The Origins of Universal Grants: An Anthology of Historical Writings on Basic Capital and Basic Income, by John Cunliffe and Guido Erreygers (eds.)

Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, xxix + 179 pp, hardback, 1 4039 1896 1, £50 Order this book

This is a marvellous resource for anyone interested in the history of the Citizen’s Income proposal, but will also be of interest to people involved in the contemporary debate, for many aspects of today’s discussions can be found in these pages, even though the most recent contribution is Lady Juliet Rhys Williams’ Something to Look Forward To: A Suggestion for a New Social Contract, published in 1943: a proposal for a flat-rate income conditional on employment or proof that the claimant is seeking employment.

The edition’s introduction is a most useful summary of the contemporary debate, though amongst the responses to the ‘parasitism’ objection they might have included the point that people who are not employed are already in receipt of benefits and that because these are normally means-tested the incentive to seek employment is reduced: a problem which is not a feature of non-means-tested Citizen’s Income.

The second section of the introduction, ‘Histories and Pasts’, shows how the Citizen’s Capital and Citizen’s Income ideas have disappeared and re-emerged several times during their histories. The third section is a brief history of the Citizen’s Capital idea (from Thomas Paine to modern Belgian advocates) and the fourth a history of Citizen’s Income (from eighteen century radical land reformer Thomas Spence to ‘the Bristish tradition’: Mabel and Dennis Milner, Bertram Pickard, C. Marshall Hattersley, G.D.H. Cole, and the previously mentioned Juliet Rhys Williams). The final section of the introduction charts the “striking similarities within and between these recurrent proposals for basic capital and basic income” (p.xxv).

The texts then follow: first those on ‘Basic Capital proposals’ and then those on ‘Basic Income proposals’.

Now that Citizen’s Income proposals are frequently discussed in undergraduate and postgraduate courses on social policy, welfare economics and social ethics, this book will be an invaluable resource for teachers, and we hope that the editors will consider a sequel: a collection of more recent significant texts from such authors as James Meade, Keith Roberts, Philippe van Parijs, Hermione Parker, Tony Walter and Tony Fitzpatrick. If texts were chosen to illustrate different aspects of the debate then such a Reader would be doubly valuable.

If such a sequel is considered then the editors will need to address the connected issues of terminology and definition. ‘Citizen’s Income’ is more descriptive than ‘Basic Income’; and, perhaps more importantly, is Juliet Rhys Williams’ work-tested income a Basic/Citizen’s Income?

There is a useful index, the list of references is about the right length, and there is a well-deserved acknowledgement of Walter van Trier’s important role in charting the history of the Citizen’s Income idea.