Should Basic Income be paid irrespective of present work performance?

The right to a guaranteed minimum income is by definition not restricted to those who have worked enough in the past, or paid in enough social security contributions to be entitled to some insurance benefits. From Juan Luis Vives (1526) onwards, however, its earliest variants were often linked to the obligation to perform some toil, whether in the old-fashioned and ill-famed workhouses or in a more varied gamut of contemporary private and public workfare settings. Being unconditional, a basic income sharply contrasts with these forms of guaranteed income intimately linked to guaranteed employment. It also diverges from in-work benefits restricted to households at least one member of which is in paid employment, such as the American Earned Income tax Credit or the UK’s more recent Working Families Tax Credit. By virtue of removing the unemployment trap – i.e. by providing its net beneficiaries with an incentive to work – a basic income (or a negative income tax) can be understood and used as an in-work benefit or a top-up on earnings. But it not restricted to this role. Its unconditionality marks it off from any type of employment subsidy, however broadly conceived.