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Birnbaum, Simon (Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science)
Just Distribution: Rawlsian Liberalism and the Politics of Basic Income
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science
Publication type:
Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Place of publ.: Stockholm Publisher: Statsvetenskapliga institutionen
Stockholm studies in politics, ISSN 0346-6620; 122
Year of publ.:
Permanent link:
Subject category:
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
SVEP category:
Political science
Research subject:
Political Science
Keywords(en) :
John Rawls, Philippe Van Parijs, radical liberalism, real libertarianism, basic income, reciprocity, welfare universalism
Abstract(en) :

Should liberal egalitarians endorse the idea of an unconditional basic income for all? This thesis defends a politics of unconditional universalism, offering a liberty-respecting and non-perfectionist basis for maximin-guided policies. The argument starts off from a Rawlsian justification of basic income in the context of institutional ideal theory. This view is based on the aim of maximising the prospects of the least advantaged in ways consistent with a robust protection of people’s effective freedom, the social bases of self-respect and access to meaningful activities at each stage of their lives.

The thesis then moves on to specify such a position in response to objections based on ideas of fair cooperation and strong reciprocity. Linking John Rawls’ arguments on property-owning democracy to Philippe Van Parijs’ case for ‘gift-equalisation’, the study defends the view that a basic income is not inherently exploitative or beyond the scope of justice. To the extent that unconditional universalism is tied to the idea of sharing gift-like resources, it is just a matter of distributing wealth to which nobody has a justified prior claim, not an unfair redistribution of labour income.

Introducing a problem of feasibility, however, the thesis also argues that unconditional wealth sharing may fail to meet liberal commitments and to counter structural exploitation unless constrained by other requirements of justice. The latter include a minimal autonomy constraint on maximin-objectives and the set of in kind transfers and social infrastructure needed to foster the activities and virtues on which the stability of this ideal relies. The thesis concludes with a study on the application of such standards to real-world conditions. It is argued that policy options combining a modest basic income with work-based social insurance and universal access to social services are more promising than strategies where a high basic income would replace core components of the welfare state.

Public defence:
2008-03-14, hörsal 11, hus F, Universitetsvägen 10, Stockholm, 13:00
Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Lindensjö, Bo, Professor (Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science)
Reinikainen, Jouni, Fil. dr. (Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science)
White, Stuart, Dr. (Dept. of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford)
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