Four Views on Basic Income, Job Guarantees, and the Future of Work

The unprecedented insecurity of work in Australia’s economy – with the labour market buffeted by technology, globalisation, and new digital business models – has sparked big thinking about policies for addressing this insecurity and enhancing the incomes and well-being of working people. Two ideas which have generated much discussion and debate are proposals for a basic income (through which all adults would receive an unconditional minimum level of income whether they were employed or not) and a job guarantee (whereby government would ensure that every willing worker could be employed in some job, such as public works or public services, thus eliminating involuntary unemployment).

Progressives have campaigned for generations for stronger income security programs and for a commitment to full employment by government. So these ideas have a long pedigree. However, there is great discussion over both the implementation and cost of these proposals, and their broader (and perhaps unintended) economic and political consequences.

To shed some additional, constructive perspective on these proposals, we are pleased to present four short commentaries on basic income, job guarantees, and the future of work by four leading Australian experts on the economics and politics of work.

The four commentaries are posted below in alphabetical order of their authors:

  • Dr. Frances Flanagan, Research Director, United Voice: The Policy and Politics of Basic Income: A Few Concerns
  • Troy Henderson, Economist, Centre for Future Work: Situating Basic Income and a Job Guarantee in a Hierarchy of Pragmatic-Utopian Reform
  • Dr. Ben Spies-Butcher, Dept. of Sociology, Macquarie University: Basic Income as a Progressive Priority
  • Dr. Jim Stanford, Economist and Director, Centre for Future Work: Work, Technology, and Basic Income: Issues to Consider

Three of the commentaries (by Flanagan, Henderson, and Spies-Butcher) were initially presented to the recent “Reboot the Future” conference in Sydney, hosted by Greens NSW Political Education Trust. The authors expanded and edited their remarks for the purposes of this symposium. We thank the organisers for their cooperation. The fourth commentary (by Stanford) arose from recent discussions within the Centre for Future Work’s voluntary Advisory Committee.  Together, we think these nuanced commentaries add valuable perspective to these important but complex policy debates.

Our publication of these commentaries coincides with this week’s annual General Assembly of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), being held this year at the University of Tampere in Finland.  In a personal capacity, Centre for Future Work economist Troy Henderson is presenting at the Assembly on his Ph.D. research regarding the fiscal and labour market impacts of basic income.

We will continue to consider the advantages and disadvantages of both these important policy proposals in future research and commentary. We thank the authors for their contributions to this discussion, and welcome further feedback!

Frances Flanagan

Troy Henderson

Ben Spies-Butcher

Jim Stanford