This weekend I attended parts of the North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress (agenda and speakers). What follows are some observations. Please take these with a grain of salt as I only attended some sessions Friday evening and Saturday morning. I was hoping to spend more time there but came down with a bad cold. You can find much more detailed coverage on the Basic Income Subreddit courtesy of Scott Santens.
1. Before attending I had imagined the “Congress” as a large affair with hundreds of people. The sessions that I went to were in a relatively small room and had a few dozen people there.
2. Despite the size of the group it was impressively diverse which brought a lot of different voices into the room. There were even attendees from overseas such Felix Coeln from Germany and Eduardo Suplicy from Brazil.
3. It was also good to see the discussion include academic perspectives, more traditional activists and a new Internet-savvy generation such as Jonathan Brun from Canada and Michael Bohmeyer and Johannes Ponader from Germany.
4. While there was (obviously) relatively wide agreement among the participants about the desirability of a Basic Income, there was a pretty wide spread around what precisely it is and most importantly around how to get there.
5. The biggest contrast is between people focused on a more traditional political or activist route and those who are just getting going with implementing projects, so to speak “without permission” of the existing institutions. A good example of the latter approach is the Mein Grundeinkommen project (sorry so far only in German).
6. Another area of disagreement is clearly around what to do with existing welfare programs. Traditional activists, especially the ones who attended who had fought hard for many of these, were worried about an outcome in which a Basic Income is realized but at levels too low to offset the reduction or loss of these programs.
7. The biggest apparent challenge seems to be building a large enough tent for something this profound to become a broad reality. For instance, some of the participants saw folks from the Tea Party as being anti-poor and a potential enemy of a Basic Income. Personally I think Basic Income will turn out to have much broader appeal over time.
All in all I am very glad I went, wish I could have gone to more and am thankful to the organizers. I believe we are just at the beginning of a journey towards a different way of organizing society with Basic Income as one of the central ingredients and so it is good to get to know potential fellow travelers.