Philosopher Elizabeth Anderson has written an article in Boston Review in which she analyzes and reviews the political and economic theories of Thomas Paine, Friedrich Hayek, and others.
Anderson identifies the roots of modern systems of social insurance in Paine’s Agrarian Justice. She traces the history of the idea and its implementation through the late 1800s — when German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck instituted the world’s first social insurance scheme — and on to the present. In the latter half of the article, she critiques Hayek’s opposition to social insurance programs such as Bismarck’s pension system. Anderson connects modern right-wing opposition to the welfare state with Hayek’s criticisms of social insurance, criticisms which she argues to be unwarranted.
The article is not presented as an argument for basic income, but as a general defense of social welfare schemes — especially those that protect the middle classes. Indeed, Anderson herself clearly favors Bismarck-type schemes, in which “pension and disability benefits were graded according to each payer’s contributions” over Paine’s (and Hayek’s) idea of distributing equal benefits to all. She only mentions basic income “by name” when describing right-wing proposals, such as that of Charles Murray. She rejects these right-leaning basic income proposals — which would do away with all other benefits and keep individual subsidies below the poverty line — as insufficiently generous and detrimental to the middle class.
Although she seldom discussing basic income directly, Anderson situates some of the idea’s most important predecessors in their historical and political contexts. Paine’s Agrarian Justice and Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom are both canonical works in the history of the basic income movement. However, Paine and Hayek endorse very different types of basic income policies, for different reasons and as responses to different political currents — which Anderson’s article does much to illuminate.
Elizabeth Anderson is the John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan (or, as we say here in Columbus, “the school up north”). Her areas of research in-democratic theory, equality, racial integration, the ethics of markets, rational choice theories, and the political philosophy of John Stuart Mill and John Dewey. Her current work focuses on the history of egalitarianism.
Kate is a member of BIEN's Executive Committee Basic Income News team. Before joining BIEN, she earned a PhD in philosophy from the Ohio State University (and a masters in statistics before that). She presently holds a part-time administrative position with OSU Philosophy, and she does a lot of unpaid work on behalf of the basic income movement. She's on Patreon (a participant in the BIG Patreon Creator Pledge) to help support her latter unpaid work. (You too can support her there!)