Income, Work and Freedom


The ability of public policies to secure the economic and social rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is proposed as a trumping supplement to the utility-maximization criterion of neo-classical welfare economics. Two progressive proposals for ending poverty and promoting personal development and freedom are then compared using this assessment criterion. The first proposal is that society guarantee everyone an unconditional basic income (BI) without imposing work requirements in exchange for the guarantee. The second proposal is that society use direct job creation to provide employment assurance (EA) for anyone who is unable to find decent work in the economy’s regular labor market. The cost of equally expansive versions of the two strategies is compared along with their ability to achieve other policy goals. It is argued that a BI guarantee would be far more expensive than the EA strategy as a means of securing the right to income recognized in the Universal Declaration, that a BI guarantee would not provide an adequate substitute for securing the right to work, and that most of the other benefits a BI guarantee would produce could be better achieved at less cost by using the EA strategy supplemented by conventional income transfer programs. Based on this analysis it is argued that efforts to promote the BI idea as a solution to the problems of unemployment and poverty in market societies should be rejected. On the other hand, less expensive versions of the BI idea could make a valuable contribution to the design of income transfer measures as long as they were not treated as a substitute for policies designed to secure the right to work and income support recognized in the Universal Declaration.


Economics | Human Rights Law | Law and Society | Public Law and Legal Theory | Social Welfare Law

Date of this Version

September 2004