How does Basic Income activate while liberating?

This solidarity between means-unconditionality and work-unconditionality underlies the central case for basic income as a specific way of handling the joint challenge of poverty and unemployment. Compared to guaranteed income schemes of the conventional sort, the crucial argument in favour of the desirability of basic income rests on the widely shared view that social justice is not only a matter of right to an income, but also of access to (paid and unpaid) activity. The most effective way of taking care of both the income and the activity dimension consists in maintaining the income transfer (in gross terms) whatever the person’s activity, thereby “activating” benefits, i.e. extending them, beyond forced inactivity, to low-paid activity. It may correctly be objected that there are other schemes – such as earned income tax credit or employment subsidies – that could serve better, or more cheaply, the objective of securing the viability of low-productive jobs and thereby providing a paid job to the worst off. However, if the concern is not to keep poor people busy at all cost, but rather to provide them with access to meaningful paid activity, the very unconditional nature of a basic income is a crucial advantage: it makes it possible to spread bargaining power so as to enable (as much as is sustainable) the less advantaged to discriminate between attractive or promising and lousy jobs. It is therefore on the basis of a comprehensive conception of social justice, which gives work the importance it deserves, and not in spite of it, that the right to a basic income should be as unconditional as is sustainably generalisable to all. (See Van Parijs ed. 1995 for a variety of ethical justifications of basic income, Van Parijs 1995 for a systematic statement of the argument just sketched, and Elkin ed. 1997, Krebs ed. 2000 and Williams ed. 2001 for sets of critical assessments of this argument.)