Feminism and Basic Income Revisited

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 2, 2009

We’ve had some discussions on the desirability of a basic income from a feminist perspective here before (“here”:https://crookedtimber.org/2007/02/28/redesigning-distribution/ and “here”:https://crookedtimber.org/2007/07/10/should-feminists-support-basic-income/). So I thought I would mention that about a month ago a special issue of “Basic Income Studies“:http://www.bepress.com/bis/ was published which addresses precisely the question “whether, all things considered, feminists should endorse a basic income.”:http://www.bepress.com/bis/vol3/iss3/ All authors answered this question with (relatively) affluent societies in mind; so the question still need to be answered for developing countries.

I guest-edited this issue and, as I wrote in “the introduction”:http://www.bepress.com/bis/vol3/iss3/art3/ (which also summarises the papers), apart from Barbara Bergmann’s contribution, I genuinely did not know what the other contributors (John Baker, Anca Gheaus, Jacqueline O’Reilly, Almaz Zelleke, and Julieta Elgarte) would argue. So although these authors are all either feminists or generally supportive of feminist views, I was truly surprised to find out that they strongly disagreed on the desirability of a basic income for feminists. On the one hand this is due to the different kinds of feminism which they endorse. Bergmann is a ‘Total Androgyny, Male Style’- type of feminist, whereas Baker and Zelleke, for example, are much more concerned about the short-term interests of carers and those who do not want to or cannot take on large paid jobs, which are often mothers and female carers. Yet the other source of disagreement is the predicted effects of a basic income on the gendered division of labour. Gheaus thinks it will become more unequal (a view I share based on an empirical literature survey of similar policy instruments or financial changes, which I did as a graduate student). Elgarte thinks we need to make policy space for an ‘avantgarde’ who is practicing a more egalitarian gender division of labour while at the same time protecting those who are living in more gendertraditional households, whereas Zelleke doesn’t think the gender division of labour will worsen if a basic income would be implemented.

How is all this possible? The answer, I think, lies in the fact that these papers argue at a high level of generality and without specifying what the level of the basic income will be and what other elements of the welfare state (public goods, merit goods, etc.) will be kept and/or implemented. Of course, this critique is not true for Bergmann, who has done some interesting calculations and argues that if we have a Swedish-style welfare state with targeted transfers and subsidized public and merit goods, there is no fiscal room left to increase taxation rates for a basic income; and it is also not entirely true for O’Reilly, who compares existing social policies aiming at gender equality, and concludes that she is sceptical about what a basic income can do better.

So my conclusion? “…the main merit of this debate in Basic Income Studies is that it provides evidence of the consolidation of the conflicting feminist views about basic income proposals when analysed at a general level. Therefore, I believe that it is time to move to a second stage of feminist analyses that needs to focus more on the details of the entire package deal of a basic income society, in an empirically grounded fashion.” (introduction, p. 5)

“Basic Income Studies”:http://www.bepress.com/bis/ is one of those wonderful Open Access Journals, so anybody interested can read it all “here”:http://www.bepress.com/bis/vol3/iss3/.