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How to debate universal basic income

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 9, 2019

Daron Acemoglu has a piece at Project Syndicate arguing that basic income is a bad policy. His argument, in a nutshell, is that a truly universal basic income (UBI) would be prohibitively expensive, and that raising additional taxes to pay it “would impose massive distortionary costs on the economy”. The alternative, to cut all existing social programs for the sake of UBI, would be “a terrible idea”, since these programs are targeting those that are particularly vulnerable or needy. He argues that the political effects of a UBI would be bad – a UBI would “keep people at home, distracted, and otherwise pacified”, whereas “we need to rejuvenate democratic politics, boost civic involvement, and seek collective solutions”. For Acemoglu, the top priorities in the USA should be “universal health care, more generous unemployment benefits, better-designed retraining programs, and an expanded earned income tax credit (EITC)”, as well as higher minimum wages.

I share Acemoglu’s view that “One should always be wary of simple solutions to complex problems, and universal basic income is no exception.” In a paper I wrote last year (alas, in Dutch, and I haven’t had the time to translate it, but perhaps google translate can help us a little), I’ve argued that the debate on universal basic income is confused and confusing, and will not be getting us far, because too many papers/interventions are not clear about their assumptions, are not spelling out the goals (e.g. is the primary aim poverty reduction or creating freedom from the need to submit to the labour market for survival or something else), and are not giving the details of the package deal. [click to continue…]

Five stitches and Røbic’s music

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 12, 2019

I was for the second time in my life as a parent on the emergency room yesterday. Our youngest (11yo) son and I went shopping in the afternoon, and bought a new bread knife. Well, it was sharp, and because he has been using our (very old) bread knife for a long time without ever causing any problems, we had not worried enough about what would happen if we let him use a razor-sharp new bread knife. He made a mistake when cutting a bun, and suddenly was standing in front of me with a yawning gap in his hand. [click to continue…]

A moral puzzle on individual climate action

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 23, 2019

The Dutch philosopher Marc Davidson posted the following on the closed FB-group Climate ethics research (reproduced here with Marc’s permission):

Who can help with this moral riddle? Somewhere in the near future I have to be in Venice [leaving from Amsterdam]. I can take the train for about 200 Euro, which emits 0.04 ton CO2. Or I can take the plane for about 40 Euro, which emits 0.15 ton CO2 AND spend 160 Euro on buying emissions rights from the EU ETS which will remove 8 ton CO2 emissions. What is better for the climate and what is the moral right thing to do? I really intend to spend the entire difference on compensation.
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Next week: the EthicsLab launch in Yaoundé

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 16, 2019

Next week, the EthicsLab is launched in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. This is a new research center on ethics and public policy at the Université Catholique d’Afrique Centrale, which aims to foster research on these issues in Central Africa. The launching is a big event, with one week of workshops as well as a conference where ethicists and political philosophers from around the world come together to help the EthicsLab build its research agenda.

The driving force behind the EthicsLab is Dr. Thierry Ngosso, currently a Berggruen Fellow at the J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, who has been working towards this launch for many years. I am in absolute admiration of how he has managed to get this together – given that he did this as a PhD-student and subsequently during a series of temporary postdocs positions. But Thierry has been very smart and very patient, building this step by step, first organising a series of Summerschools with help of his (local and international) friends, and then taking the next step to launch the EthicsLab.

For me, as a European participant to this event, I also feel very excited about getting to know so many political philosophers and ethicists who are based in Africa. The list of participants consists of a mixture of philosophers from different African countries, or African philosophers working outside Africa, as well as international (mainly American and European) colleagues. It’s not surprising that we know colleagues from nearby places better than from further away places. But still, I know more international colleagues from the US, Canada and Australia than from Africa or Latin-America: resources, and possibly also language, matter too.

So, three cheers for the EthicsLab, and wishing them lots of success in strengthening ethics and political philosophy in Central Africa!

Lessons from Dutch academic activism (part 1)

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 15, 2019

I have been a very poor blogger here at CT recently. That’s because I took up a second job – namely becoming an activist for the reform of the funding of Dutch academia. I have been wanting to try to write on this here repeatedly, but one thing that stopped me was that I didn’t know where to start. So rather than overstreching myself (what I have already been doing in real life…), I thought I can write a series of posts (irregularly, and I may not write more than two or three) on what general lessons one can learn from being an academic who engages in activism to reform academia.

So off we go, with lesson 1.
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On our way to zero net emissions

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 3, 2019

In many avenues of my life, people are now discussing whether we should reduce our emissions and if so, how much they should reduce their emissions and what we will still permit ourselves to do (meat? flying? driving our gasoline car? buying some new stuff we would like but can also live without?). Academically, the question of the fair division of the remaining emissions, as well as the question whether we should frame this as a moral duty for inviduals or rather merely to those in power to change institutions, are part of the Fair Limits project that I’m directing. Politically, we’ve seen these questions discussed in newspapers, on blogs and on twitter, including penetrating comments such as this one by the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (who, according to Wikipedia, turns 16 today – happy birthday, Greta!):
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A philosophical experiment about inequality

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 3, 2018

Crossposted by co-writer Tim Meijers at Justice Everywhere

Political philosophers often engage in thought experiments, which involve putting hypothetical persons in hypothetical scenarios. However, it is often challenging to find ways to involve real, non-hypothetical, people with the questions we are dealing with, aside from the more traditional ways to engage in outreach such as debates and opinion pieces. Recently, the Fair Limits team* – which studies the plausibility of upper limits in the distribution of economic and ecological resources – attempted a new way to engage the public by making use of a participatory “veil-of-ignorance” thought experiment. [click to continue…]

Lang leve de jarigen!

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 3, 2018

It’s Chris’s 60th birthday today – Happy Birthday, Chris!

Since this blog owes a lot to Chris (that is an understatement…), I want to let you know that on FB, Chris has launched a fundraiser for Bristol Refugee Rights, an organisator supporting refugees in Bristol of which Chris is the Chair of the trustees. If you’re on FB I am sure you can find your way there to the place to donate; otherwise, you can use this link.

Chris shares his birthday with my sister (Gelukkige verjaardag, zusje!) and with my former PhD-supervisor Amartya Sen, who celebrates his 85th birthday today (Happy birthday, Amartya!).

Since I was writing to them today, it occurred to me that the Dutch language has a word that, according to my knowledge of English and the online dictionary that I consulted, doesn’t have an equivalent in English: de jarige – the person who has their birthday. Either I am wrong, and then you sharp people will surely teach me a new word, or else I may have found one of the very few words in Dutch that doesn’t have an English equivalent (most of the time, it’s the other way around).

Lang leve de jarigen!

Three cheers for Urgenda!

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 9, 2018

I’ve been absent here since over the last weeks all my time except for teaching and other non-postponable duties has gone into nation-wide activism to end the underfunding of universities in the Netherlands – about which another time, hopefully soon, more in another blogpost. But I wanted to briefly interrupt my absence to share with you the good news that Urgenda, has won the Appeal that the Dutch State made against the famous 2015 Climate Case that Urgenda won, on which I wrote here at the time. For some brief reports about today’s ruling, see the NYT, the Guardian, or in Dutch, NRC. [click to continue…]

Touched by the hands in Pech Merle

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 4, 2018

We visited the Cave of Pech Merle yesterday, which is famous for its prehistorical paintings of bisons, mammoths, horses, and other animals. Those paintings have been made by people who, according to our guide, were almost identical to us, except, she said, that they were taller than us – on average 1 meter 85 centimeter. Pech Merle has a website that is a bit slow (at least, given my present internet-conditions), but it has a very interesting part where you can enter the cave virtually.
I’ve visited many caves in my life, but never one with prehistorical paintings, and was very impressed. If you ever get a chance to see them, do go see them! Although the crown piece of the cave are two dotted horses, which are large and in excellent condition and include something of an optical illusion (avant la lettre?)—I was especially touched by the painting of the hands of the people. There are a number of hands, painted in black, close to the dotted horses, presumably by a man (or several men); and then there is this single hand in red, which is presumably from a woman. At first, I was surprised to note that the hands touched me more than the animals (which may be seen as artistically more sophisticated). I guess that seeing a hand brings the presence of the human being closer than seeing a non-human animal. People, almost identical to us, who made paintings in a cave, some 20.000 years ago, that we can still watch today…


by Ingrid Robeyns on July 28, 2018

I hope those of you based in the right places enjoyed the red moon last night. The day before yesterday, we enjoyed a fabulous bright and almost full moon, while sipping some French wine on top of a hill in the Midi-Pyrénées. But alas, yesterday we had only clouds around the time we had hoped to enjoy the red moon. Still, they were pretty spectacular too – at least, a bit earlier in the evening.

Twelve Stars project – join in!

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 16, 2018

So folks, I want to draw your attention to the Twelve Stars project – a project set up up by some (mainly German) philosophers who will publish a book, in the run-up to the European Elections of 2019, in which philosophers will defend a specific policy proposal that that the European Union should adopt. There are 25 propositions that will be defended, including that the EU should not tolerate member states to restrict freedom of religion (defended by Rainer Forst), that the EU should offer citizenship to people from Island nations inundated by rising see levels (Mark Alfano), that the EU should abolish intensive farming (Mara-Daria Cojocaru), that the EU should encourage new forms of governance in which companies are run by employees (Lisa Herzog) and many more. For a list of all propositions, take a look here. Our own Miriam Ronzoni will defend the claim that the European Parliament should be elected on the basis of transnational lists, and I will defend the claim that the EU should institute high levels of taxation on air travel.

An interesting feature of the project is that the authors will try out their proposals in a “change my view” debate with anyone who wants to join the discussion. The first three debates are this Friday, with Peter Dietsch arguing that the European Central Bank should consider the distributive effects of its monetary policy, Clement Fontan arguing that the EU should adopt stricter financial regulations, and Jakub Kloc-Konkołowicz arguing that the European Union should involve its national parliaments more strongly when reshaping its institutions and politics. Feel free to join those discussions, and those following over the next weeks!

Many scholars, journalists and commentators have written how in many (all?) European welfare states government-based systems of support and solidarity are being restructured, scaled down, or eliminated. One common ideological basis in all those reforms is the view that people should be made maximally self-reliant and, if need be, families should support other family members in need – hence this would justify a cut-back of state involvement. The European welfare states have always been something most Europeans have been proud of – the idea that civilisation implies that we collectively care for the most vulnerable people in our political community, and that we collectively pool risks that, if left to the market, would lead to some people paying much more to secure those risks than others.

In several countries, the reforms are targeting the income- and labour market support systems for the disabled. In the Netherlands, this has now taken a really ugly turn, as was very well described in an article (in Dutch) by Gijs Herderscheê and Sheila Sitalsing, which was published today in De Volkskrant. [click to continue…]

Some thoughts for #WAAD

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 2, 2018

April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day, and I’m trying generally to post something on this topic around this time of the year. (NB: I’ll use “autistic people” and “people with autism” interchangeably, since members of the autistic community are divided on which of these terms they prefer – and in my view, both sides have good arguments to prefer it they way they prefer.)

First, we’ve been talking here in the past about the importance of listening to the voices of people with autism (something that Pete Warmby argues is lacking in the Autism Awareness week). There is a very simple and accessible way of doing that – and that is via Twitter – just type “#actuallyautistic” in the search field. The tweets with the hashtag #actuallyautistic will sometimes include links to blogs on which much lengthier pieces can be read. [click to continue…]

Support the Yaoundé seminar in political philosophy

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 3, 2018

Thierry Ngosso, a Cameroon philosopher (PhD Louvain-la-Neuve, currently based in Sankt Gallen), together with some other philosophers based in Belgium and the Netherlands, are organising for the fifth year a summerschool in political philosophy in Yaoundé. The aim of the seminar is “a genuine and lasting North-South conversation, understanding and solidarity in academic philosophy.” The seminar is open for PhD-students in philosophy/political theory from the Global North (who have to pay their own way) as well as for PhD-students from countries in the global South. The Yaoundé seminar has always been able to count on the support of a great line-up of professors, who also pay their own way.

In order to be able to waive fees and financially support the students coming from the South, the organisers have set up a fundraiser. They need 4000 Euro for this year’s travel grants, but have stated that any additional support will go to the travel bursaries at next year’s event.

I think this is a wonderful initiative, and hope that some of our readers will be willing to make a donation – whether small or larger. The donations are handled by Leiden University, and the page where you can make a donation can be found here.