Review of the litterature
In the past decade to grant each member of society a regular unconditional cash payment has moved from the realm of utopian wishful thinking to now being considered as a genuine policy alternative for advanced welfare states facing economic, sociological, demographic and political pressures (Widerquist et al, 2013; Merrill, 2017; Van Parijs and Vanderborght, 2017; Standing, 2017).
Similarly, UBI or unconditional cash transfers, are considered an important tool in boosting emerging social protection systems in developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America (Barrientos, 2015; Davala et al, 2015). Although in many cases the resulting policy initiatives are not yet fully developed in terms of legislation or implementation, the policy debate has matured significantly (De Wispelaere, 2016).
While UBI has increased in legitimacy in policy circles numerous hurdles and objections remain. Following Brian Barry (1996) we can distinguish between principled and pragmatic arguments in the UBI debate. Principled arguments are derived logically and directly from a theory of justice: for instance, the real libertarian justification of Philippe Van Parijs (1995) or the republicanism of Philip Pettit (2007). On the principled track, both arguments in favour and objections to UBI proceed largely by conceptual analysis. Pragmatic arguments by contrast first stipulate a set of desirable ends and then aim to show that UBI offers a promising route to achieving these ends. The pragmatic track too leaves ample room for conceptual analysis, including key questions about how to think about the ordering of ends and the comparative evaluation of alternative policy schemes (De Wispelaere and Morales, 2016). But the key feature of the pragmatic approach concerns gathering empirical evidence in support for the instrumental relationship between a policy and its aims.
At this point UBI faces a peculiar problem in obtaining systematic empirical evidence because it has not yet been implemented in a manner that allows for easy comparison. Reasoning by analogy is limited where existing schemes only imperfectly approximate the UBI proposal (De Wispelaere, 2016). This leaves us with experimental evidence as the main route to obtain empirical evidence about individual-level and society-wide effects of instituting a UBI, including insight in the attitudinal and behavioural changes associated with instituting an unconditional UBI (Groot, 2004). While some researchers have explored the role of natural experiments (Marx and Peeters, 2008) or laboratory experiments (Noguera and De Wispelaere, 2006; Levitt and List, 2007), the main focus is on piloting a UBI in a largescale social or field experimental setting (Standing, 2017 for a brief overview).
Experiments in the 1970s/1980s in the US and Canada have provided us with important insight in a variety of behavioural and social effects, including the impact of unconditional income transfers on health or social wellbeing (Forget, 2011; Strobel and Forget, 2013; Calnitsky, 2016).
More recent experiments in a developing world context appear confirm these results (Davala et al 2015; Haushofer and Shapiro, 2016), although some of the smaller UBI experiments have met with serious criticism (e.g., Osterkamp, 2013).
The use of social experiments to examine the potential effects of a UBI policy must be understood against the background of increased reliance of evidence in policy development ? the so-called evidence-based policy-making approach (Banerjee and Duflo, 2011; Cartwright and Hardie, 2012).
In addition to furthering our understanding of the anticipated effects, positive as well as negative, piloting a UBI experiment also offers critical insight in the practical implementation of UBI policies, including better understanding the legal, social and political constraints that hamper optimal UBI design in concrete policy contexts (Widerquist, 2005; Forget 2011; Davala et al, 2015; Kalliomaa-Puha et al, 2016; Kangas et al, 2017).
Recent pilot projects have resulted in improved guidelines on how to design and implement UBI experiments (Standing, 2012;
Forget et al, 2016; for general methodological insights, see Cartwright and Deaton, 2016). In large part because the results of UBI experiments are very sensitive to the country-specific context (as well as the time period in which they were conducted), stakeholders and policy-makers advocating for a UBI are keen to pilot an experiment locally.
Finland is spearheading the current wave of UBI experiments: the Finnish government in January 2017 launched a 2 year experiment with a treatment group of 2000 unemployed individuals currently receiving basic unemployment insurance payouts (Kalliomaa-Puha et al, 2016; Kangas et al, 2017).
The increase in practical knowledge and understanding is to be welcomed, but in this project we propose to return to more philosophical considerations. Specifically we examine what insights the recent wave of UBI pilots may offer on conceptual and normative problems pertaining to evidence-based policy-making, the use of experiments in understanding core normative intuitions pertaining to UBI (e.g. reciprocity, cf. White 2003), the role of UBI experiments in better understanding precisely how empirical evidence feeds back into political theories (and vice versa, cf. Barry 2002; Goodin 2010), and the importance of social experiments to further democratic experimentalism under conditions of epistemic uncertainty and policy disagreement (Muller, 2014).
While there is a growing literature pertaining to experimental ethics (Appiah, 2008; Knobe & Nichols 2008; Luetge et al, 2014) and the philosophical status of evidence in policy context (Cartwright & Hardie, 2012), philosophers interested in the UBI proposal have so far not yet connected up with this literature.