ICU Student Roundtable on Basic Income, with Kaori Katada

Shingo HORI
Assistant, CGS; Graduate Student, Waseda University
Assistant, CGS

【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the fifteenth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

Three ICU students engaged in a roundtable discussion with Kaori Katada after attending her lecture "Basic Income: Feasibility and Potential." Chaired by CGS assistant Miho Matsuzaki, the in-depth discussion centered on the topic "Work, Life, and Basic Income," which was chosen by roundtable coordinator and CGS assistant Shingo Hori (SH).

Neoliberalism and the Feasibility of BI

Let's start with any questions you might have about the lecture, as well as your thoughts or concerns regarding basic income (hereafter BI).

Takuro Shimada (TS; senior, politics major):
Hearing about tuition- free universities in Europe makes me think that there is something wrong with the Japanese scholarship system. I wonder whether it would be possible to abolish tuition fees here, too. I'd like this to become a society that allows all of us, including students, to live life free of money worries. However, I am concerned that BI might be in accord with the neoliberal discourse on individual responsibility when it comes to failing in the rat race, even though it provides a standard income guarantee.

Yuki Asahina (YA; senior, social science major):
While the idea of BI sounds attractive because it's a form of guarantee, I'm not sure what to make of it because it doesn't seem very realistic, especially in a society where young people are gripped with a strong sense of entrapment and hopelessness.

Kaori Katada (KK):
Usually, when I talk about BI, people ask questions like, "But then won't people stop working?" or "Are you saying that you're going to give money to the rich, too?" But I get the impression that none of you have difficulty grasping the concept; rather, you're more interested in discussing how BI could be realized in practice. Some critics are of the opinion that BI is not politically feasible. Yet, if you think about it, 100 years ago, health insurance and a national pension plan were simply the stuff of dreams; now we just take them for granted. So, I like to believe that BI isn't just a pipe dream.

Orito Hayashi (OH; freshman):
I think that BI is a way of redistributing money collected from everyone. It's essentially not so much "a guarantee of one's right to live," but "a way of fulfilling one's responsibility to help others live."

I think it's also important to consider how to deal with opinions and values like those that crop up in welfare bashing: "It's unacceptable that people can have a better life than me when they're living on our taxes," or "Why should people who can't even support themselves have a cultured lifestyle?"

The fight against neoliberal values is an issue for social security in general. But even though BI and welfare schemes are both funded by taxes, they are very different. A system that targets particular recipients must inevitably classify people into categories. No matter how detailed you make the categories, there will always be people who fall through the cracks. In view of this forceful categorization, BI is much more effective because it is intended for everyone. At the same time, it's very important to consider how to deal with welfare bashing because it has become such a severe problem in recent years. The fight against welfare bashing and the fight for BI are certainly not in conflict--I think they can and should be fought concurrently.

BI and Minorities

I work as a carer for people with severe disabilities, and I'm concerned that the introduction of BI will result in the simplification of other systems, which could mean that individual cases will be neglected. For example, what would happen if a seriously disabled person who needs 24-hour care were simply left to take care of themselves with a payment of 200,000 yen from the BI scheme? I think that minorities face problems that can't simply be solved with money. The state must have systems in place to help them.

I think, theoretically, there are two possible directions here. One stance would be to have a standard BI for the majority and extra BI for those with special needs. However, disability rights' advocates often argue that "special needs" are socially constructed. In other words, you could say that the problem lies in the way society "disables" people. This applies to issues concerning gender, race, and sexuality. Therefore, another stance is to try to change society itself and the way it creates minorities, rather than calling for special consideration as in affirmative action. I think BI should be considered as an extension of such a viewpoint.

As a universal welfare scheme for all citizens, the BI concept itself is based on the principle of universalism. That's why I think it could link political arguments based on individual categories, like identity politics, with arguments that demand for society itself to be reformed. I would also like to hear your views on BI from a sexuality perspective.

Similar ideas to BI were seen in the 1970s when Italian Marxist feminists demanded wages for housework and students. Homosexuals, people who'd had abortions, and prostitutes who highlighted the problem of unpaid sex work were all said to be at the forefront of the movement. So I think that BI has its roots in the opposition to a heterosexual-dominated society.

BI and the Nature of Work/Life

If we had a BI scheme, do you think you would change your career path?

I'd be an activist and farmer at the same time (laughs). If I were guaranteed a minimum income with BI, I'd be able to think about how I could realize my full potential. I think that's really important.

When you think about graduate schools, only universities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hitotsubashi are considered advantageous for employment even though they aren't necessarily suited to everyone. I'd like there to be more options for choosing a graduate school instead of having to worry about what might happen after graduation.

If I were guaranteed BI, I don't think I'd be at ICU any longer. I'm actually more interested in self study, but my parents refuse to give me any financial support if I don't go to university. I think that BI would have enabled me to choose a path that I really want to take. If "learning" is a priority, I think the concept of BI is great.

A lot of people say that BI might be a disincentive to work, but actually it's quite the opposite. Without BI, you have to work, so you can't do what you want to do and your options are limited. I think the introduction of BI would transform the nature of labor and enrich our society.

Thank you all for your time today.