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1IntroductionThe discussion on reciprocity and Unconditional or Universal Basic Income (UBI or basic income) has long been one of the liveliest discussions. The norm of reciprocity is defined as “those who willingly enjoy the economic benefits of social cooperation have a corresponding obligation to make a productive contribution, it they are so able, and to the cooperative community which provides these benefits” (White, 2003, p. 52). Therefore, if such a norm is a requirement of distributive justice, basic income, as an obligations-free cash transfer violates this requirement. Alongside the normative discussion, the number of basic income experiments has increased since the first wide-range negative income tax experiments in North America in the 60s. The increase in experiments has also led to a growing debate on what role basic experiments can play, whether as instruments of evidence-based policy or as tools for advocacy, a debate that is still not settled. Existing evidence on experiments has led to discussions on the possible impacts of basic income, namely in a set of outcomes related with quality of life, happiness, children’s school attendance, consumption patterns and, most often, labor market participation. It has not, however, led to a discussion on how evidence reshapes our debate on the reciprocity objection to basic income. UBI as an unconditional and universal cash transfer led to a debate on how it might lead to the exploitation of able-body workers (Donselaar, 2008) or go against citizens “democratic mutual regard” which includes a notion of reciprocity where to receive benefits, one is obliged to contribute (White, 2003). The normative debate has mostly been centred on some evidence that basic income will have an effect on work incentives, and can therefore undermine our obligations as citizens. But beyond the aspect of labor participation, evidence from experiments has scarcely been used to discuss whether (1) individual’s contribution in society is changed, and in what way, and how that is compatible or not with the different discussion of the norm of reciprocity or (2) if UBI changes the perceptions of communities of how its members comply with such a norm. So even if one sides with the normative debate on reciprocity as a requirement of justice, basic income experiments can be relevant to understand how people behave when granted a UBI, and how those behaviours might be compatible or not with the moral principle of reciprocity.There seems to be a number of reasons for this lack of discussion of reciprocity in the context of experimental evidence’s findings. For one, the main goals of the experiments tend to be well defined, and do not include issues of reciprocity, beyond labor market participation. Moreover, as an institutionalized norm, reciprocity is difficult to be “tested” in a context of experimental setting, such as saturation studies or Randomised Control Trials (RCTs). Usually it was either tested in the context of game theory or evolutionary biology, where abundant evidence is present (Bowles et al., 1997), or based on qualitative research, namely in the realm of anthropological research (Godelier, 1999; Mauss, 2002). There are also discussions on whether it makes sense to test a claim that is widely considered to be true, based on the theoretical debate. We can also understand the difficulty of discussing how evidence reinforces or expands our notions of the norms of reciprocity under basic income, considering how the theoretical account of reciprocity works in a context so distinct from real-life conditions, and demands such criteria and requirements, that one would find it very difficult to assess its real-life applications. Therefore, there are instrumental difficulties in assessing reciprocity in experimental settings as well as a normative position regarding the usefulness of doing so. A final, third difficulty highlights how the theoretical concept of reciprocity, and its discussion in an ideal type of society are quite distinct and separated from the one we would be able to observe in an experimental context. The main goal of this article is therefore to provide some questions pertaining to the obligations stemming from the moral principle of reciprocity, but also some additional questions on the behaviours and perceptions of the moral principle that can be changed or shaped by the implementation of a basic income. This set of questions is believed to be relevant to our understanding of UBI, but also to the moral principle of reciprocity.This article works from the theoretical discussion on reciprocity, in Section 2, briefly accounting for the philosophical debate on basic income, and to some of the reasons why discussing reciprocity in the context of UBI is relevant from a theoretical point of view, but also from an empirical and political one. Section 3 will discuss some of the key questions stemming from the theoretical concept of reciprocity, and the philosophical debate which could be expanded with evidence from basic income experiments. It provides two sets of questions: the first is related to how experiments can help us understand whether a UBI undermines our obligations to our fellow citizens. The second discusses whether a UBI influences our perceptions of the moral principle of reciprocity. It also discusses some of the limitations and challenges in doing so. Section 4 concludes on how to factors limit our discussion of reciprocity in light of the evidence from basic income experiments: the first, is the inherent limitations basic income experiments face when gathering findings, namely community effects. The second, is a result of how reciprocity has been framed as discusses as a concept, within an ideal-type setting. The discussion concludes with two distinct points: the first and foremost is focused on what in fact experiments could be telling us about behaviours that seem relevant to reciprocity, and how this could enhance our understanding of both basic income and the norm of reciprocity. The second point is a reflection on how our theoretical debate is shaped in ideal settings, whereas experiments take place in real-world conditions, hence non-ideal ones. This results in a potentially wide gap between what evidence tells us about reciprocity, and our account of the norm in an idealized setting. This reflection might contribute to the need to reframe our theoretical account of the norm of reciprocity.2UBI and Reciprocity: The Key Objection and Why is it ImportantOne of the most discussed objections to a UBI is the reciprocity one. From John Rawls’ discussion on how his principles of justice demand that those who only surf off the beaches of Malibu are not entitled to an unconditional income, to Stuart White’s account of our common obligation to contribute as citizens. Both accounts share a conception of reciprocity where to be entitled to receive benefits, which inherently result from cooperation, one has to contribute in a meaningful way. Two aspects are salient in this view:The first, is that the benefits we receive as members of a given community, are a product of joint cooperation. Rawls himself asserted the following: “Social cooperation, we assume, is always productive, and without cooperation there would be nothing produced and so nothing to distribute.” (Rawls, 2001a, 2001b, p. 61). In this perspective the claims of distributive justice are to a certain extent conditioned on a reciprocal requirement: to be a part of a given community, and receive benefits that result from joint cooperation, one has to contribute too. On this aspect much has been written, namely arguing that an unconditional benefit could be granted without violating the reciprocity objection if it is financed through resources which do not derive from cooperation, and by definition, everyone is entitled to. This is one of Simon Birnbaum’s claims, when discussing the possibility of justifying a UBI under the wealth-sharing principle: by taxing a set of “reciprocity-free” resources (unearned resources) UBI would not violate reciprocity (Birnbaum, 2013). There is a broad discussion on whether this method would yield a sufficiently high and universal UBI, or if it would nonetheless be parasitic, namely of those who wish to produce versus those who do not wish to do so (Donselaar, 2008).The second important aspect, inherently linked to the first, is the claim that reciprocity entails an obligation to contribute. According to this claim, reciprocity yields particular social obligations, namely an obligation to contribute to the social surplus. This takes into account a view of reciprocity as a moral norm, which is internalized by individuals who engage in cooperation, as Gouldner seemed to imply when discussing reciprocity as a universal norm (Gouldner, 1960). But it also takes a view on reciprocity in a productivist sense: to be entitled to something (the benefits of cooperation) we are obliged to contribute to it, through work or other meaningful activity. Although Stuart White, in particular, does not endorse this productivism, since his view of reciprocity is grounded in the notion of self-respect, it is nonetheless a view where reciprocity is reduced to the notion of cooperation for the social surplus. The view of reciprocity as creating an obligation to contribute on the part of citizens on a given political community is closely linked to Lawrence Becker’s take where reciprocity generates an obligation to work (Becker, 1980). But it is also part of the tradition of communist and socialist thought, where an egalitarian division of the products of cooperation stood alongside an ethic of contribution (White, 2003). And in fact, much of the discussion on UBI and reciprocity has been centred on how broad our conception of contribution should be. This has led to a discussion on the civic minimum or participatory incomes (Atkinson, 1996; White, 2003) as superior to UBI, where what is considered as productive and meaningful contribution is broadened beyond being a participant in the labor market.2.1Why is the Reciprocity Debate Important?The notion of reciprocity as generating specific obligations to which citizens must comply to be able to take part and receive the benefits of cooperation provides an argument against distributing benefits unconditionally. A principled defence of any unconditional benefit becomes very complicated, even if one can accept such a benefit, for “instrumental reasons”. As White argues, saying that the current welfare state in UK is rigged with injustice, hence a UBI might be a better solution to mitigate some of these unjust outcomes, even if in principle, UBI cannot be seen as a morally just policy (White, 2017). But what White’s argument also shows is the difficulty in setting up the debate. As Catriona McKinnon’s chapter in the 2013 book “Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research” mentions, when it comes to UBI and reciprocity we can find two main broad accounts: In the first account we find those who view UBI as a requirement of justice, either because reciprocity should not govern the distribution of entitlements (Van Parijs’ account) or because by expanding our notion of contribution beyond an economic one, UBI does not necessarily violate a given norm of reciprocity, by claiming for example that “reciprocity through work-contribution is sufficient but not necessary for gainful exchange” (2013, p. 119). The second account claims that UBI transgresses the principles of justice. In this view, reciprocity is considered a requirement of justice, therefore UBI is not acceptable. This is White’s view, according to whom a “participatory income” is preferable to a UBI since it does not violate any notion of baseline reciprocity. Supporters of this view prefer some degree of conditionality in cash transfers. It is nonetheless important to mention that White believed UBI could be justified if funded through assets which are not jointly produced (external assets). A final and alternative version of this second account on reciprocity and distributive justice, which we can call the “pragmatic” one, states that although UBI violates reciprocity, it can be preferable to conditional or means-tested cash transfers, on empirical grounds. This is Brian Barry’s view (Barry, 1997) or the latest account of Stuart White, who claims that the necessary background conditions for justice can be so difficult to ensure in a reasonable time frame, that UBI might be acceptable. As mentioned before, this view presents the idea that conditionality might be unjust if relevant conditions – the background conditions of justice – are not being met. White introduces five conditions which include the “recognition and support for care work” or a “fair taxation of asset income” (White, 2017). The paper introduces not only the notion of injustice in conditionality, but also the political likelihood of ever satisfying the conditions of fair reciprocity. Both arguments might help justify a pragmatic defence of UBI.Therefore, it seems that the philosophical debate on reciprocity and UBI is at a standstill: On the one side, we consider reciprocity important to govern the distribution of jointly produced assets, and therefore, unconditional benefits are not justified. On the other, the pragmatic side, it seems some are only arguing for a UBI due to the current unfair institutions or outcomes of social policies, where UBI is seen as the unfair but better than the alternative and not as a policy whose outcomes are seen as relevant for any given society (even if not plagued with injustice). Therefore, three positions arise: the ones who consider reciprocity as relevant to distributive justice, and think unconditional benefits funded by jointly produced assets are not justified. The second view agrees with the role reciprocity plays in distributive justice but UBI might be justified because it performs better in addressing particular challenges and inequalities. And the third view which thinks a principle of reciprocity should not govern the distribution of assets. Beyond the normative debate the perspectives hold, empirical evidence can help show how prevalent is each perspective, and more importantly the role UBI versus other welfare benefits can have in shaping each perspective on how a reciprocity principle should govern the distribution of assets.Despite the relevance of the theoretical debate, the discussion on reciprocity and UBI is also relevant because of how empirical evidence seems to highlight behaviours and opinions which are linked to a conception of reciprocity. The RSA launched a new report on basic income in 2018, with results from a survey to people in UK on their support for a basic income. The results showed openness to the idea of basic income, and 54% favoured an option of a basic income to protect the “needy and vulnerable”, as opposed to those who preferred a contribution-based income (Young, 2018). As mentioned in the discussion of the results, the RSA believes this might be a sign towards more acceptance for unconditionality, versus a strictly contribution-based welfare state. However, one should also consider the additional results indicating how support for an unconditional income decreases when stating that it would be funded by an income tax (Painter, 2018). Although indirectly, this alludes to the familiar theoretical discussion of a possible exploitative nature of basic income, where some will be working (the crazies) to pay off the basic income of those who withdraw from work (the lazies), where the latter will not contribute, and where the more people decide to stop working, the heavier the burden will be to those who remain in the job market. Therefore, this might be evidence of a reciprocity-ethos, based on work contribution, or a simple general dissatisfaction with any policy that might be funded by income tax.But even more striking are the results from the European Social Survey (2018) that for the first time included questions on basic income. On the one hand, when assessing support for conditionality on unemployment benefits, it seems there is an overwhelming consensus to accept some form of conditionality (with the largest group opting for softest sanctions). Only 26.1% seem to accept that unemployment benefits should be free of sanctions. Moreover, when comparing attitudes towards entitlement of welfare benefits in different groups – elderly, unemployed, migrants – the results seem to show how attitudes are strongly influenced by two main criteria: need and desert/reciprocity.Other conclusions from the report are important for the analysis, namely national and geographical-group differences. For example, in deciding upon immigrants’ rights to welfare support, differences between countries are quite salient: “In Northern and Western Europe, granting rights based on reciprocity (having paid taxes for at least one year) is the most popular position by far. Eastern European respondents are considerably more reluctant to provide social rights for immigrants.” (Meuleman, et al., 2018, p. 9).In the three groups mentioned above, the elderly are the ones who gather the strongest consensus in favour of welfare support, while unemployed are seen as deserving of support by a strong percentage of the population, but with parallel mechanisms of accountability and to promote contribution. Lastly, immigrants are seen as less deserving, either because of not being granted citizenship (hence national identity is seen as a criterion) or they are seen as entitled to benefits only if they contribute through taxation:“While support for provision in favour of the elderly is nearly unanimous, redistribution towards the unemployed and newcomers is met with opposition by a considerable share of the population. These differences can be largely understood in terms of deservingness criteria (Meuleman, et al., 2018). The elderly are generally seen as a relatively deprived group (the need criterion) who have previously contributed to society (reciprocity). The unemployed, conversely, are sometimes deemed to be responsible for their situation (control), while preferences for the in-group (identity) block solidarity with immigrants.” (2018, p. 12)The two surveys highlight fundamental aspects of the attitude towards basic income, namely the idea of reciprocity. This is partly because of the design of some of the welfare states’ model of assistance, heavily based on contribution and work: as mentioned in Northern and Western countries, paying taxes – contributing to the “social surplus” – seems to be key to being entitled to benefits. As discussed by Adloff and Mau, this view can be defined as balanced reciprocity, since the norm between citizens entitles each one to benefits, depending on their previous contributions to the surplus (2006). The same partly explains the support for welfare redistribution to the elderly: they are entitled to support, because of their prior contribution as citizens. But in discussing unemployment conditionality and migrant welfare support, the same is not (necessarily) true. For the former, it seems the desert aspect is stronger: you are to be held accountable for your unemployment, hence you can receive support if you engage in job activation measures. If you do not prove you are actively searching for a job, you are to be sanctioned. This is regardless of the unemployed person having contributed fully to the support she receives. Although it is still based on contribution, notions of autonomy and accountability are at play in the desert-based criteria for entitlement to unemployed benefits. In the migrants’ case, namely in Eastern Europe, the report highlights identity as the key criterion for welfare support, versus contribution through taxes in the western and Nordic countries. While this might still imply asymmetric reciprocity obligations (to my fellow citizen versus someone I do not consider my equal) it is a matter of belonging to a given political community that determines these obligations, rather than explaining the different attitude on the basis on the obligation criteria.Therefore, what seems a general intuition from the public discourse seems to be confirmed by existing evidence: reciprocity determines, at least partly, our intuitions about what redistributive measures might be legitimate or not, and to whom. Moreover, issues of desert and identity seem to play out in how people perceive welfare benefits, such that not only the conditional versus unconditional nature of UBI is at stake, but also the issue of targeting versus universal benefits. This might have implications to our discussion of reciprocity and basic income, that usually only takes into account the issue of conditionality, and not its universal nature. Moreover, despite evidence suggesting the importance of reciprocity, the results of the European Social Survey also seem to imply, that the relevance or direction of the reciprocity objection to basic income is not widely known, and it can even be argued that could be altered by the framing of the effects of welfare policies: “Support for a basic income scheme is strongest in highly unequal countries (such as Lithuania and Russia), and weakest in the equalising welfare states of Norway and Sweden.” (2018, p. 11).One could easily wonder whether more affluent countries, who also happen to have a stronger contribution-based criterion for welfare support (as mentioned above), are less supportive of basic income exactly because of this contribution ethos: in this sense, reciprocity in these scenarios would explain why support for basic income is rather low, particularly in the places where it would be easier to implement. But is it reciprocity or general equality that explains less support for basic income? It is possible that more affluent countries are satisfied with the status quo, hence are less prone to consider different, more radical approaches. Or perhaps in these countries its citizens are fearful of disrupting the status quo. In this case, reciprocity would be a minor aspect in the overall moral objection to basic income or in its overall support. And what about other countries, such as southern European ones? The survey seems to imply that countries like Italy are more generous, namely to migrants, but harsher in imposing sanctions to reinforce conditionality: is this a case where desert is stronger than identity? Is desert grounded on contribution, by paying taxes, or by engaging in the labor market, or both?This set of questions serves to illustrate the need for further knowledge on the role reciprocity might play in citizen’s attitudes towards basic income. Contrary to what seems a complicated, but rather straightforward normative discussion on the issue, the empirical one is much more difficult to disentangle, and also much less explored.3Basic Income Experiments: How can They Help the Normative Debate on ReciprocityBasic income experiments are seen as one of the best possible solutions to the pressing questions in the UBI debate. These include issues related to labor participation, to women’s emancipation through the job market, to aspects on inflation or even how basic income might help people make more ecological choices. As Widerquist points out in his 2018 book, the list on the key assumptions to be tested is quite long (Widerquist, 2018).But the problem with basic income experiments is way beyond the key assumptions we want to test. As a social experiment – or welfare experiment – it is inherently limited in terms of what it might tell us about UBI. The caveats will make it very difficult to generalize any findings, or conclude with absolute certainty a particular outcome. Moreover, as Widerquist also highlights, these are experiments which are subjected to a number of effects, such as the streetlight effects or the long-term effects, which can bias our view of the results of any basic income experiment. There is also the important aspect of community effects, which we will discuss below, that most basic income experiments are unable to grasp properly, hence significantly limiting our learning.Given these inherent limitations, one is tempted to consider basic income experiments useless, or should be extremely cautious in interpreting their results. But instead of looking at basic income experiments as tools to settle the debate on basic income we could see them as incremental steps to help us navigate the theoretical debate on basic income. By providing small samples of evidence on what an unconditional cash transfer can do at individual, or sometimes community level, experiments give us some insights on how basic income works, hence helping us define whether a certain outcome might be more relevant or not, might be more intense, for example, or even the direction of a given outcome. To illustrate, let’s take the existing evidence on labor market participation. From the Negative income tax experiments in the U.S. in the 60s, most economists tended to argue that a basic income would lead to labor withdrawal, hence would not be a good policy to be implemented (Keeley & Robins, 1979). However, different interpretations of the data collected at the time, seemed to highlight that evidence on labor withdrawal was exagerated (Moffitt, 1981). Moreover, also recent analyses on the topic highlight that results were misinterpreted, hence leading to a general perspective on how basic income increases the incentive to stop working (Widerquist, 2004). More recent experiments, namely the Finnish experiment, also show that unconditional cash transfers, per se, do not lead directly to labor withdrawal (Kangas, Jauhiainen, Simanainen, & Ylikännö, 2020). In fact, in the Finish case, some particular groups, like single mothers or immigrants, tended to work more with a basic income, and not less. Coming back to our discussion, can this set of evidence close the debate on whether basic income leads to labor withdrawal? No. For those who believe a UBI will decrease demand for work, existing evidence is either flawed, due to the design of the experiment or, most often, the argument will be that no experiment grants people a sufficiently high basic income to allow a person the “freedom to live as one might like to live” (Van Parijs, 1995, p. 30), hence, the impact on the labor market has not been as large as it would have been. For those who think a UBI would not lead to labor withdrawal, or think those concerns are largely exaggerated, existing evidence seems to side with them, and they tend to find theoretical support for the evidence by looking, for example, for arguments on psychology and sociology of labor, to explain why money and survival are not the only motives behind one’s participation in the labor market.The example illustrated above shows how basic income experiments can reinforce two very different points of view. What the example seems to show is the role experiments can have in promoting the debate, or expanding it. In the case of labor market participation, more recent evidence has pushed the debate forward: apparently it is not only unconditionality that will have a determinate influence on an individual’s labor choices. Rather the amount of a basic income should be as much our focus as the unconditionality nature of the grant. Moreover, it should also contribute to widen the scope of the discussion, and assume that when talking about labor choices, we should go beyond neoclassical economics, to understand what motivates people to work or not. Therefore, we should look at basic income experiments as a pool of evidence that can help us expand our theoretical debate on what the main outcomes and challenges of implementing a UBI will be.3.1Basic Income Experiments and ReciprocityOnce we have asserted what role basic income experiments can have, we can return to the reciprocity debate to understand whether experiments can be sources of evidence to expand our debate on the subject. It is important to account for two general and experiments-related difficulties in discussing reciprocity. One has to do with the general difficulty of grasping community effects in any social experiment. As Widerquist pointed out: “(…) important effects of UBI occur at both the individual and the community level. Individuals immediately react to UBI in many important ways that are worth estimating, but they interact with other individuals in markets, society, culture, and politics. All of these interactions generate important feedback effects throughout the community. Existing theory and empirical evidence indicate that some community effects might be as important as or more important than the initial individual effects of UBI.” (Widerquist, 2018, p. 24). By definition, reciprocity works as a community effect: it depends on how members of a group will react to the choices made by other members. As Widerquist points out, effects that might lead to feedback loops in different or partly different directions of the individual level outcome, might be very difficult to grasp (2018, p. 28). Imagine a basic income leads to some part of the population deciding not to work, or work less. Depending on the group who predominately chooses to so, overall reaction to this decision might be different. Also, the reaction can spill over in many different ways: either deciding to withdraw from the labor market too, or deciding to stop paying taxes, or arguing against that, or changing their political affiliation, by supporting parties who are against a basic income, or who are against certain groups in society. It could also lead to an overall reduction in number of hours worked – where more people decide to work part time, leading to an increase in wages (where employers try to attract more workers). The impacts will largely depend on institutionalized norms, and on the political climate. A basic income experiment will have a hard time telling us how this will play out.Another crucial aspect is a normative one. Reciprocity is seen as a social norm and the discussion mostly focuses on how important this mechanism is as a requirement of justice. (McKinnon, 2013). One will not be able to show empirically that reciprocity is not relevant as a moral principle. This is Widerquist’s take on the topic: “The controversy is not over their truth but over their moral content (…) The same UBI makes it possible for non-wealthy people to consume products that involve labor without themselves contributing with their labor, violating the reciprocity principle in the sense used in that claim. No empirical investigation can settle the disagreement over the moral value of these senses of freedom and reciprocity” (2018, p. 107). While we agree partly with this proposition, empirical evidence might help explain whether UBI leads people to violate such a moral principle. Moreover, it can also help understand how this moral principle, and its perception, is present in particular communities. Therefore, and taking in the existing account of reciprocity used in the basic income debate, we could define a set of assumptions which could be expanded by evidence from basic income experiments. The first ones will be related to how experiments can help us understand whether a moral principle of reciprocity is violated with the implementation of a UBI. The second set of assumptions pertains to the perception of reciprocity: can experiments tell us how people perceive the principle of reciprocity when a UBI is implemented, and whether such a policy as opposed to welfare benefits influences this perception.The obligations of the moral principle of reciprocity and UBI:3.1.1Basic Income and Labor WithdrawalBasic income experiments can help determine whether basic income leads to labor withdrawal. In a sense, if this is not the case, a concern that people will forfeit their reciprocity obligations to contribute would be misguided, or at least it should not be our main concern. As illustrated above, the existing evidence won’t be conclusive, but it can help shed light on whether any form of basic income would dampen obligations to contribute by working or not, although changes in labor supply are quite difficult to observe in the short-time span of most basic income experiments. Evidence can also tell us is in what way a basic income, by allowing the possibility to withdraw from contributing, violates existing institutionalized norms. If this is the case, the problem is not that people will not contribute, the problem is that they could decide not to. This is a principled argument, but one which can be grounded on empirical evidence, if by granting a basic income some people disapprove of the policy, in principle, regardless of what they perceive to be their impacts on individuals’ choice of occupation.3.1.2Basic Income and Meaningful ContributionFinally, experiments could also be helpful to understand how in a given context the notion of meaningful or productive contribution might be broader than the obligation to be engaged in the job market. What will people do if granted an unconditional basic income, and would those activities or occupations be considered as meaningful contributions, hence complying with the demands of the principle of reciprocity? This would be relevant to understanding what particular obligations in fact the norm of reciprocity seems to imply in a particular context. In some contexts paid work might be seen as the only acceptable form of contribution, for able-bodied people, while in others care work can be accepted too. Understanding how social and cultural norms might influence our take on contribution – broadening or not the scope of accepted activities as meaningful – is important to understand how the requirements of reciprocity yield particular obligations. Experiments on basic income could assess how different occupational choices, when granted a basic income, are perceived (beyond simply assessing whether people continue working and at what rate).The perception of the moral principle of reciprocity and Basic Income:3.1.3Basic Income and TrustAnother possible discussion related to reciprocity that could be expanded would be the notion of trust. Could a basic income lead to more trust among individuals, in their communities? Could it increase trust in institutions of the welfare state? Trust is a key feature of reciprocity, since trust tends to be seen as the initial “fuel” for exchange, which can then spark reciprocal interactions (Adloff & Steffen, 2006). If this is the case, assessing whether a basic income could contribute to instill trust (or reinforce it) at individual, community and institutional levels would be important to understand how positive feelings of reciprocity could be instigated, such as: I trust in people, and in institutions, hence I’ll contribute what I consider to be a fair share, since I believe others will do the same as opposed to what can be seen as negative ones: I don’t want to contribute anymore because I feel exploited or because others might not contribute (or are not contributing). This last account would be more similar to the first two topics of discussions presented above.3.1.4Basic Income and Marginalized GroupsBesides the discussion on contribution, experiments can tell us whether a basic income changes or reinforces given public perceptions of particular groups in society. For example, does it contribute to heighten negative feelings towards members of society who receive welfare transfers (besides basic income)? And to those who are unemployed, and receiving a basic income? And to particular ethnic groups? And those who live mainly off the gains of capital? In this sense, one could ask whether basic income would reinforce citizens’ recognition of others as their equals (hence reinforcing a key condition for self-respect) as opposed to antagonistic feelings of non-contribution or of exploitation of some by others. This does not pertain to how when granted a basic income people comply or not with the demands of reciprocity, but whether such an unconditional policy changes perception of how others are complying with such norms, or even how the demands of reciprocity are differently considered when a basic income is implemented.3.1.5Impact of How Basic Income is FundedAnother interesting account would be to assess whether people’s feelings regarding basic income would change if the funding scheme was different: would people feel differently if it was financed by national resources (in a principle of wealth sharing?) or through income tax? Although important to understand how the funding scheme might be a factor influencing our take on reciprocity on basic income, this would be a particularly challenging claim to test in an experiment, and possibly might be better analysed using other research methods.These questions are interrelated and connected. One could be expected to wish to know how labor market patterns of individuals would change under a basic income, but also to know more on the occupations they might choose (other than work) and whether the fact that more people choose to withdraw from the labor market to do other occupations, influences others to do the same. It would also be interesting to know if a basic income reinforces trust between citizens in a community (to engage more in activities and in the life of the neighbourhood, for example) but does not lead to more trust in political institutions, and in fact this sort of outcome is already starting to be included in some of the emerging pilots in the US. Also, maybe it could lead to more trust, but that trust could be eroded if there is a growing perception of people choosing to withdraw from work when granted a basic income.Existing evidence is scarce in most of the questions outlined. Most experiments assess the outcome on labor market participation, hence the first question has indeed been provided with relevant data, which seems to imply that a modest basic income has no significant effects in labor market participation. In poorer contexts, like Namibia or India, it seems that a basic income can even have a positive impact on labor market participation (Widerquist, 2018). For other questions, evidence is scarce. Some pieces of evidence allow for some extrapolation – like with the Mincome experiment in Canada, where results show how basic income provided more time to choose “the right job” (Widerquist, 2018). This is similar to accounts from the experiment in Utrecht, where for some groups, a basic income, as opposed to conditional benefits, gave them the time and opportunity to find a job by themselves. This could be seen as an act of trust – of institutions in a given citizen – that impel people to contribute and to proactively find the best occupation for them. But without evidence, very little can be added on this. The accounts on how basic income was less stigmatizing, as it seems to be found in Mincome (Calnistsky, 2016) also impact how citizen’s perceive others, resulting in more trust and in a spirit of cooperation and reciprocity amongst others (instead of a sense of inferiority, which can be disempowering). But again, very little has been pursued on this direction. Lastly, and most striking, in both Kenya and India some of the main researches involved in the experiments accounted for changes in community cooperation and relations: for example, in Kenya, the basic income granted by Give Directly has lightened the financial burden of many relatives, who had to support their poorer family members. It has also led to poorer people feeling they had equal standing with other elements of the village, instead of feeling inferior, or in constant need of support “out of pity” (Merrill, Neves, & Laín 2021). It also led, in some villages, to community banks, where people found the need to cooperate with each other to ensure the most out of the basic income they were being granted. In India too, one of the main researchers explained how a basic income shifted the borrowing structure from “powerful money lenders” who extracted high interest rates, to the community: people started to borrow more from relatives or friends, whom they trusted, and where they did not feel they were being exploited (Merrill et al., 2021). These two accounts seem to imply that basic income contributed to strengthen or change the cooperation links between a given community, having also possibly led to more horizontal-type relationships – of equal standing and of more or less equal power – versus what before seemed to be more exploitative relationships, in India, for example, or at least of more subordination, and of differentiated power and status (in both Kenya and India). Therefore, both examples seem to illustrate the role a basic income can have in shifting the existing structure and power dynamics in a given community, influencing exchange patterns and the direction of existing norms of reciprocity (from more negative to more positive feedback loops, for example).Despite the significant literature on the theoretical debate on reciprocity and basic income, very little has been studied on the evidence side. And when there is indeed evidence on changes in reciprocal cooperation, they are not given much attention, since most of the questions to be answered consider aspects such as poverty, mental health, school attendance (children), consumption patterns or most often labor market participation. As Widerquist pointed out, the streetlight effect has led many experiments to focus on very particular aspects of basic income – the ones mentioned above – disregarding most of the times other outcomes which could be of interest to existing discussions (Widerquist, 2018).4Shortcomings of Reciprocity or of Basic Income Experiments?Despite the significance of looking at reciprocity, one last aspect should be considered as a possible shortcoming of any decision to study or research evidence on basic income and reciprocity.As mentioned above, the theoretical debate on reciprocity has several strings of argument. Moreover, the discussion takes into account different notions of reciprocity: from a broader conception, where meaningful contribution includes very different types of activities, to a narrower one, where only wage work is viewed as a meaningful contribution that fulfils the requirements of reciprocity. It is also a principled argument: from Rawls to White, reciprocity is seen as an obligation that takes place within an existing background of justice: for John Rawls, the background is defined under the veil of ignorance, and reciprocity is a necessary condition of a society of “free and equal citizens” where the two principles of justice are in place, governed by just institutions (Rawls, 2001a, 2001b). For White, reciprocity is also an obligation that exists between able-bodied citizens, who view and consider themselves as equal. Both perspectives represent normative positions, but mostly idealized versions of what reciprocity is (Komter, 2014). Of course White’s later discussion on “conditionality as conditional” on background conditions of justice (White, 2017) is in fact closer to a discussion of the demands of reciprocity in a non-idealized setting. Nonetheless, the normative objection to UBI on the grounds of reciprocity still mostly rests on a narrow principle of contribution, and conditions under an idealized setting, making attempts to discuss evidence from empirical settings difficult to do, namely because of four main arguments:Firstly, the idealized version of reciprocity only holds, if the background conditions are not too unjust (Lister, 2020; White, 2017). Where can we find such a “just” place to test it? Also, we are capable of seeing reciprocity in current societies (redistribution mechanisms, informal support for the elderly, community banks) where neither institutions nor the individual or collective outcomes were just. It seems that by arguing for the idealized reciprocity, one is only allowing the possibility of one particular stylized mechanism of reciprocity: one that takes place in certain ways, with an egalitarian ethos, based either on rational individuals, who cooperate and reciprocate moved by self-interest, or individuals moved by a spirit of solidarity, and in both accounts, people stand in equal positions in society.Secondly, the idealized version does not encompass many of the different characteristics of reciprocity, such as the time-span for reciprocal interactions, different motivations (beyond self-interest from cooperation) or even the notions of negative and positive reciprocity (Komter, 2014). In the idealized discussion of reciprocity, we tend to only consider mutual beneficial exchanges (considering able-body people engaging in cooperation). And it is mostly positive feedback of reciprocity – I contribute, because the other does so too; I agree with the rules and follow them, because others so the same – that are being considered. But what about negative reciprocity? Would an idealized version consider the possibility of breaking of cooperation when one chooses not to engage in the rules – a tit-for-tat settlement? It seems the idealized version of reciprocity fails to account how many reciprocal exchanges can be antagonistic, or even lead to non-egalitarian outcomes (Godelier, 1999; Mauss, 2002).The idealized version of reciprocity becomes even more difficult to apply in “real-life settings” due to what can imply fulfilling its requirements. Rawls’ account of contribution was not fully explored, but implied economic cooperation. Therefore, we could consider only activities that contribute to the economy as the ones fulfilling the obligations of reciprocity. But that could arguably leave aside many activities who have intrinsic social (if not economic) value: there are several volunteer activities targeting at patients to provide them with last wishes, or to provide them with music and entertainment. One could choose to be a “full time volunteer” for these organizations. There is also the well-known feminist critique of how this would leave aside reproductive work. Because a productivist account of cooperation has been the norm, namely in the UBI debate, and because economic fears of labor withdrawal fit neatly into this perspective, most experiments have focused mostly on labor market participation outcomes, and have left aside the analysis of the types of choices in occupation people do when granted a UBI (in case they exit or reduce their participation in the labor market). Atkinson and White, in particular, have strived to overcome this challenge, by providing broader accounts of what can be considered meaningful cooperation. But when (almost) everything can be seen as meaningful cooperation, how can such a norm of reciprocity be enforced (institutionally or as a social norm)? Such a broad conception seems to be an exercise of accommodation of one’s egalitarian ambitions, with one’s justice requirements, as opposed to a given principle or norm, that seems to be in place in society. To illustrate, let’s consider whether people tend to balance and rationalize in their political choices or daily life encounters what can be seen as a contribution – volunteering or working full time; musician or bank teller; part time versus working in the informal market. It seems hardly the case that we, individually and collectively, go about discussing the pros and cons of each occupation, and defining which should be accepted as meaningful contribution. One can argue how even when we do, our criterion is not only economic and social value to the surplus to be distribute, but also questions of need, desert and even identity. The difficulty in asserting what can count as contribution or not, an argument Simon Birnbaum already touched upon (Birnbaum, 2013), spills over to any attempt to test or to observe how reciprocity norms can be influenced when a basic income is introduced.5ConclusionWhat role can basic income experiments have, particularly when discussing the reciprocity argument in implementing an unconditional basic income? Two main conclusions can be drawn.One would be the importance of the reciprocity debate when considering the implementation of a basic income, hence the need to know more about how the norm of reciprocity and its requirements can be influenced by UBI. The theoretical debate is rich and complex, and no basic income experiment (or other) would settle it. It will not be possible to confirm or not a position where basic income is compatible or not with the demands of justice. We side partly with Widerquist’s position about the useless endeavour of testing a reciprocity claim. But we argue that despite the fact that the theoretical debate has concluded on the significance of reciprocity, it could still be expanded by looking at existing and future evidence on UBI. Therefore, basic income experiments could strive to look beyond labor market participation and observe any changes in occupational patterns, feelings towards different groups in society or even changes in cooperation patterns or levels of trust, as important variables in the reciprocity equation. This is partly what the Bincome experiment in Barcelona did, namely by having several “treatment” groups, some with activation policies (conditional and not compulsory) besides one unconditional group, with no additional policies (Laín, 2019). However, this was mostly to see which policies could be more effective, with what seems a particular focussing on discussing the role conditionality in activation policies can play. The fact that it used an RCT, also reduces the possibility of looking for community effects, since RCTs allow for that possibility, but usually that entails significant costs, and logistical challenges (as opposed to saturation studies, despite the fact that these also have inherent limitations). It is therefore still important to assess how cooperation, trust and participation change in current and future experiments where a basic income is introduced.Despite arguing that looking at basic income experiments to expand our knowledge on reciprocity is important, it seems a rather difficult task to do. For one, because of the goals experiments tend to have. Mostly they focus in labor market participation, school attendance, mental health or other quality of life indicators. But mostly, discussing evidence on reciprocity means having to compare a real-life setting, and evaluate results pertaining to reciprocity that are an outcome from implementing a basic income in those settings, with an idealized and stylized account of the norm of reciprocity. This leads to two shortcomings: either existing evidence does not adequately fit within the background conditions of the idealized notion, hence the evidence will not be seen as credible to be discussed. Or the concept cannot in fact be observed from the beginning, hence it will be impossible to use evidence, observation or other accounts to inform the theoretical debate. In a sense, the principled discussion on reciprocity has become shielded from argument, situated in a frame parallel to reality, but used as standard to judge policies that are trying to fit within the real-life context of cooperation and political institutions.
Basic Income Studies – de Gruyter
Published: Jun 1, 2021
Keywords: basic income; basic income experiments; ethics; reciprocity; work
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