Watson Institute at Brown University
Stone Inequality Initiative

Alex Gourevitch — On Necessary Labor: A Critique of Universal Basic Income

Thursday, March 16, 2023

4:00pm – 5:30pm

Leung Conference Room, Stephen Robert '62 Hall, 280 Brook Street

Reception to follow.

There are two broad arguments one finds for a universal basic income (UBI), one pragmatic and one utopian. The pragmatic says that we should pass a UBI because it would be a stepping-stone to more radical, democratic politics. A UBI would free people from dependence on employers, serve as a permanent strike fund, and create more free time for political participation. The utopian argument says that a UBI would be part of an already transformed society, liberating people from the necessity to work. It would express the utopian aspiration to overcome work itself, which is generally seen as a burden. In this talk, Political Science Professor Alex Gourevitch will criticize both versions of the argument for presupposing the very thing they think they are overcoming. In the pragmatic case, the UBI proponents presuppose a politics they think their policies can create. In the utopian case, the UBI proponents presuppose the work they claim to liberate us from. Instead of trying to bypass political struggle or move beyond work, Gourevitch argues, we need to recover a vision where labor and politics are at once seen as necessary and as an expression of human freedom.

Moderated by Professor James Morone

Stone Inequality Initiative