• 2017.10.20
  • Basic Income
Last week the 17th BIEN Congress was held at the Assembly of the Republic in Lisbon.
“BIEN” stands for Basic Income Earth Network, a group that researches and promotes the idea of a basic income.
The basic income is a system whereby the government pays a sum of money to all citizens, without conditions and regardless of gender or age, allowing them a minimum standard of living.
In Japan, it seems to be being treated in terms of social system policy, but across the world, it is currently being debated as the only solution for doing away with social inequality.

I became very interested in the basic income last year when a national referendum was held in Switzerland on introduction of a basic income. The person who spearheaded that national referendum was also at the BIEN Conference in Lisbon and gave a speech on the importance of using imagery to call for a basic income. He had actually protested in the past with a number of other activists before the referendum in front of the Swiss Federal Parliament, dumping 8 million coins (the same number as the Swiss population) and raising a banner saying “Freedom for Money” on top of the pile, which attracted a lot of media attention. This Swiss referendum returned a no vote, but if you take into account that it took quite a while for women to be given the vote, the movement has only just begun, and I am left with the impression that a lot of academics are convinced that it will become a reality.

Something that interested me at the congress was that rapid development of AI will greatly reduce work. They say that in 20 years one in two people will not have a job. I thought that this congress would discuss the basic income as something that would be needed especially in such times, but actually there was virtually no such discussion, and speaking with some of the people involved, most of them believed that the basic income was not something to replace the jobs absorbed by AI. While it can’t be ignored that certain jobs will be affected by the advance of AI, we will need new kinds of skills in the future, and we will need to redefine what “work” means.

The keyword common to the speeches given by all the academics and activists at the congress was “freedom.” The basic income can close the gaps in unequal societies (not just the gap between rich and poor but also the problem of unemployment, the status of women, the rights of people with a disability, etc.). People will be able to say “no” to work they don’t want to do. And on the other hand, while the social value of teachers and carers for the young and the elderly will be higher, salaries for jobs that can’t be replaced by machines will not be so high, but it will be easier to find employment in such jobs.

I wonder if it will be basic income that redresses the distortions of capitalism that have grown so rapidly.

By the way, the citizens of Macau, a former colony of Portugal, are paid about 1,000 euros each year. Some people in Portugal, where the average monthly income is a little under 750 euros, try to get citizenship in Macau and get the 1,000 euros. Because Macau is a former colony, it is easy for the Portuguese to get citizenship in Macau. But I have mixed feelings about that sort of thing.
In today’s globalized society, I strongly feel the need for awareness of the basic income to spread around the world, and for it to become a reality. While the debate will probably carry on for a while, I wonder if in several decades the future will be unlike what I have imagined.


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

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