Basic income in the ‘long now’: three critical considerations for the future(s) of alternative welfare systems

Basic income in the ‘long now’: three critical considerations for the future(s) of alternative welfare systems

Graffiti work by Banksy, itself a reworking of the original "Begging for Change" by Australian street artist Meek.


Many of today’s proposals for and experiments with Universal Basic Income (UBI) in so-called developed countries seem to be congruent with, and indeed in some instances explicitly catered towards maintaining the dominant political economic architecture and status quo imaginary. Some of the more salient narratives regarding UBI present it as a silver bullet for all kinds of (neoliberally framed) social and economic woes and as a remedy for the pressing issue of automation which is assuredly having disruptive effects on the business-as-usual as practiced to-date. On the other hand, more radical proposals relevant to the UBI debate find themselves confined to academic and political ghettos, while those that do make it to experimental stage are watered down to versions of ‘basic income light’[i] through processes and barriers integral to incumbent political economic structures and forms of political deliberation.

While such experiments and proposals may be crucial stepping stones in fostering social salience and political legitimacy around alternatives to dominant welfare and wage labour models, it is important to recognize their limitations, particular application contexts, scales and time-horizons, with reference to wider integrative visions and potential mechanisms of socio-economic and political transformation. However the reality is that at this time such wider and integrative visions are lacking, while radical and systemic alternatives to welfare remain severely undertheorized in crucial areas. In the following I outline three critical areas that in my opinion can further the UBI debate, guided by the overarching question of what might an open ended, ecologically sound and socially just welfare system and pathway towards it look like.

  1. Considering UBI as an interim model for citizen empowerment

Imagining potential futures of welfare from a ‘long now’[ii] perspective necessitates the recognition that some solutions should be designed to have intentionally short life-spans while others should be designed to change over long periods of time.[iii] The reality is that the forms of UBI thus far explored are likely not the be-all and end-all of alternatives. It is thus important to consider the view that UBI models based on fiat money pooled and distributed by means of more or less conventional market and state mechanisms (e.g. taxes, redistribution of state funds) may be an an overall important, yet perhaps best seen as consciously interim step in institutional re-design and citizen emancipation and empowerment. It is relevant to note however that UBI models, defined as unconditional payments of certain sums of money to individuals of a society, already today find rivals, for example in the concepts of Universal Basic Assets (UBA)[iv] and Universal Basic Services (UBS)[v], which importantly shift the debate from income to access to and participation in the commons. Using the ‘city as a commons’ framework and the critical concepts of UBA and UBS as starting points, it is possible to conceive of commons-based welfare models that operate on the principles of universal rights and effective access to basic and potentially expanding asset and service options (e.g. housing, food, energy, healthcare, mobility, internet, education, sport, recreation) and the care, co-creation of and democratic deliberation about them using novel collaborative, open-source, circular, sharing and regenerative economy approaches, among others.

  1. Anchoring alternative welfare systems in alternative currencies

One issue that is very rarely addressed even within more radical UBI debates is that of the currencies and accounting frameworks on which such systems are (to be) based.[vi] Arguably, pursuing the interrelated goals of ecological sustainability and social justice calls for a reconsideration of ‘money-as-usual’. Many currency systems have been proposed that too range from local, complimentary and other currency types more or less congruent with or supplementary to the economic status quo, to radical alternatives.[vii] The envisioned ‘commonified’ basic assets and services model(s), indeed commons and commoning activity generally, may be anchored in a rich ecosystem of alternative currencies, indices and accounting frameworks operating at different scales and in different socioeconomic and socioecological contexts. Some of the more prominent proposed money anchors specifically include energy, time, CO2 emissions, single resources such as water or grain, or ‘baskets of resources’.[viii] Additional aspects to consider include:

  • the ethics, scales and forms of cosmopolitan and translocal solidarity
  • gift cultures and economies
  • open data
  • forms of transaction (e.g. ‘commoner smart cards’ for food, public transportation and skill-sharing)
  • the potentials of blockchain technology
  1. A deep rethinking of ‘work’

The currently ongoing and planned UBI experiments in the Netherlands, once presented as a beacon of hope in mainstream media, have recently been subject to a number of relevant critiques. It is important to outline that these experiments are not of universal income as they specifically target the unemployed and those already receiving some form of social benefit; nor are they unconditional, but configured with mind to supporting existing ‘labour market integration’ policies and mechanisms. Today, it is crucial to expand our definition of work and to rethink our engagement with it, a discussion that should go well beyond the reductionism of the automation narrative as presented in the mainstream. What is thus needed are systems complimentary to UBI/UBA/UBS that open up and encourage access to skills, (co-production of) knowledge, and discovering and trying oneself out at various (sometimes not at once apparent) forms of social and ecological ‘service’ and ‘life callings’ in transitional times; as well as civic media infrastructures that can support proactive public discourse around and experimentation with alternative institutional options, balancing the challenges of sustainability and social equity with resilient subsistence and social welfare contribution and provisioning. An interesting idea in this regard is the ‘balanced job complex’,[ix] proposed by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel in their model for participatory economics; a deliberative democratic model that may be found useful in conceptualizing dynamic ways of societal self-configuration of equitable and contributory work loads depending on needs, capacities, preferences and challenges.


By imbuing the UBI debate with a more systems-oriented and commons perspective, I have argued that an important shift is made from income and work as such to deeper interrelated questions of 1.) rights, capabilities and effective access; 2.) forms of deliberation, governance, entrepreneurship, collective care and accounting; 3.) forms and scales of pooling resources and work, and; 4.) forms and scales of equitable distribution and sustainable and resilient provisioning of universal basic commons entitlements. The perspective illuminates the contingent relationship between the contextual and subjective ‘political viability‘ of the UBI, and the scopes and salience of articulated (critical, open-source, open-ended) alternative institutional possibilities; and the prospects of a polity that exploits a dialectical relationship between interim or hybrid institutional models on the one hand, and radical experimentation with other socio-economic configurations, emergent city-making/place-making cultures and political possibilities in the here-and-now on the other.


[i] Schouten, Socrates. 2018. Baby Steps on the Road to Basic Income. Green European Journal. Available at:

[ii] Brand, Stewart. 1999. The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility. New York: Basic Books.

[iii] Irwin et al. 2016. Transition Design: A Proposal for a New Area of Design Practice, Study, and Research. Design and Culture, 7(2), 229–246.



[vi] Bauwens, Michel. 2006. Complementary Currencies and the Basic Income. Available at:; Bauwens, M. & Niaros, V. (2017). Value in the Commons Economy: Developments in Open and Contributory Value  Accounting. Chiang Mai: Heinrich Böll Stiftung & P2P Foundation.

[vii] Dittmer, Kristofer. 2011. Local currencies for purposive degrowth? A quality check of some proposals for changing money-as-usual. Available at:

[viii] New Economics Foundation. 2013. Energising Money: An introduction to energy currencies and accounting. Available at:

[ix] Albert, Michael. 2003. Parecon: Life After Capitalism. London: Verso

Gaming the future and the futures of gaming: on pathways and possibilities of anticipatory commons

Gaming the future and the futures of gaming: on pathways and possibilities of anticipatory commons

World Game Seminar at New York Studio School (1969, New York). Courtesy of Stanford University Libraries Special Collections

»Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone« Buckminster Fuller[1]

»Imagine a future where cities are modeled, tested, designed, and reshaped through interactive, collaborative games« – Ekim Tan[2]

In recent years there has been a major upsurge in theories around and prefigurative experimentation with various alternative institutional models (e.g. commons-based urban co-governance, platform cooperativism, alternative currencies,[3] universal basic assets,[4] circular economy) that challenge the unquestionability of the neoliberal narrative[5] and reflect and integrate to various degrees new and old ideas about possible alternative forms of societal and political economic organization. The many (political) challenges associated with the uptake, experimentation with and scaling of such path-deviant models have prompted parallell developments of more nuanced theories around innovation and institutional change,[6] as well as the articulation and development of novel techniques, tools and platforms that may help incite and facilitate transformations towards sustainability.

With regard to the latter, sustainability foresight is increasingly recognized as a key component. Foresight in short entails various typically participatory and transdisciplinary engagements – e.g. in the form of creating visions, scenarios, backcasts and transition pathways – that help actors better understand and account for possible futures and the processes of change, so that wiser preferred futures and pathways can be created.[7] Additionally, developments in experiential futures and speculative design,[8] generative city gaming[9] and internet and communications technologies (ICTs) enabled network foresight[10] have begun to outline exciting new possibilities of more engaging, strategic, cross-scale, multi-actor, collaborative and anticipatory (i.e. futures oriented) forms of deliberation, cosmopolitan city-making and governance.

Two concepts crucial to zoom in here are anticipatory governance and global foresight commoning. Anticipatory governance may denote practices that involve tools, systems and open knowledge platforms that empower futures-inquiry and futures-making by enabling the smaller and larger scale pre-imagining and exploration of dynamics of change and near and distant future possibilities and in turn informing the development of strategies, pathways, policies, designs and experiments.[11] Global foresight commons has been taken up by some scholars as a concept denoting »a network of globally distributed and shared resources between people, institutions, businesses and other communities, which provides an increasing and useful pool of knowledge, ideas and capabilities that potentiate all of humanity’s capacity to think about shared futures in effective ways.«[12]

While as of yet largely speculative and/or experimental, in very recent years projects have emerged that may be considered as prefigurations or components of more integrated, cross-scale, polycentric and collaborative foresight, knowledge, design and governance supporting systems, i.e. systems that support »wiki-commoning«,[13] social innovation, policymaking, socio-technical-ecological transition design[14] and reflexive transition management.[15] Interesting existing examples of such projects include:

  • Seeds of Good Anthropocenes: a repository that maps more than a hundred initial case studies, and allows, by means of a questionnaire-type interface, for the crowdsourcing of ‘seeds’, i.e. initiatives, at least in prototype form, that represent diverse »social, technological, economic, or social–ecological ways of thinking or doing.«[16]
  • TRANSIT Critical Turning Points: a platform that contains a database and global map of social innovation initiative case studies, and an overview of ‘critical turning points’; i.e. the »breakthroughs, setbacks, and surprises« concerning their emergence and development.[17]
  • Open Futures Library: a »publically contributed, indexed, searchable collection of future scenarios and other images of the future.«[18]
  • Play the City: a transdisciplinary research organization and online platform that researches, develops with urban stakeholders, and offers a database of games around issues such as urban transformation, social change, smart cities, and sharing and circular economy.[19]
  • Foresight Engine: a »platform for engaging various publics in rapid conversation about pressing issues of the future, using basic game dynamics to make it fun and encourage participation.«[20]

The Co-Cities project’s ( platform may also be regarded as a possible prefigurative constitutent of such systems, which, much akin to Seeds of Good Anthropocenes, counts more than a hundred initial case studies and offers a global map and questionnaire-based crowdsourcing of new entries, albeit with an explicit focus on forms of collaborative city-making and participatory urban governance, and the teasing out, application and refining of institutional design principles for the urban commons.[21]

Numerous questions regarding such systems however remain, of which, to conclude, I outline some of the most pertinent:

(1) In what ways may such and other (digital and/or face-to-face) tools and platforms complement each other in creating more robust and comprehensive toolboxes, or pooling, co-creative and moderation systems; e.g. linking »seed« case studies, designs, design principles and repositories; existing scenarios and other tools for and ways of expressing, experiencing, exploring, playing and experimenting with possible, plausible, probable, desirable, utopian, dystopian, heterotopic and other alternative futures (e.g. films, games, theatrical performances, comics, interactive virtual reality experiences, and artefacts from the future); with ICT enabled network capabilities; new tool and content generation; transition pathway mapping; »citizen sensing«,[22] simulations of (gl-)urban socio-ecological metabolisms; and value and »strong sustainability«[23] based service and product design; in virtuous cycles of open sharing, co-production, experimentation and co-evolution?

(2) In what ways and by what means can lessons learned from such endeavors be transposed to the real world by trandisciplinary communities of practice?[24]

(3) How can such engagements commensurate different interests, worldviews and ways of knowing, and/or make any inherent tensions, discomforts and knowledge gaps productive?[25]

(4) Whose and what kinds of »transformative capacities«[26] are being and can be developed through the use of such approaches, and how do and can these contribute to smaller and wider transformative change?

(5) In what ways may these approaches represent new »emancipatory and egalitarian modalities of politics«[27] and cosmopolitan forms of city-making,[28] and how may these correspond to (i.e. be in conflict with, compliment, transform) existing institutional and actor constellations, norms, roles, responsibilities and power relations?

(6) What are the useful and appropriate forms of analysis, moderation, transposition, codification and meta-data enrichment of small and larger scale workshop, interview, questionnaire, deliberative poll, scenario, game-play, etc., results, for various applications in open knowledge pooling and (co-)creation?

(7) How can »seeds«, theories of change, design tools, etc., be integrated in the form of engaging game based, network enabled, and other (hybrid?) practices of foresight? How can and/or should the mechanics, design and set-up of these today account for and/or incorporate the politics of transformations towards sustainability?[29]

(8) What kinds of tools can enable the evaluation and (re-)combination (through »bricolage«) and multi-tier scaling (i.e. scaling up, out and deep)[30] of »seeds« or social innovations to foster more future-fit, multi-dimensional and complex socio-ecological systems oriented experiments, transition pathways and institutional alternatives?

(9) Assuming that today radical transformations are necessary to stay within surmisable planetary boundaries,[31] how can the design and set-up of such tools, systems and platforms ensure that co-creation involving different stakeholders is deliberatively yet normatively geared towards path-deviant and more radical innovation, rather than path-dependency and the status quo?

(10) Can immersive and confrontational experiential futures (e.g. confronting actors with ‘voices of future generations’,[32] or undesirable socio-ecological futures extrapolated from scenarios and simulations of continued status quo) accelerate (social, political, economic, etc.) paradigm shifts, and what may be the ramifications of such tactics and strategies?


[1] Fuller, B. (1971). The World Game: Integrative Resource Utilization Planning Tool. World Resources Inventory. Carbondale.




[5] Longhurst et al. (2017) Experimenting with alternative economies: four emergent counter-narratives of urban economic development. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 22, 69–74

[6] Haxeltine et al. (2016). TRANSIT WP3 Deliverable D3.3 – A Second Prototype of TSI Theory.

[7] Inayatullah, S. (2008). Six pillars: futures thinking for transforming. Foresight, 10(1), 4–21.

[8] Dunne, A., & F. Raby (2013). Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. Cambridge & London: MIT Press; Candy, S. (2010). The Futures of Everyday Life: Politics and the Design of Experiential Scenarios (PhD thesis). School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago.

[9] Tan, E. (2016) The Evolution of City Gaming. In: Portugali J., Stolk E. (eds) Complexity, Cognition, Urban Planning and Design. Springer Proceedings in Complexity. Springer, Cham; Schouten, B., Ferri, G., de Lange, M. & K. Millenaar (2017). Games as Strong Concepts for City-Making. Playable Cities, Gaming Media and Social Effects; Other interesting examples of ‘commons transition’ games include Utopoly (, Transition Ingredients Cards ( and C@rds in Common (

[10] Ramos, J.M, Mansfield, T. & G. Priday (2012). Foresight in a Network Era: Peer-producing Alternative Futures. Journal of Futures Studies, 17(1), 71–90; Raford, N. (2014). Online foresight platforms: Evidence for their impact on scenario planning & strategic foresight. Technological Forecasting & Social Change (97): 65–76.

[11] Ramos, J.M. (2014). Anticipatory Governance: Traditions and Trajectories for Strategic Design. Journal of Futures Studies, 19(1), 35–52; Boyd, E., Borgstrom, S., Nykvist, B., & I.A. Stacewicz (2015). Anticipatory governance for social-ecological resilience. Ambio, (44): 149–161.; Ravetz, J. (2017). From “smart” cities to “wise”: synergistic pathways for collective urban intelligence, JPI Urban Europe – Urban Transition Pathways Symposium;


[13] Iaione, C. (2016). The CO-City: Sharing, Collaborating, Cooperating, and Commoning in the City. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 75(2): 415-455.

[14] Irwin, T. (2016). Transition Design: A Proposal for a New Area of Design Practice, Study, and Research. Design and Culture, 7(2), 229–246.

[15] Voß, J., & B. Bornemann (2011). The politics of reflexive governance: challenges for designing adaptive management and transition management. Ecology and Society 16(2): 9

[16] Bennett et al. (2016). Bright spots: seeds of a good Anthropocene. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(8): 441–448.;


[18]; see also Priday, G., Mansfield, T., & J.M. Ramos (2014). The Open Futures Library: One Step Toward a Global Foresight Commons? Journal of Futures Studies, 18(4): 131–142.



[21]; see also

[22] Gabrys, J. (2014) Programming Environments: Environmentality and Citizen Sensing in the Smart City. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 32(1): 30 – 48

[23] Hobson, K. (2013). “Weak” or “Strong” Sustainable Consumption? Efficiency, Degrowth, and the 10 Year Framework of Programmes. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 31(6), 1082–1098

[24] Cundill, G., Roux, D. J., & J. N. Parker (2015). Nurturing communities of practice for transdisciplinary research, Ecology and Society, 20(2): 22.

[25] Vervoort et al. (2015). Scenarios and the art of worldmaking. Futures (74): 62–70.

[26] Wolfram, M., Frantzeskaki, N., & S. Maschmeyer (2016) Cities, systems and sustainability: status and perspective of research on urban transformations, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (22): 18–25.

[27] Swyngedouw, E. (2016). Unlocking the mind-trap: politicising urban theory and practice. Urban Studies, 54(1): 55-61

[28] Manzini, E., & M. K. M Rithaa (2016). Distributed Systems And Cosmopolitan Localism: An Emerging Design Scenario For Resilient Societies. Sustainable Development, 24(5): 275–280

[29] Patterson et al. (2016). Exploring the governance and politics of transformations towards sustainability. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1–16; Avelino, et al. (2016). The Politics of Sustainability Transitions. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 18(5): 557–567

[30] Moore, M.-L., Ridell, D. & D. Vocisano (2015) Scaling Out, Scaling Up, Scaling Deep: Strategies of Non-profits in Advancing Systemic Social Innovation. The Journal of Corporate Citizenship No. 58, Large Systems Change: An Emerging Field of Transformation and Transitions (June 2015), 67–84; Olsson, P., M.-L. Moore, F. R. Westley, & D. D. P. McCarthy (2017). The concept of the Anthropocene as a game-changer: a new context for social innovation and transformations to sustainability. Ecology and Society 22(2):31.

[31] Steffen et al. (2015). Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223): 1259855

[32] Y. Kamijo, A. Komiya, N. Mifune & T. Saijo (2017) Negotiating with the future: incorporating imaginary future generations into negotiations, Sustainability Science, 12, 409-420.

Un focus sul gaming applicato ai nuovi modelli di collaborazione tra gli attori operanti a livello urbano, uno sguardo sui progetti sperimentali già attivi a livello internazionale, e alcune domande aperte sui tool digitali che sono emersi e quelli che emergeranno.