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Universal Basic Income: the philosophy behind the proposal (ETHICSOC 174B, ETHICSOC 274B, PHIL 174B, PHIL 274B, POLISCI 338)


Universal basic income (or UBI) is a regular cash allowance given to all members of a community without means test, regardless of personal desert, and with no strings attached. Once a utopian proposal, the policy is now discussed and piloted throughout the world. The growth of income and wealth inequalities, the precariousness of labor, and the persistence of abject poverty have all been important drivers of renewed interest in UBI in the United States. But it is without a doubt the fear that automation may displace workers from the labor market at unprecedented rates that explains the revival of the policy in recent years, including by many in or around Silicon Valley. Among the various objections to the proposal, one concerns its moral adequacy: Isn't it fundamentally unjust to give cash to all indiscriminately rather than to those who need it and deserve it? Over the years, a variety of scholars have defended the policy on moral grounds, arguing that UBI is a tool of equality, liberal freedom, republican freedom, gender equity, or racial equity. Many others have attacked UBI on those very same grounds, making the case that alternative policy proposals like the job guarantee, means-tested benefits, conditional benefits, or reparations should be preferred. Students will learn a great deal about political theory and ethics in general but always through the specific angle of the policy proposal, and they will become experts on the philosophy, politics and economics of UBI. The seminar is open to undergraduate and graduate students in all departments. There are no pre-requisites.

Course ID: 
218 417
Letter (ABCD/NP)