” Hines says.

There are currently about 100 PMUs installed in the eastern
interconnection, up from zero in 2003, as part of the North American SynchroPhasor Initiative based at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. “We still need a couple of hundred more [PMUs] to get a full coverage,” Mansoor says, but he adds that they are already helping local utilities diagnose the causes of blackouts much faster than they could before. Another challenge for keeping the grid balanced is the growing demand for electricity—increasing load, in other words—as consumers buy more computers, air conditioners and rechargeable handhelds. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration projects a load growth of 1.05 percent a year from now until 2030, which means transmission capacity will have to keep pace.

The main obstacle to building new transmission lines is siting, better known as the “not in my backyard” effect: Nobody wants power lines near them. One potential way of getting around that is so-called smart metering—hourly readouts of electricity usage that allow utilities to offer price discounts on power during off-peak times. Pilot smart-metering programs are under way in Idaho, California and other states. Mansoor notes that advanced metering tools might become useful given the potential for increasingly intermittent power sources. Wind power, for example, stops and starts with the breeze, which means system operators would have to adjust the load to compensate. Although wind energy accounts for 19.5 gigawatts of power in the U.S., or less than 2 percent of total power generation, it represented 35 percent of new generating capacity installed in 2007, up from 5 percent in 2003.

An alternative to power lines in cities and other urban areas is power cables based on high-temperature superconductor (HTS) technology. When chilled to –321 degrees Fahrenheit (77 kelvins, or –196 degrees Celsius) the composite material yttrium barium copper oxide begins to carry a current with almost zero resistance. HTS power cables can therefore be made smaller than the copper kind. In a concept called the secure supergrid,  would bolster existing transmission lines and would resist the stresses that can cause blackouts, because the lines shut down when the current spikes (reflecting the “almost” in an HTS cable’s “almost zero resistance”). Some researchers have proposed combining an HTS supergrid with a coast-to-coast hydrogen pipeline to suppy fuel cells for cars and homes.

The Long Island Power Authority switched on a $50-million, 69-kilovolt HTS system in April to supply power to up to 300,000 homes. Consolidated Edison Company of New York and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have commissioned cables for a $40-million supergrid system in downtown Manhattan known as Project Hydra, scheduled for operation in 2010. None of these tools would guarantee the extinction of large blackouts. When researchers study very complex systems, whether they be power grids or sandpiles, they often find a simple relationship: The frequency of larger and larger catastrophes—such as blackouts or avalanches—remains relatively high. “If you look at all the steps that have been taken since 2003, I think overall the risk is less today than it was in 2003,” Mansoor says. “But the risk is always there.”

From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


“The interactive machine International Dance Party is a complete plug
‘n’ play party in a box. The machine comes as a large, non-suspicious
looking flightcase. Internally, it is equipped with cutting edge radar
sensing technology, an ear blasting state of the art 600W sound
system, tons of psychedelic light and laser effects, and even a
professional grade fog machine.

Through its dance activity radar, the International Dance Party
detects and evaluates motion input from surrounding people in
realtime. Several sophisticated transforming mechanisms let the
flightcase turn into a powerful and boosting party machine, once the
visitors start to dance within the machine’s range of perception.

The audience controls the complexity of the generated music and the
intensity of the light effects directly by the energy of its dance
action. When there is no audience, or when the audience is not active
enough, the machine stops its performance and transforms back into a
transport crate.

Check out the video about the device!

Beginner Set “Junior IDP”
You can’t afford the “real thing” but nevertheless, you want to throw
a party? This beginner set might be exactly what you need: It consists
out of a used ghettoblaster, model “Telefunken Bajazzo”, one red light
bulb [hopefully still working ] and twenty DIY fog machines, type
“Marlboro”. The party kit comes with a circumstantial instruction
manual in three dead languages [Latin, ancient Greek, and we forgot
the third]. You can own this exclusive package for only $99.

For renting the IDP, please contact:
email : rentals [at] internationaldanceparty [dot] com
For purchase requests, please contact:
email : sales [at] internationaldanceparty [dot] com
For any other inquiries, please contact:
email : info [at] internationaldanceparty [dot] com

Niklas Roy
email : nikl [at] s-roy [dot] de

The IDP was created by Adad Hannah [Montreal] and Niklas Roy [Berlin]
in late 2007. IDP’s generative music was produced by Baddd Spellah
[Vancouver]. Many thanks to John Tennant, who helped a lot with the
Max/MSP programming. The project was funded by Interstices.”



Wu Tang Clan promote unity through chess
Clan leader RZA unveils WuChess, his social network for hip-hop chess-heads worldwide
BY Sean Michaels  /  June 4, 2008

Fifteen years after 36 Chambers, the Wu-Tang Clan have turned their
attention to 64 black and white squares. The hip-hop group’s latest
project isn’t a Method Man album or a street-level mixtape – it’s, “the world’s first online chess and urban social
network”. The combination of rap and online chess might not seem like
an obvious fit, but the Wu have always been unabashed in their non-
bling interests, from kung fu to comic books and science fiction. And
chess has long been a passion of founding Clan-member RZA, who created
WuChess together with social network For a $48 (£24)
annual fee, WuChess subscribers can play against hip-hop chess-heads
worldwide, form “chess clans” to group their rankings, and even
compete against chess-playing rappers like the RZA himself. A “large
part” of WuChess’ revenue will be donated to the Hip-Hop Chess
Federation – whose almost ridiculously cool mission statement is to
use “chess, music and martial arts to promote unity, strategy and non-

email : help [at] wuchess [dot] com


“In an interview in his Manhattan hotel room last month, RZA played a
blitz game against the chess columnist for The Times. Readers who want
to see what happened can replay the game [above].”
Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, Hip-Hop Chess Champion  /  June 8, 2008

Rap artist RZA, who is a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, has an
interesting sideline occupation: recreational chess champion. RZA
(pronounced RIZ-a) sat down with New York Times chess man Dylan
McClain to talk about his love of the game. At the Mandarin Oriental
Hotel, the duo played a game and discussed how RZA became involved
with chess and what it means to him. One can see a virtual
representation of the game that RZA played with McClain online. While
RZA is the Hip-Hop Chess title belt holder–it’s a chess tournament
consisting of rap artists and martial arts practioners– McClain
managed to beat the champ. There’s video attached to the Times article
as the interview and the game progresses that’s very watchable.

RZA said he got involved in chess when he was a young man, when he
couldn’t even afford a board. He eventually wound up losing not only
matches, but his virginity to the girl who taught him the game. He
encourages other young people to take up the sport, emphasizing that
it stresses the importance of long-term thinking to a community that
frequently doesn’t see very far beyond the present. “The way you have
to think in chess is good for everyday thinking, really, especially
for brothers in the urban community who never take that second look,
never take that second thought.” The Wu-Tang Clan has a site called
WuChess, that allows participants to practice their board-battling
skills online. A tour of that site is available here. In the 1994 Boaz
Yakin-directed film “Fresh,” a young boy is mentored in the ways of
chess and transfers the Machiavellian strategies he learns from his
instructor (Samuel L. Jackson) to extricate himself from a harrowing
home life situation. [great movie too]
“Chess is a way of being aggressive without being physical. You’re
beating someone with your mind.” And when you lose, RZA points out,
you feel it — someone defeated your intellect. While mixing his new
album Digi Snacks, RZA would kill break-time with games of chess.
“Let’s say I’ve got an eight hour recording sessions,” the rapper
says. “Four hours of that is downtime.” Four hours of downtime means
lots and lots of in studio-chess games. “This week I’ve probably
played 50 games of chess,” says RZA — on a Wednesday.

But what does hip-hop have to do with chess? Everything. “Chess is
like battling — you know when two rappers face off,” says RZA. “Both
are really a flow of ideas that connect and are used to gain an
advantage over the opponent.” With that in mind, the Hip Hop Chess
Federation makes perfect sense. Founded by author Adisa Banjoko and
graffiti artist Leo “Blast” Libiran, the organization seeks to give
youngsters life tools via music, martial arts and, well, chess. RZA
first befriended the organizations founds a couple years back, but
didn’t become a full-fledged member until a year and a half ago. “The
idea is that chess can spark some young minds,” says RZA. “Show kids
that they need to plan ahead and think.” Last fall, RZA took first
place in the HHCF 8 man tournament in San Francisco, which raised
$10,000 in scholarship money for Bay Area schools.

This year, RZA is taking his love of chess online with WuChess. The
online gaming and social networking site lets players virtually face
off, create profiles, chat, join chess clans. “We’re trying to show
that chess isn’t just for nerds or old guys in the park,” the
recording artist points out. So RZA, what’s the difference between
online chess and real chess? “It’s easier to cheat.”



RZA Wins HHCF Chess Kings Invitational

RZA Demolishes a Cipher at the HHCF Closing

RZA, Josh Waitzkin & QBert Playing Chess at HHCF
Where Hip-Hop, Martial Arts and Chess Meet
BY Dylan Loeb McClain  /  October 21, 2007

“Hip-hop is a battle game,” he said. “Chess is a battle. Martial arts
is a battle.” The three disciplines came together on Oct. 13 in the
Galleria at the San Francisco Design Center, where the Hip-Hop Chess
Federation held the Kings Invitational tournament. The federation,
founded by the writer and lecturer Adisa Banjoko and Leo Libiran, a
visual artist, seeks to use “music, chess and martial arts to promote
unity, strategy and nonviolence,” according to its Web site. The
tournament’s competitors included six hip-hop stars — RZA; GZA,
another founder of the Wu-Tang Clan; Monk of the Black Knights, a Wu-
Tang affiliate; Casual, of the group Hieroglyphics; Sunspot Jonz, from
Living Legends Crew; and Paris. Rounding out the field were Ralek
Gracie, a martial arts fighter, and Amir Sulaiman, a poet who has
appeared on the HBO program “Def Poetry Jam.”

Although he did not play in the tournament — it would hardly have been
fair — Josh Waitzkin, the former chess prodigy whose life was the
basis of the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” took part in a panel
discussion about hip-hop, chess and martial arts. Waitzkin, an
international master, took up martial arts nine years ago, and by
2004, he had won two world titles in tai chi chuan. He wrote about his
experiences in “The Art of Learning” (Free Press, 2007). The
tournament also featured two scholastic chess tournaments — a 16-
player invitational that offered $10,000 in scholarships, and an open.
The video game publisher Ubisoft, which makes Chessmaster and other
programs, provided most of the money for the scholarships and to
sponsor the event. Chesspark, an Internet chess-playing site, was
another sponsor.

The Wu-Tang Clan’s connection to martial arts goes back to its
beginnings in 1992. RZA and GZA, who are cousins and who grew up
together on Staten Island, learned to play chess when they were young,
but did not play often. “Me and RZA would have been playing when we
was kids if we had had a board,” GZA said. GZA, the acknowledged
master lyricist of Wu-Tang, said there were similarities between
writing and chess. “Writing is sort of like chess for me,” he said.
“You have to think carefully before you move, thinking, planning. In
chess, you have to bring all the pieces into the game. It is about
development. In writing, you have to develop the story.”

RZA said chess was important to his creative process. “We keep a chess
board in the studio,” he said. “When I play chess, I am working. I
have 100 ideas running through my mind. When I am on the chess board,
I focus on nothing else.” RZA and GZA said they played in the Kings
Invitational and became involved in the Hip-Hop Chess Federation
because they believe chess can have a positive influence on young
people. “You are like a sponge when you are young,” GZA said. “Kids
are not being stimulated. Chess is a game of stimulation.”

It is hard to know how good RZA and GZA are at chess, but in the
opening sequence of the “General Principles” video, GZA, playing Black
in the diagram, wins after 1 Re1 de/N, forking the White king and
queen. RZA won the Kings Invitational with a perfect record of 4-0.
(GZA was 3-1, his one loss coming in his match with RZA.) In the last
round, RZA beat Monk, who was winning but who overlooked a back-rank
mate. Maybe that will end up being the title of a song on a future



Searching for Fischer’s Legacy  /  By Mike Klein  /  January 19, 2008
“Another prominent chess figure who owes his early notoriety to
Fischer is Bruce Pandolfini, whose post-collegiate career got a jump
start after his wildly popular broadcast coverage of the 1972 Fischer-
Spassky World Championship Match. Students have been contacting him
for lessons ever since. Pandolfini’s protégés, often some of the most
talented in the country, will be given honest treatment of his career
from their teacher; to do otherwise would be disingenuous. Today’s
chess teachers will become the stewards of Fischer’s legacy to the
next generation of chess enthusiasts. “Chess is about truth,”
Pandolfini said, “so it goes against the grain of the game to distort
it.” Fischer’s legacy is omnipresent in chess culture, so there is no
doubt that students will be asking about him for years to come.
Consider: “Game of the Century,” The Fischer Generation, Fischer Fear,
Fischer Clock, Fischer Random Chess, Fischer Attack and Fischer
Defense (versus the Sicilian and King’s Gambit, respectively).
Pandolfini echoed Polgar – both had generally propitious personal
interactions with Fischer, with some exceptions. “He was actually very
polite,” Pandolfini said. “I can remember him sitting with 1400
players analyzing as if they were equals, simply because he was
intrigued by the variations they were looking at.”



By Malcolm Venable  /   January 17, 2008

“There really are only two periods in hip-hop history: before Wu-Tang
Clan and after . Given the group’s near domination of rap in the ’90s,
it’s tempting to remember the pre-Wu-Tang landscape as stale, but hip-
hop was actually thriving. In 1992, A Tribe Called Quest, Redman and
KRS-One were relevant, Mary J. Blige had been named the – queen of hip-
hop soul – and Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” ignited a West Coast musical
movement that stole the spotlight from New York rap. Hip-hop was
healthy and diverse then – nowhere near as dull as it is now – so it
was all the more shocking when, in 1993, a nine-man band of pot-
smoking, Timberland-wearing weirdos from Staten Island stomped into
music with their wildly innovative album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36

Swiping the mythology from ’70s kung-fu flicks, the band hijacked the
Chinese B-movies’ language and mysticism, re-appropriating the flicks
to their dismal ghetto, which they nicknamed Shaolin.  Building buzz
from the ground up with a first single, the group’s   debut eventually
sold more than  a million records. More importantly though, they
created a business structure that remains a blueprint for legions of
aspiring rap titans. Part of Wu-Tang’s genius lies in its mystique.
Every member had a calculated persona and role: there was RZA,  the
group’s chief musical producer, his cousin the GZA/Genius,  and an
accompanying cast of characters with perplexing names like U-God,
Masta Killah, Method Man  and Inspectah Deck.   Ol’ Dirty Bastard was
their drunken monk. Ghostface Killah never showed his face. Huh?

Their language was also odd and challenging; you often felt you needed
a ghetto Rosetta Stone to decipher what you were hearing. In one Wu-
Tang song, it was entirely possible   to get overt or subtle
references to martial  arts, drugs, Eastern philosophy, guns,
religion, black history, violence, chess, sex, metaphysics, ghetto
theater, vegetarianism and the Nation of Islam splinter group the Five
Percent Nation. To boot, it appealed not only to hip-hop heads in
cities but to kids from Iowa to Japan. The icing was Wu-Tang’s sound.
Wu-Tang had a fiercely hard-core sound, characterized by gritty, low-
fi beats, Asian flourishes and samples from karate movies. Wu-Tang
music almost always felt cold, detached and spooky; even when they
were celebrating, things felt bleak.

If Wu-Tang’s  music was revolutionary, its  business strategy was
brilliant. In a then-unprecedented move, the group  signed its
initial record deal on the condition that every member of the crew be
allowed to pursue and release solo projects. The Wu  swarmed the
industry, releasing a string of albums from 1994 to 1996 that had
critics frothing at the mouth and still sound urgent today. Wu-Tang
was everywhere, from dorm rooms to dance halls to smoky cars, though
not as much on the radio since its  music was so defiantly
noncommercial. Competition was nil. They owned the era.”


RZA INTERVIEW,8599,88614,00.html
Robert Diggs, a.k.a. the RZA
BY Mike Eskenazi  /  Friday, Nov. 17, 2000

TIME: How much has it helped your business that the Clan members can
go work for other entertainment companies, such as film and record
companies, and bring industry secrets back with them?

The RZA: That was my original strategy — to have artists placed in
different locations, then get those different labels to work together
for my brand. Of course I learned that’s not easy to do because the
labels are in competition with one another. There was only one year
[1995] that they all listened to me, and that turned out to be a great
year for everybody. Geffen, Loud, Def Jam and Elektra got together and
bought this thing called the Wu Family Tree, which is a bin they put
in record stores. It had the GZA record, the Wu-Tang record, the
Method Man record and so forth. Everybody in the bin’s sales doubled
the month it was introduced. But that only happened on one campaign,
and that was because the people on that campaign were all good people
with each other, for instance, the people from Geffen knew the people
from Loud, etc.

TIME: How do you see things differently now from three years ago, when
the last Wu-Tang album was released?

The RZA: I’m moving more toward looking at the integrity of the brand.
My outlook ain’t really about how much revenue we’re making right now.
The purity of the W is more where my heart is at. I ain’t gonna front
you. Our hands are in a lot of directions. What I’m trying to do now
is consolidate and take my “W” off things that are not representing it
properly. Take, for example, Wu Tang Records. We’ve got groups such as
Black Knights on Wu Tang Records, but they’re not Wu-Tang Clan, you
know what I mean? We’re not putting our logo on our secondary artists
no more. We’re telling them, let them build off our strength and use
our expertise, but build within their own strength. Basically, the “W”
will only be our finest products. The ones we all agree on.

TIME: Divine says the band should bring in outside people to clean up
your books. What do you think about that?

The RZA: He should do that, but there should be certain limitations.
I’ve been telling him for three years, Look, go to these colleges,
give scholarships and recruit while you’re givin’ out scholarships.
Give scholarships to maybe 10 or 20 kids and recruit 10 or 20 kids and
let’s get this really poppin’, because I know how to pop it. Right now
Divine is attempting to separate the artists from the companies. In
other words, have the artist be artist, have the business people being
business people so we can bring in qualified business workers.

TIME: How long do you think that transition will take?

The RZA: Who knows man, because we did that before. You know we’re a
corporation, but we’re from the street. It’s hard sometimes for the
average person to come work with us. People be scared of us man, I
ain’t even gonna front on you, man. I know TIME’s like a big magazine,
so I don’t like to really be talkin’ like this. But people are
intimidated by us. Say you’re an accountant and you come to our office
and see that many of us and you feel all this pressure not to mess up.
A lot of people have resigned and have left also over the course of
the years, because they think “Yo, I can’t take it, I don’t know if
I’m gonna get punched in my face if I fuck up.” Not that we gonna
punch someone in the face, but there’s just a feeling of intimidation.
The way my niggas talk is just different from them, you know what I

But this corporation is definitely headed in the up direction, and the
key members are focused, which is the main point. In 1997, Wu Wear was
going in its own direction without too much influence from the rest of
the Clan. I took Wu Tang Records by myself and didn’t care what nobody
else said. Razor Sharp [Records] was left up to Divine. Everybody was
like “whatever, whatever” and meeting at the end of the year like,
“how you doin’, how you doin?’ But now it’s like we’re coming together
like we did for the first five years of our career — we’re putting the
energy together. Now we see each other at least three times a week.
Everybody’s there. For instance, Power will come into a meeting and
say “Oh, you guys are dropping an album, let’s make sure we get the
proper advertisement in it this time to cross-promote Wu Wear.”

Instead of Wu Wear having a whole separate budget, let’s look at our
corporation as a whole and consolidate all of our advertising. If we
take the 100,000 we’d normally spend pushing Wu Wear and the 200,000
we’d spend on Razor Sharp and the 200,000 Loud [Records] was gonna
spend on behalf of us and the 200,000 Geffen [Records] was gonna spend
on behalf of us and consolidate it — wow, what an impact.

TIME: Where do you see Wu-Tang Inc in five years?

The RZA: I’m sure we can go public. I’m just not money-lusting right
now. But maybe one day my brother can break into my head and say “Yo
man, let’s go for the money,” and maybe I’ll snap into it. But in five
years? We’re gonna be grown men that succeeded in the American dream.
We came from sleeping on pissy mattresses to Trump Plaza suites. I
used to be a messenger. Back then I couldn’t even get into a lot of
these buildings and now I’m invited to the penthouses. I wish America
would take a look and realize the prodigal children that was produced
from the hells of America. We weren’t produced in heaven, man. I go to
all different countries, and the first thing they see is that I’m
reppin’ America. We got the whole world rapping. I went to China last
year while there was a heavy beef between America and China. As we
went up into some of the provinces and I met with some of the people
there, they were very impressed with me. They felt very comfortable
talking to me and very comfortable relating to me. And felt very at
ease talking about things. And I’m saying to myself “Ya see, America
needs a diplomat like me, someone the people can feel and understand
that can get with Dien Bien Phu and with these old men out there.

The Wu-Tang Manual: Enter the 36 Chambers, Volume One (Paperback)

“In 1995, at a record release party for Liquid Swords, the infamous
hip-hop group, The Wu-Tang Clan, met Shifu Shi Yan Ming for the first
time. RZA, the Wu-Tang’s producer and master-mind described this
encounter as an act of destiny. The seeds of a great friendship were
sown from their first meeting in1995. RZA became both a close friend
and a student of Shifu. RZA began to study Kung fu, Qi Gong, Tai Qi
Chuan, all of which are ways of practicing Chan Philosophy. RZA and
The Wu-Tang Clan had been drawn to martial arts philosophy for some
time, as reflected in their name. Meeting Shifu, RZA recounted, made
him realize that kung fu is more than just a fighting style–“kung fu
is about the cultivation of the spirit.”

In 1999, RZA traveled with Shifu and the students of the USA Shaolin
Temple to Henan, China where they visited the original Shaolin Temple–
Shifu’s home and the birth place of Shaolin Kung fu and Chan
Philosophy. This was Shifu’s first trip back to China since he
defected in 1992. Shifu described the 1999 trip to China as a return
home — both for himself and his students who were now able to see the
Shaolin Temple for the very first time. It was a monumental trip for
everyone. As RZA put it, the trip could only be described with one
word: “Enlightenment.”

The Wu-Tang Manual is an encyclopedia of Wu Philosophy. It tells the
story of the Wu-Tang Clan and how martial arts or Chan Philosophy has
influenced the WuTang. The WuTang Manual is filled with illustrations,
photos, excerpts, and philosophy–all written by the members
themselves. In a way it is both a memoir and an educational guidebook.
Essentially the manual is the story of how philosophy can be applied
to daily life and the story of how age-old wisdom of Shaolin Monks in
China and the art and rhythm of contemporary life in the urban world
can come together in harmony.”

Introduced and Coordinated by Sophia Chang

SIFU SHI YAN-MING came to the US in ’92 on the first-ever Shaolin
Temple Monks’ American Tour. On the last date of the tour, in San
Francisco, he snuck out in the middle of the night, eluding the
watchful eye of the Chinese government chaperones. He jumped into a
cab, speaking no English, with nothing but a little money, a copy of
his passport and some newspaper articles that featured him. Once in
the cab, he could only signal with his hands which direction to go.
The cabbie, realizing that his passenger had no idea what his
destination was, pulled over and called the police, who arrived almost
immediately. Upon inspecting Shi Yan-Ming’s passport copy and
articles, they understood he was trying to defect and ordered the
driver to take him to Chinatown. The driver dropped him off at the
nearest Chinese restaurant. Shi Yan-Ming was thrilled to see the
Chinese writing. Unfortunately, the restaurant owners spoke Cantonese
(the Canton/Hong Kong dialect), which is very different from his
native Mandarin. They finally communicated with each other through
writing (Chinese is a pictorial language and can be understood by
people of different dialects because though it may be said
differently, it is written the same). Luckily Shi Yan-Ming remembered
the number of a friend in New York who in turn called his friend in
San Francisco (whose number he had forgotten in the hotel room) who
came and picked him up. He stayed underground for a week and then made
his way to New York where he lived upstate at a Buddhist temple, then
at another temple in Chinatown before opening his own USA Shaolin
Temple, where he now teaches Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Chi Kung, Buddhism and
meditation. — Sophia Chang

Scheduling an interview with the RZA isn’t as hard as you think – but
making it happen is much harder than you could possibly imagine. The
Godfather of the Clan only gets busier as the Wu Empire expands, so
tracking him down to do this interview is no small feat. 45 minutes on
the NJ Turnpike isn’t so bad, but the 45 once we get off the Turnpike
is a winding journey in the dark. Sifu Shi Yan-Ming, a 34th generation
Shaolin Temple fighting monk sighs, “Ah, trees.” It’s almost 1:00 am
by the time we pull up to the formidable Wu Mansion looming grandly in
the dark. (Is it really shaped like the Wu logo?) Once summoned to the
RZA’s antechamber, Sifu is delighted to see that Tony Starks a/k/a
Ghostface Killah has just arrived as well. Sifu, RZA and Ghost sit
down on the floor and discuss Chan Buddhism (Chinese Zen), Islam, the
Tao Te Ching, meditation, the history of Shaolin Temple and its Ching
Dynasty heroes Wong Fei Hong and Fong Sai Yuk (both played often and
excellently by actor Jet Li), stretching and Chi Kung, among other
subjects. Than comes the RZA’s audio-visual presentation: he plays
Sifu five new incredible beats he’s been working on and shares his
techniques; he shows Sifu the raw footage from his “Tragedy” video
(which is far better than the video itself) and some of his favorite
scenes from various kung fu movies. At one point RZA disappears
upstairs and redescends with champagne glasses and an extraordinary
bottle of ’88 vintage Dom Perignon – “very special water” as Sifu
calls it, as opposed to bear, which is simply “special water.” (The
emperor of the Tang Dynasty ordained that Shaolin Temple monks could
eat meat and drink alcohol – but not on the grounds of the Temple –
because they saved his life). They’re left alone with only the music
and the bottle of DP…

RZA: Tell ’em about the Zen [Chan in Chinese] Buddhism.

Sifu Shi Yan-Ming: Zen Buddhism, if you talk about Zen Buddhism, you
cannot say “this is Zen Buddhism.”

RZA: So, it can’t be described in words.

Sifu: It’s very important: mind to mind and heart to heart. The Zen
Buddhism founder, Damo [also known as Bodhidarma], after him until the
fifth generation [of disciples chosen to pass on the teachings] never
wrote down any words. But the sixth generation, Hui Neng, he wrote
different books explaining about Zen. He wanted to let people know
about Zen Buddhism.

RZA: But you never could really describe it in writing.

Sifu: Chan can be everything, also can be nothing. This is basic talk.

RZA: So it’s like the great everything but it’s also the small
nothing. I understand. Talk about Wu-Tang and how it came from
Shaolin. Talk about the Wu-Tang founder.

Sifu: Wu-Tang founder was Zhangsanfeng from the Yuan Dynasty. From the
Yuan Dynasty until now [is] like 745 years. He’s a true person, a real
person. He studied at Shaolin Temple for ten years. After he did some
bad things. Fight a lot. Shaolin Temple Abbot and all the monks

RZA: “You got to go.”

Sifu: Yeah. He founded another mountain called Wudang, English say Wu-

RZA: So he went to the mountain and then he realized that he was doing
wrong? Did he ever realize that he was bad and then change himself?

Sifu: He did things because he was young. Everybody at Shaolin Temple
doesn’t want to be bad parson because they studied philosophy and Zen
Buddhism. And master and all the monks, different teachers, learn from
Buddha and different Boddhisattvas: Always be a good person, don’t be
bad. Maybe he did it on purpose. After he felt he did bad things, he
tried to change. After, he found Wudang Mountain in Hubei Province.

RZA: What about Hunggar?

Sifu: Hunggar from Ching Dynasty. Shaolin Temple monks helped the
emperor but the emperor fought with the Manchus. The Manchus were
angry at the Shaolin Temple monks and thought the Shaolin Temple monks
help somebody kill them. They were very angry.

RZA: I saw a movie called Death Chamber that said that the Manchus
sent 4,000 men into attack 400 Shaolin men.

Sifu: It’s true. Shaolin Temple monks – one person can fight a lot of
different people. Hunggar is from Shaolin disciple Hong Xi Guan, he
was Master Zheshan’s disciple. Hunggar has Small Red Fist, Big Red
Fist, and Oldest Fist. Now, especially in America, people don’t know
Hunggar. Chinese people came to America from Ching Dynasty, from Hong
Kong and Canton. Lots of people know a little bit of martial arts;
they don’t want to work too hard. They try to do differently, they try
to teach. But only know like a small part of martial arts.

RZA: … and fool a lot of people. But you have been in Shaolin from the
age of five, studying over 25 years – and not just studying martial
arts but also Chan Buddhism and the philosophy and knowin’ how to
really live life in all walks of life and how everything is kung fu,
everything is a martial art.

Sifu: Exactly. Everywhere you can stay, you don’t have to feel bad. If
you want to do something, in the future, if you try your best, you
have to be happy. If you can, you be happy. Nothing different. Try
keep your heart flat.

RZA: Keep your heart flat, neutral.

Sifu: Yes.

RZA: You know, where I come from – New York, Staten Island – we call
it Shaolin. I’m representing the Wu-Tang Clan, but you came from the
actual Shaolin Temple in Henan Province in China. What was it like to
grow up in a place like that? Was it hard training?

Sifu: Before it was, yeah, feel differently. But little by little find
out love – Zen Buddhism and Shaolin Temple changed my life. I feel
very comfortable.

RZA: Were you doing a lot of rigorous training? Liftin’ a lot of
stuff, carryin’ heavy things, readin’ everyday? How was your average

Sifu: We woke up at 4:00 in the morning. Same monks meditate and pray,
some monks practice martial arts for two hours. At 6:00 stop, rest
half an hour. 6:30 we have breakfast. After breakfast at 7:00 we do
one hour meditation and read some books and try to do different things
– like now there are a lot of tours that come to Shaolin Temple.
Shaolin Temple opened to tourists in 1978. At 8:00 we opened the door
and let tours come in and have to take care of a lot of tourists,
cleaning. Shaolin Temple have a lot of different buildings made of
wood; you have to be careful, because a lot of people pray and lot of
incense burn. We open door from 8:00 until 11:30. 11:30 lunchtime for
half hour. After we change, different monks.

RZA: Change the shifts. Different monks come.

Sifu: Right. They go to have lunch, we go to work. It you work is the
morning, you don’t work in the afternoon – you practice, pray and
meditation until 6:30 in the evening we have dinner. After, we close
the doors and inside we clean and also pray and meditation, reading,
practice kung fu. We go to bed, 10:00. From 10:00 we have three
sections: 10:00 ’til 1:00 have different monks, like kung fu fighting
monks take care of Temple, walk around. Like each group for three

RZA: I seen s movie Masta Killa: 36 Chamber, he had to carry the
water. Did you carry water and staff like that?

Sifu: Yes, we did.

RZA: And then there are a lot of obstacles you gotta go through?

Sifu: We made different kinds of training styles.

RZA: So it’s different training you would do – while you’re workin’,
you’re tranin’.

Sifu: Exactly, you walk like wind, you sleep like bow, stand like big
tree, and your movements, your footwork, like drunken, someone cannot
understand you, and also your head is wavy like the ocean water, end
especially your waist.

RZA: Constantly moving, your waist has to be very flexible.

Sifu: Have to. It’s like the center. If your waist is too stiff, it’s
not good for you.

RZA: What’s a good way to loosen the waist? Bending, stretching?

Sifu: Bending not enough. Depends. Must see mind – is very important

RZA: So it’s like year mind must be so much in tune with your body
that you can make your body shape anyway you want because your mind
controls it. Like I once thought that the same energy you put into
sex, that’s a lot of energy, you should be able to put that into any
move that you make, do you agree with that? You should be able to put
that into anything.

Sifu: Yin and Yang. Men are Yang, women are Yin. Man end woman
together very natural, it’s no problem, very good. But if too much,
you lose a lot of chi.

RZA: That’s my problem, Sifu. Too much woman.

Sifu: You have to control yourself.

RZA: In the hip-hop world, that’s a hard thing to do. But that’s part
of martial art training: you’ve gotta control your desires. You know
there’s many people that believe in a lot of myths about Shaolin. Talk
about some of the things that can be done, as far as the strength that
you can get with that… Like how you broke the bricks on year head.

Sifu: Shaolin Temple has many different kind of styles: empty hands,
like 36 internal and 36 external styles. And also have every different
weapon. Usually they talk about 18 weapons, but much more than that.

RZA: How many different weapons have you learned to use?

Sifu: I can do all different weapons.

RZA: Is the hands the best?

Sifu: I feel it’s the same.

RZA: That’s great. You know how martial arts movies that they made in
the ’70s as we was growing up had a big effect on the music and the
hip-hop culture in America. We learned a lot just from watching the
movies end trying to see the brotherhood and the loyalty that was
there. How does that feel to you to know that your culture was able to
influence a culture over here? Do you think that’s something good?

Sifu: Of course it’s good. Some movies they made is very good, some
movies they made is so-so. A lot of people don’t understand movies,
they think it’s real sometimes, they think it’s true, but it’s not.
Like some actors don’t know martial arts but they made a movie look
like real.

RZA: Yeah, I just did a video.

Sifu: Excellent. You know first time I saw your video, oh my God, I
can’t stop laughing. I love very much. Before I said, “Where is Rakim
video? I cannot see!” My god. All the time I check Channel 20 [MTV]
and Channel 42 BET]. “Where’s Rakim?” On the phone I talk to you and
it came on. I said “Wow! Now!” So excellent.

RZA: What kind of music are you into? Do you like hip-hop music?

Sifu: In China, all the time I live at Shaolin Temple, different kinds
of music for me is no problem. Especially I know you, I like Wu-Tang
Clan more I heard, I listen, I like! You know, can give you lot of
energy to practice.

RZA: I feel like my music and my lyrics is like kung fu. Like the Wu-
Tang style, we came with that because I like the Wu-Tang sword style –
and the tongue is like a sword and your words can either kill you or
save you in many situations. That’s why with Wu-Tang, we specialize in
what we say. And the music that I make is martial arts driven, and
that’s why I realize that anything that you could do physically, you
could do mentally. And whatever you could do mentally, you should be
able to do physically.

Sifu: Very true. Your tongue, just like sword. Can do anything. And
also you do music, you have to use your chi and if you don’t have
enough chi, you cannot do it. Just like kung fu.

RZA: So he’s saying all you producers who don’t get enough chi energy,
you cannot make good music.

Sifu: This is true.

RZA: I remember you were showing me some Chi Kung.

Sifu: Chi is like your life force. Like your born-chi end after-you’
reborn-outside-chi. try to combine together. Actually, everything – we
talk, we walk, we eat, we sleep – everything you have to use your chi.
Chi can help your life, can also hurt you.

RZA: … destroy your life. So there’s chi in everything, in every
walk of life, in every active force of energy. It’s the principal
behind every energy.

Sifu: Depends how you use your chi. Like you have philosophy share
with people to help world peace.

RZA: Right. So, do you like it in America?

Sifu: Everywhere for monks is same, nothing different.

RZA: It don’t matter what’s around you, it’s what’s inside you. So you
always bring yourself there, you don’t care what’s the environment.
That’s great. Me and Ghostface have been doing come of the Chi Kung
exercises and stretching. It does build up an internal strength. For
me, it made me feel more rooted to the ground, like it made me feel
that every step my toes just grabbed the ground. That’s what I got out
of it.

Sifu: The roots like the tree?

RZA: Yeah, like the roots of the tree. How about the food, you like
the food out here?

Sifu: I think American food, some is good. The fast food is not good
for people’s health because all deep-fried, too much oil. Too much
sugar, too much cheese.

RZA: What you think is going to be your contribution to America?

Sifu: I give the people my best because I know a lot about Zen
Buddhism and philosophy and Shaolin Temple martial arts and also
acupressure and medicine, many different kinds. I want to give to
everybody, everybody enjoy. If help one people, another people think
can help ten people, ten people can help 100 people.

RZA: And it doesn’t matter, you’re not into races and nationalities.
You don’t feel that you want to be greater, you just want to share
with all.

Sifu: This is my opinion, this is my future. I want world peace and
everybody try to think about somebody and take care of somebody. A
country has to think about another country, take care at another
country. I think if everybody thinks like this, the world is very

RZA: If everybody was to help each other it would be more comfortable.
But people these days, Sifu, it’s more every man for himself. But with
that kind of thought and philosophy.., right now, America is
considered by some to be a bad place, ah, they call it Babylon
sometimes. Do you think that a man with your ambition and your desires
for peace will ever find peace in a place like this?

Sifu: I think it depends, on yourself, everywhere. Like I live New
York right now. It you stay here, you have to love here, have to take
care of here. And you take care of everybody and everybody respect you
and take care of you. And if you stay here and you can do well, you
can go anywhere and do well, it’s no problem, no question. And also I
have to tell people, if you like to study martial arts with somebody,
it’s very good but you have to be careful: go to watch class first,
make everything sure, don’t waste your time.

RZA: I’m gonna tell [the GRAND ROYAL readers] this: It you wanna learn
true and living Shaolin martial arts, go to the U.S.A. Shaolin Temple
located at 678 Broadway, third floor. That’s for people who are
interested in coming in to learn true Shaolin Kung Fu, not no
imitation. This is RZArector from the Wu-Tang Clan with Sifu Shi Yan-
Ming, PEACE!

Sifu: AMITABHA! [pronounced o-mi-to-foh] PEACE! The Wu-Tang, Shaolin
[in a voice like the soundbyte from the first Wu-Tang album]


The two emerge as the sun is coming up, still full of energy, warmth
end smiles. Sifu Shi Yan-Ming can’t remember the last time he stayed
up all night, never mind the last time he drank $200 a bottle
champagne end discussed Chan with the #1 hip-hop producer in the world.