Timothée Duverger, L’Invention du Revenu de Ba$€: La fabrique d’une utopie démocratique, Le Bord de L’eau, 2018, 144 pp, 2 35678 614 0, hbk, 14€
We normally only review books in English, but an exception must here be made, because this is an important book. As far as we know, it is the first book-length history of Citizen’s Basic Income.
But is it in fact a history of Citizen’s Basic Income? In some places ‘revenu de base’ is correctly defined, but in others a Minimum Income Guarantee, a Negative Income Tax, or a means-tested benefit, is called a ‘revenue de base’. A typical case is Ontario’s recent experiment, which was a pilot project for a household-based and income-tested income. Duverger appears to have taken the word of the Ontario government and of substantial amounts of literature that Ontario was testing a Citizen’s Basic Income. It was not. A mistake in the opposite direction is that Juliet Rhys Williams is credited with proposing a Negative Income Tax, whereas in fact her proposal would have been for a Citizen’s Basic Income if it had not been work-tested. These mistakes appear to be a consequence of the approach that the author has taken to history-writing. Apart from sections relating to the history of Citizen’s Basic Income in France, the author has relied mainly on secondary literature. This has resulted in a significantly patchy history. For instance, there is no mention of the significant role that Guy Standing and his books have played in the global debate; no mention of the Basic Income Research Group (now the Citizen’s Basic Income Trust), the first organisation founded in the modern period to promote debate on Citizen’s Basic Income; and nothing about BIEN beyond its foundation in 1986.
The sections of the book about the history of Citizen’s Basic Income in France are very different. They are based on primary literature and on the author’s own experience of that history, so these sections will be most useful to any future historian of the Citizen’s Basic Income movement. The title of the book should have been Le Revenu de Ba$€ en France.
Perhaps the problem is that Duverger has been disconnected from the global Citizen’s Basic Income debate. Attending BIEN congresses would begin to solve that problem; and it might have been helpful to all of us if he had attended the international conference about the history of Citizen’s Basic Income held in Cambridge earlier this year. But perhaps he isn’t signed up to either the BIEN or CBIT monthly updates, and so didn’t know about it.
There is no index, and there are no references. These are serious omissions in a book that intends to be a history of Citizen’s Basic Income. And the bibliography is extremely thin.
But having said all of that, congratulations are due both to the author and to the publisher for publishing the first book that intends to be a history of Citizen’s Basic Income. There have been plenty of articles and book chapters about aspects of the history, but this is probably the first book intended by its author to be a comprehensive history of the idea. Duverger might legitimately say to anyone who criticises the attempt, including the author of this review: ‘You do better’. Quite so.
This book will be most useful if it inspires the kind of history of Citizen’s Basic Income that is now required: an accurate and comprehensive history of Citizen’s Basic Income that is based on primary research and is clear about what a Citizen’s Basic Income is and what it is not.
Note: Malcolm Torry has been granted a contract by the publisher Edward Elgar to write the comprehensive history envisaged by the final paragraph of the above review.