Video interview with Guy Standing on basic income, February 2010 

By Guy Standing

“Most of us have some view of what constitutes social justice, and most of us believe in the equality of something, be it income, wealth or opportunity. My own work has been and is dedicated to the principle that there is a claim right, or a republican right, to equal basic security, and that social and economic policies should be oriented to the steady realisation of basic economic security for everybody. Without such basic security, one cannot have full freedom.

“Full freedom is the combination of what Isaiah Berlin called negative liberty and positive liberty. Libertarians, particularly in the USA, give overwhelming emphasis to negative liberty, the absence of constraints, subject to doing no harm to others. Negative liberty – freedom from unwanted controls over us – is important. But without positive liberty, freedom is hardly meaningful. Positive freedom means having the capability to make rational choices about what to do and what not to do, and the precious right to say “No!”.

“In my work, I have argued since the beginning of the 1980s that more flexible labour markets have multiplied forms of social and economic insecurity. Traditional forms of social security and fiscal subsidies do not offer a route out of that impasse. This is why a group of us, economists like myself, philosophers, sociologists and others, formed a network in 1986 called BIEN – a name I suggested at our inaugural meeting in Belgium – meaning Basic Income European Network.

“The objective has been to promote the right to basic income security, through moving towards a guaranteed basic income as a claim right, without conditions or means-testing. Later, BIEN became the Basic Income Earth Network, to reflect the fact that many people from developing countries have joined the network. Since then, advances have been made in places that none of us anticipated at the outset, even in the most wretchedly poor countries of the world. From being seen as mad, bad and dangerous to know, those advocating a basic income as an economic right now feel that gradually we are moving in that direction. And the arguments in favour, ecological, economic and social, are being strengthened. Anybody reading this is free to join BIEN. Please go to the BIEN website to see how to do so.

“Globalisation and what I call the Global Transformation are my other primary areas of interest. I believe we are in what Karl Polanyi would have called a period of disembeddedness, in which the drift to a market society has generated unsustainable inequalities and insecurities. The old models promoted by social democrats in the 20th century have broken down and the ‘free market’ brigade is bereft of answers to the insecurities and inequalities. The answer, I believe, is a strategy for the progressive realisation of economic rights. We should feel optimistic that, in a world rightly fearful of ecological disaster due to market excess and a frenzy of consumerism, the strengthening of economic rights will provide a much better basis for a balanced human existence. That should be our goal.”