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Although a basic income (BI) is usually presented as a “disarmingly simple idea” (Van Parijs 2004), discussing concrete policy proposals quickly descends into a dispute of Tower of Babel-like allure. When advocating for or criticizing BI, proponents, and respectively opponents, often seem to have different kinds of BI schemes in mind. It is, however, quite obvious that the actual outcomes of a BI will be highly dependent on the choices made with respect to entitlement, eligibility criteria, benefit levels, financing, and implementation trajectories.

BI is a radical departure from traditional welfare states because it severs the link between contribution and benefit on the one hand and between need and benefit on the other hand. Both are cornerstones of developed social protection schemes. It is precisely because of this radical change that opponents fear that a BI will lower incentives to perform paid work or any work, increase gender inequalities in work and care, and encourage idleness. By contrast, proponents believe that it will combat income poverty, encourage entrepreneurship, lifelong learning and volunteer work, empower people to make their own choices in today’s labor markets, and end the myriad of problems associated with means-tested social benefits. Although proponents and opponents are usually dug in at their respective positions, they both make factual claims that can be and should be subjected to empirical scrutiny.

The BAsic income in BELgium (BABEL) project draws on these discussions and aims to narrow the gap between wish and reality with regard to BI. The project has several objectives. First, it aims to investigate possible effects of a basic income and its different policy versions. To this purpose, a quasi-experimental approach is applied in which we use administrative records to estimate the labor supply effects of BI based on what gets closest to a real world basic income situation: the Belgian Win for Life lottery. Additionally, a comprehensive microsimulation exercise is conducted to simulate the first-order income distributive and budgetary effects and the effect on work incentives of a variety of basic income schemes in Belgium. Second, by carrying out factorial vignette experiments, the project aims to gain deeper insight into public support for the implementation of a variety of basic income schemes in Belgium, and whether and to what extent public support of basic income schemes depends on the outcomes, financing and implementation details. Third, BABEL will pay due attention to the on-the-ground implementation and the technical and administrative feasibility of a selection of basic income policy proposals, and it will gauge to what extent political parties and social partners as gatekeepers in the Belgian welfare state are willing to support the implementation of these schemes. Finally, the project will present a blueprint of pathways for basic income policy proposals that (1) are likely to garner sufficient support by the general public and by social partners; (2) lead to better outcomes in terms of social protection and work incentives; and (3) can inspire feasible welfare reform in Belgium.

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