The present analysis compares the welfare state to the implementation of an unconditional basic income. By using an institutionalist approach that treats preferences as endogenous, both institutions are described regarding their norms embodied and formative effects on economic behavior. The Austrian welfare state is used as a specific example institutionalizing different shades of reciprocity norms that tend to reinforce employment preferences. By contrast, the proposal of a basic income expresses generalized reciprocity – the most abstract social norm of exchange – together with a pronounced individualism. In this way, more diverse occupations would be supported. Funding a basic income scheme, however, relies on sufficient economic activities generating tax revenues. Its incremental implementation thus requires additional institutional elements fostering a norm of social contribution and solidarity among all members of society. Accordingly, a basic income is argued to be only sustainable if accompanied by complementary public institutions. In order to unfold its liberating potential, a basic income, indeed, depends on overall conditions fostering a more pronounced social norm of reciprocity. The normative reasoning by which a basic income is framed appears decisive regarding its potential effects. Unfortunately, the most ambitious justification of a basic income by Van Parijs (1995), misses combining individual freedom with notions of social responsibility in one normative theory. The sustainability of a substantial basic income scheme, however, requires preferences that include both of these attitudes. This may be achieved by redefining work and reciprocity more broadly and thus account for interdependencies and complexities that characterize our societies.
Master’s Thesis to be awarded the degree of Master of Science in Economics in Political and Empirical Economics at the University of Graz, Austria