A Justification for Universal Basic Income

     The political philosophy of Liberal Egalitarianism, which is broadly outlined in Rawls’ seminal work “A Theory of Justice”, was furthered by Dworkin when he suggested a few key additions to try and account not just for unequal distribution of social goods but also for unequal distribution of natural goods, such as intelligence and physical strength. Dworkin’s theories have been used as theoretical justification for a host of after-market wealth redistribution programs but he does not go so far as to recommend the implementation of more radical policies that would occur before-market. I argue that these before-market policies are integral in creating a just society and that the best way to achieve genuine equality of resources is through a before-market policy of universal basic income. This policy proposal of universal basic income is consistent with Dworkin’s theories.

     To achieve equality of resources and try to eliminate the variable of circumstance, as a just society, (per Rawls definition of justice) the society needs to distribute resources equally. Dworkin’s proposal for improved equal resource distribution is an auction system which allows for choice during the auctioning process but assumes all participants start out with an equal amount of purchasing power. To try and adjust for this initially equal purchasing power in the real-world after-market is incredibly difficult due to the subjective nature of the task. This subjectivity leads, in real terms, to bureaucratic costs along with, more importantly, not achieving the aforementioned goal. Seeing that after-market policies are ineffective at remedying unequal initial resource distribution we are led to before-market policies to address this issue. I believe Philippe Van Parijs suggestion of universal basic income, where every citizen would receive a monthly (or annual) stipend, would be most effective. Having shown that basic income follows from Rawls’ and Dworkin’s conception of a just society, I will examine practical implementation of this policy.

     Finland is testing out the implementation of this policy for a minimum of two years on 2000 citizens receiving the lowest rate of unemployment benefit. This is being done to examine the effectiveness of basic income and to address the common critique of basic income; “that it might tax hard-working citizens to subsidize indolent citizens” (Kymlicka). The results of this experiment will confirm or deny this statement to a greater degree, but we can examine why this statement is most likely false. Firstly, people have a certain desire to work and when considered in aggregate people have a desire to be productive members of society. Secondly, universal basic income would be used to alleviate disincentives to citizen productivity caused by the welfare state. It does this by removing the loss of benefits as a disincentive to work, increasing citizen productivity. These arguments lead us to conclude it is unlikely that instituting universal basic income would simply cause productive members of society to pay for the lazy. Another benefit, outside of citizen productivity, is the cutting of red tape surrounding various after-market wealth distribution programs that try to ineffectively correct unequal initial resource distribution.

     Implementation of a basic income follows from Rawls’ theories of justice; more specifically, his Difference Principle of an inequality only being just if it is to the advantage of the least favored. Universal basic income is the practical implementation of Dworkin’s improved theoretical method of ensuring equality of resources, and its implementation in the real world is effective. As more countries start to explore the option of basic income we will accumulate more empirical evidence in order to verify that the real-world application of seemingly radical before-market policies are not only just, but also are practically effective.


Kymlicka, Will. “Liberal Equality.” Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction. Oxford: Clarendon, 1990. N. pag. Print

Rawls, John. “The Principles of Justice.” A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1971. N. pag. Print.

Unkuri, Maija. “Will Finland’s Basic Income Trial Help the Jobless?” BBC News. BBC, 16 Jan. 2017. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.

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