Basic income versus wage subsidies: Competing instruments in an optimal tax model with a maximin objective

Economics and Philosophy 20 (1):147-183 (2004)
Abstract
This article challenges the general thesis that an unconditional basic income, set at the highest sustainable level, is required for maximizing the income-leisure opportunities of the least advantaged, when income varies according to the responsible factor of labor input. In a linear optimal taxation model (of a type suggested by Vandenbroucke 2001) in which opportunities depend only on individual productivity, adding the instrument of a uniform wage subsidy generates an array of undominated policies besides the basic income maximizing policy, including a “zero basic income” policy which equalizes the post-tax wage rate. The choice among such undominated policies may be guided by distinct normative criteria which supplement the maximin objective in various ways. It is shown that most of these criteria will be compatible with, or actually select, the zero basic income policy and reject the basic income maximizing one. In view of the model's limited realism, the force of this main conclusion is discussed both in relation to Van Parijs' argument for basic income in Real Freedom for All (1995) and to some key empirical conditions in the real world. Footnotes1 I am grateful for useful comments on various stages of this paper by Marc Fleurbaey, Susan Hurley, Mathias Hild, Dirk Van de gaer, Frank Vandenbroucke, Alex Voorhoeve, Roland van der Veen, Andrew Williams, Chris Woodard and an anonymous referee. Above all I thank Loek Groot for his contribution. The research has also been supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), and the Social and Political Theory Program of the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University.
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