Basic Income – deciphering the promises and the data


Universal Basic income (UBI) – deciphering the promises and the data  - UNESCO Inclusive Policy Lab

Welcome to our expert series on the post-COVID reset. That is, a reset along a more inclusive path. The series introduces listeners to leading thinkers as they debate concrete policy options for such a recovery and take stock of the data that could (and should) inform these policy shifts. 
This is a three-part expert podcast on universal basic income (UBI). It debates UBI’s potential to alleviate the immediate effects of COVID-19 and to put countries on an equitable track in the longer run.
Our expert is Ioana Marinescu, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania and faculty research fellow at the US National Bureau of Economic Research. 


The host is John Crowley, UNESCO's Chief of Research, Policy and Foresight. 



Part 1: UBI and the bigger policy puzzle


This part looks into the core of UBI, covering:

  • UBI’s promises of greater equity. What stands behind them and could UBI deliver against such claims in the real world? 
  • Framing the debate. Should UBI be thought of as a technical fix to fine-tune current social protection systems or a lever to reinvent citizenship?
  • The bigger picture. What other policy measures should be a part of this recovery?


PART 1: UBI and the bigger policy puzzle






Part 2: Financing 

There is no talk of UBI without delving into the matters of financing and fiscal load. This part discusses:

  • Financing options. What are the traditional and emerging sources?
  • Equity. How can distributional aspects of UBI be calibrated through its financing modalities?
  • Carbon tax. How feasible is it as a solution?


PART 2: Financing  






Part 3: Knowledge and policy  

The final part takes stock of the data coming from a number of countries that engaged with UBI, both before COVID and as part of crisis response, and discusses:

  • Data. How solid is it and how much do the existing evaluations say about UBI?
  • Loopholes. What are the knowledge gaps on UBI that need to be addressed by researchers?
  • Policy. What key messages should policy-makers integrate in the debates on UBI?

PART 3: Knowledge and policy








  • UBI can reduce inequalities, but the degree to which it does so depends on how progressive/ regressive the financing modalities are.
  • Data shows that disincentive to work is not a key concern when it comes to UBI, with at-scale schemes likely to create jobs.
  • UBI may be more desirable in countries without extensive social safety nets and those where administrative capacity is an issue.
  • Paths to and effects of UBI scale-up – from positive (e.g., economic stimulus) to potentially challenging ones (e.g., interaction with existing programmes) – need to be better understood.
  • The stimulus effect of UBI and the channels through which it happens, as compared to other types of stimulus, require a closer look.
  • More evidence is needed on UBI’s effect on prices in different contexts.
  • Links of UBI to political participation and citizen engagement demand further research.



Have you seen?  

   Close social protection gaps to reset equitably after COVID-19 
   Universal Basic Income and beyond - what are our options for recovery 
   Gender inequality in times of COVID-19 – give women cash



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Ioana Marinescu is Assistant Professor in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania and faculty research fellow at the US National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Her research focuses on labor markets, including online job search, competition in the labor market, universal basic income, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, and employment contracts.


John Crowley is UNESCO‘s former chief of research, policy, and foresight. He is the author of five books and a further 100 academic articles and book chapters, mainly on political theory and comparative politics.


The facts, ideas and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors; they are not necessarily those of UNESCO or any of its partners and stakeholders and do not commit nor imply any responsibility thereof. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this piece do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.