Review of Daniel Raventos;
Basic Income, the Material Conditions of Freedom.

ISBN number 10- 0 7453 2629 3 Published in 2007. Translated from Spanish. It is an update on an earlier work published in 1999.

Raventos is a professor at the University of Barcelona in Spain and a significant person in the European and Spanish Basic Income movement.

Raventos has set out the point of a Basic Income, and what it is about, in a down to earth way. It is not quite the ideal text on the subject, which has yet to be written, but it is close.

He traces the idea as far back as Aristotle, who described the class conflicts in Athens between the democratic common people and the aristocrats. Aristotle did not like rule by the commoners because they did not have their material existence assured, and thus made poor citizens.

Raventos' definitions and history of the idea

But Raventos states very early what Basic Income is not, and that is very Important. It is not participation income, the idea of paying unemployed people to do make work, errands. Negative income tax is not a BI system. It is not the Spanish or French "revenue minimum of insertion"; an income that is supposed to help people get employed.

Disappointingly, he calls Alaska Permanent Fund APF a BI, although he does say that BI should not be funded from resource revenues.

Raventos does the usual homage to Thomas Moore and then to Thomas Paine. But Paine was only talking about an old age pension.

The welfare state; so much has been said about it that all perspective has been lost. The welfare state has mainly existed since the second world war. It led to a deactivation of class conflict and full employment.

In 1962 Milton Freidman proposed the negative income tax and James Tobin proposed Guaranteed Income in 1965. Their motivations were directly opposite. Freidman wanted to dismantle the 'welfare state'; Tobin wanted to end poverty.

In the United States, Guaranteed Income failed when Nixon failed. In Canada, the Negative Income Tax was toyed with. Then back to Europe; about 20 years ago BIEN was founded.


Today, resistance to neo-liberalism is greater, and the idea is now well known outside of Europe. BI is no longer limited to academic circles.

The industrial bourgeois is replaced by an investor class who claim that the welfare state is inefficient. Raventos denounces this economic dogma, and says that the economic idea of the 'rational individual' belongs to 'folk psychology'. Raventos says that the big problem with the welfare state is excessive control over the lives of people who need assistance. Raventos sees BI as becoming the instrument to rally people against hegemony.

argument for

The big strong point of BI is that everyone receives it; there is no stigma attached. It is compatible with other sources of income. It gives people who want to set up their own businesses the freedom to do it in a careful and rational way.

Obviously, if you have to do what other people want, even if it is harmful and objectionable to you, you are not a free person. There is freedom to and freedom from; freedom to do what you want and freedom from being made to do what you do not want.

Raventos' idea of BI

Basic Income is continuous. It does not stop when work stops or starts, leaving people with no income for extended periods. This makes it a good antidote to clientism and arbitrariness, apparently a big problem in Spanish society.

Minimum income supports cannot cope with changes in the job market in recent years; BI could. It would increase the power of labour by making it easier to sustain strikes.

Raventos says that critics who claim that BI could not be financed are irresponsible.

Raventos gets into liberal and republican theories.

The real distinction among liberals is academic versus political liberals. The latter have been around two centuries and are concerned with rights. The former are concerned with moral perfectionism and are not really much different than Republicans.

Republicanism is defined differently in Europe. There has always been two sides to it; the plebeian democrat version and the rich proprietors version. One branch of philosophic republicanism wants government restricted to an oligarchy, and the other wants everybody to have an independent income so they can be free citizens and able to be involved in government if they wish.

From there, Raventos goes easily into the 'republican justification for a basic income'. It would create freedom of workers from employers, and of women from men.

poverty ethics

In dealing with Poverty, Raventos makes clear the distinction between oppression and exploitation, which is very perceptive and important.When A is exploiting B, he depends on B. But if A is oppressing B, A does not depend on B, and would be happy if B disappeared. In other words, sometimes the poor are simply of no use to the rich; are an expense they would like to be rid of.

problems with advocating BI

Raventos poses a "question of proximity."

Some people think that if we start out with something close to BI, it will gradually get all the way to adequacy. But what if it goes the other way? The need is for a basic income "worthy of the name".

Related to the proximity problem are 'naive-technical' and 'crude political' errors.

Naive technical; because BI makes so much sense, everybody is bound to support it.

Crude political; we need revolution and should not be side tracked by side issues.


Raventos concludes that BI can effectively confront most of the evils of poverty and equality, and provide the material conditions for freedom. The real point of any guaranteed income is to allow a true democracy.

Raventos' book is worth reading by Canadian advocates of a Citizen's Income for that, and because we need to understand the European movement for a Basic Income, and the debates around it. Raventos gives us a good grounding, free of the over intellectualising that impairs most European writing on BI.