Exploding Bowl


Social reproduction and basic income proposals

The most visible discourse on universal basic income focuses squarely on the labor market. Unconditional cash transfers are understood above all as a potential policy solution to wage stagnation, rising inequality, and labor displacement. This framework, which responds to rising income inequality in general, can be construed as a response to the decline of the family wage.

In a 2017 paper published as part of a forum on UBI in Global Social Policy journal, PATRICIA SCHULZ discusses uncompensated care work and enumerates the ways a basic income could signal a departure from forms of social protection tied to the gendered wage and its analogs in safety net programs:

“In industrialized countries, work organization, labor legislation, and social security systems developed progressively based on the model of the male breadwinner. Therefore, as most social security systems are based on contributions linked to remunerated work, the inferior income of women, their restriction to part-time jobs, as well as the interruptions in their careers due to care responsibilities will directly impact the level of social protection they can expect in case of old age, disability, illness, and so on, as well as expose them to dependency on a partner and/or the welfare state. It remains a huge political challenge to overcome the resistance against delinking social protection and remunerated work, even when the latter tends to become more and more uncertain.

A UBI would be the continuation of previous efforts to ensure that every person has a right to basic economic security, everywhere on the planet, women as well as men.”

Link to the report.

  • The 1960s-70s saw a major surge of advocacy and policy thought surrounding access to existing safety net programs, much of which was driven by the National Welfare Rights Organization. Linkto NWRO chairperson Johnnie Tillmon’s 1972 manifesto on welfare and women’s work, which includes a call for a “guaranteed adequate income,” and link to historian Felicia Kornbluh’s 2007 book on the movement. Economist Toru Yamamori’s research sheds light on feminist movements in the UK and Italy that posed basic income as a solution to discriminatory practices of welfare agencies. Link. (Link also to Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward’s 1966 article on the gaps in American safety net programs and the possibility of a guaranteed income.)
  • There is much ongoing debate within feminist literature about how a UBI might impact the gender division of labor. Some theorists, including Ingrid Robeyns, caution that compensating unpaid care work risks diminishing the political will of women to advocate for more fundamental changes to their social position. Link. Others maintain that a UBI will incentivize men to play a larger role in social reproduction, thereby leveling power dynamics within heterosexual households.Link, link.
  • For a more thorough argument in favor of basic income, the late feminist economist Ailsa McKay has written extensively on the potential impacts of the policy for gender equity and a reconfiguration of citizenship. Link to an article on basic income and social citizenship, and link to her 2005 book The Future of Social Security Policy: Women, Work, and a Citizen’s Basic Income.


Agriculture and development in Indonesia

In a working paper, postdoctoral researcher RYAN B. EDWARDS studies how the expansion in agricultural production of Indonesian palm oil shaped domestic consumption patterns and poverty levels. Contrary to the popularized ‘resource curse‘ theory, as well as theories which hold that trade in agricultural products generates inequality, Edwards finds that a 10% increase in the share of a district area devoted to palm cultivation corresponds to a 5.36% reduction in poverty and an 8% increase in the rate of consumption growth. The paper stresses how increased consumption indirectly alleviates poverty:

“First, rising household expenditures are concentrated on health, education, and durable good expenditures, which in turn correspond to more household assets and floorspace. I interpret these changes as evidence of household-level capital accumulation, a classic theoretical channel linking agricultural productivity to economic development. A second indirect channel relates to local governments, with revenue and expenditure growing considerably faster in expanding regions. Districts that expanded their oil palm acreage have improved electrification, increased use of modern cooking fuels, better roads, and more marketplaces—all often publicly provided. Similar results when controlling for local government revenue and expenditure suggest that at least some of these changes are due to the new infrastructure needed to process, transport, and export palm oil in undeveloped rural areas without any prior industry.”

Link to the paper, and link to Edwards’ website.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way: editorial@jainfamilyinstitute.org.


  • A recent comment piece in Nature by Valentin Amrhein, Sander Greenland, Blake McShane, and over 800 signatories calls for the retiring of statistical significance. Link. At his blog, Andrew Gelman rounds up the ensuing discussion and offers his commentary. Link.
  • SOAS economists Simon Dikau and Ulrich Volz “examine the extent to which climate-related risks and mitigation policies fit into the current set of central bank mandates and objectives.” Link.
  • An excellent first post in a series from Decompressing History on how economic statistics are generated for historical periods: “Making the GDP Sausage.” Link.
  • Daniel Kahneman in conversation with Tyler Cowen: “One thing is very certain—that bias has been overestimated at the expense of noise. Virtually all the literature and a lot of public conversation is about biases. But in fact, noise is, I think, extremely important, very prevalent.” Link.
  • A collection of posts from a 2018 workshop on the “fourth industrial revolution.” Link.
  • “The counterfactual causal model of discrimination is not wrong because we can’t work around the practical limits of manipulation. It is wrong because to fit the rigor of the counterfactual model of a clearly defined treatment on otherwise identical units, we must reduce race to only the signs of the category, meaning we must think race is skin color, or phenotype, or other ways we identify group status. And that is a concept mistake if one subscribes to a constructivist, as opposed to a biological or genetic, conception of race.” Issa Kohler-Hausmann argues for an adequate understanding of discrimination in research on algorithmic bias. Link.
  • A Twitter thread by Rob O’Dell about building an algorithm to detect “copy-paste” state legislation. Link.
  • Xue Yujie with a detailed report on a suite of pilot programs deploying facial recognition and other forms of pattern recognition monitoring systems in Chinese schools. Link.
  • Researchers Sórcha Foster and Lisa Wilson on the impact of automation for employment in Northern Ireland. Link.
  • “We introduce Protective Optimization Technologies: solutions that enable optimization subjects to defend from unwanted consequences.” Researchers Rebekah Overdorf, Bogdan Kulynych, Ero Balsa, Carmela Troncoso, and Seda Gürses examine the adverse impacts of optimization in consumer apps, and develop a strategy for consumers to protect themselves from unbalances in a credit scoring application. Link.
  • On credit and the labor share. By Asli Leblebicioglu and Ariel Weinberger. Link.
  • At Law and Political Economy Blog, a symposium of posts inspired by Elizabeth Anderson’s 2017 book on workplace governance. Link to the first post by Frank Pasquale, link to the rest of the symposium.
  • “The nullification of slave-based wealth after the US Civil War was one of the largest episodes of wealth compression in history. We document that white southern households with more slave assets lost substantially more wealth by 1870 relative to households with otherwise similar pre-War wealth levels. Yet, the sons of these slaveholders recovered in income and wealth proxies by 1880, in part by shifting into white collar positions and marrying into higher status families. Their pattern of recovery is most consistent with the importance of social networks in facilitating employment opportunities and access to credit.” By Philipp Ager, Leah Boustan, and Katherine Eriksson. Link. (And link to an ungated 2016 version, and link to Boustan’s thread on the research.)

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations: editorial@jainfamilyinstitute.org

Subscribe to Phenomenal World Sources, a weekly digest of recommended readings across the social sciences. See the full Sources archive.