Economics and Philosophy

Essays

Resource Egalitarianism and the Limits to Basic Income

Andrew Williamsa1

a1 University of Warwick

In his widely-discussed book, Real Freedom for All, Philippe Van Parijs argues that justice requires the provision of a universal, unconditional basic income. Some critics reject that conclusion on the grounds that it violates requirements of reciprocity or prohibitions on exploitation, free-riding and parasitism. This paper explores a less familiar critique, which operates within the same resource egalitarian parameters as Van Parijs's argument, and leaves unchallenged his conviction that justice requires a basic income. Instead the paper suggests two reasons to doubt his ambitious claims about its magnitude. First, the paper argues that if envy elimination is the fundamental egalitarian aim then Van Parijs's argument for boosting basic income by including jobs within the class of external assets to be equalized is unsuccessful. Second, it argues that Van Parijs fails to show that the provision of basic income should not be constrained by a more restrictive principle for correcting inequalities in personal resources than his favored compensatory norm. Before defending these criticisms, two preliminary sections describe Van Parijs's distributive principles and his central argument for basic income.