What's in a Name: Livable or Basic Income or ?
C.A. L'Hirondelle August 6, 2012
(to make a comment go to the Livable4All blog )

The word ‘basic’ is now being used as an insult. Is it time can we stop calling a universal livable income a “basic income”?

From the Urban Dictionary:
“Likened to children, a ‘basic’ is a term used to describe someone with attributes of idiocy, foolishness and child-like behaviour. A ‘basic’ commonly has little to no intelligence”
“A waste of time, energy, or money. The opposite of fun, intrigue, and justice.”
“Something that is uninteresting, vapid, boring, or uncool.”

Found via Twitter search:
" Very glad I’m not #basic”
I refuse to be #basic.
Don’t be so basic.
being #BASIC won’t get u Nothing

In North America since at least the 1960s, the commonly used term for an unconditional universal income ( Universal Demogrant) was Guaranteed Annual Income. However, at grassroots anti-poverty meetings I attended in Victoria in the mid-1990s, people realized that technically a guaranteed ‘annual’ income could be as little as penny a year. After much thoughtful discussion ‘livable’ was chosen as a crucial descriptor because it had strong connotations to the level of income needed for dignity, health and life. There was no way to confuse Guaranteed ‘Livable’ Income with a Guaranteed ‘Starving’ Income, which is what some critics on the left were worried a Guaranteed Annual Income would become. Many other groups also started using Guaranteed Livable Income including Citizen’s for Public Justice, and it is also in the Green Party of Canada platform.

However, around the world (in the English language), Basic Income has become the name that has gained the most common usage. According to the history of the Basic Income Earth Network, the term Basic Income was chosen because it formed the acronym BIEN (first as the European Network and now as the Earth Network). BIEN is now the main international hub for international news, events and connecting groups around the world who are advocates of this initiative.

When the name Basic Income came up at our grassroots meetings (many of us knew of the 1999 Canadian book “Basic Income: Economic Security For All Canadians” ) it was strongly rejected because ‘basic’ conjured up some kind of bargain basement pittance, a crumb to be thrown to the poor saying ‘well here now, nothing to complain about, you’ve got your basic income’.

And now ‘basic’ has now morphed into being a very negative (but versatile) bit slang.


Livable is the opposite. It is used unequivocally to mean something positive:

From Twitter:
The Livable Climate Agency
Because you have to make this life livable
Making my living space livable
Workers deserve a livable wage
New Christchurch plans show ‘livable’ city
community safety & a livable planet.
there might be water on mars and it may be livable for the future
key to any sort of livable transition

(And the quickest way to create a livable planet is with a guaranteed livable income.)


Even though support and interest for unconditional universal income is gaining year to year, continuing to call it Basic Income may come back to haunt us.

Do we really want to envision a basic future or a livable future? A basic planet or a livable planet?

Do we want to risk a dystopian future where people are expected to live basic lives? Where all the social programs have been cut? Where all the public services have been privatized ( no more public parks, housing, schools, libraries, transit)? Where people will be expected to accept whatever basic healthcare their basic income can buy? This is the trajectory of a society becoming unlivable except for the very few.

Usually there is much time, effort and resources put into branding and marketing ideas, and choosing the right names, logos and descriptors. The same amount of thought needs to go into whether or not we should keep using ‘basic income’ as a name for such a freedom enhancing, green, and liberatory (for people and the planet) concept.

So isn’t it time to be more specific in the words we use to articulate and envision a future that is Livable For All? … and choose more than a basic name, but one that brings forth dignity, creativity, diversity and lots of green ways of living?



Evolving Terminology: It’s been suggested to me by a good thinker I’ve met via twitter that instead of saying “Income” we might want to say “Share” as in “universal livable share”. The reason given is that ‘income’ might imply only money but a ‘share’ is more about having a share of the resources we need to stay healthy and alive. And in the future perhaps monetary income as we currently use it might become obsolete. So ‘share’ allows for more flexibility than “income” and also has the positive connotation of ‘sharing’ and also the principle that we all have a ‘share’ in our common well-being ( a common share instead of a private share in a company). However, ‘income’ could also mean resources ‘in-coming’ and for now, ‘income’ is what people are worried about since non-market ways to meet needs are not an option for most people. But in the future that could change if, post-GLI, all those good green ideas could take root and flourish. (See Guaranteed Income Makes Fertile Ground For Green Ideas)

Other Names: Another commonly used name is Citizen’s Income, or a CBI, a Citizen’s Basic Income. The positive side of this is the focus on people’s rights and roles as citizens (another name tossed around has been Participation Income because a universal demogrant gives people the means to fully participate in their society). But on the negative side, using ‘Citizen’ might put the focus on a divisive deserving citizens vs. undeserving non-citizens.

Around the year 2002, we here on the West Coast found (online) some East Coast social justice feminists who were also talking about a Livable Income For Everyone or LIFE. Some people really liked the idea of demanding a LIFE Grants, reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller’s Lifetime Fellowships idea (Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth).

Spelling: It can be spelled both Liveable or Livable, but Livable is much more common and less awkward looking/sounding than “Liveable”. Even in Canada, where there are many British spellings, newspapers and others are using “Livable” without the extra “e”.

Another Problem with Basic: It will not work to tell people with jobs in sunset industries: “don’t worry about losing your job because you’ll be able to get this basic income.” People would be wondering: just how basic will this basic income become… would it be a starving basic income?

History: There have been many names given to the concept of everyone having a right to a share of enough resources to stay optimally healthy and alive. Thomas Paine’s Citizen’s Dividend was based on the principle that when people are denied direct access to natural resources, they must be given a share of resources through a monetary dividend ( see his Agrarian Justice).

This principle has been around much longer than Paine and is likely a principle of every indigenous culture. “Guaranteed Adequate Income is really an Indian concept. It is the way Indians themselves ran their early communities” Loretta Domenchich, Menominee Tribe, Wisconsin, US. Fourth World: An Anthology, 1976

Communicating: As much as I don’t like the term ‘basic’, I’ve had to use it, especially on twitter, if I want to connect with others who are interested in this topic because it is more commonly known. However, in the meetings in Victoria where Guaranteed Livable Income was a frequent topic, the shortened way to refer to it was to call it a GLI. But there is not yet that level of familiarity online. Another reason why people might like using basic income, is because it is more neutral and less assertive sounding than Guaranteed Livable Income. This lack of assertion when it comes to describing a livable world vs a ‘basic’ survival world may seem easier now, but it could easily come back to haunt us in the future.

To make a comment go to the Livable4All blog

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