Niels I. Meyer (1930-2023) – Obituary

Niels I. Meyer, a pioneer in the Danish Basic Income movement and co-founder of BIEN, has passed away. A prolific writer as well as a frequent participant in public debates, Niels I. Meyer was in his professional life a professor in physics with important contributions to Denmark’s transition to sustainable energy.

In the context of Basic Income, NIM was co-author of a visionary book on proposed societal reforms that immediately became a bestseller. The book was published in 1978 in Danish with the title Oprør fra midten (English translation Revolt From the Centre, 1981) and discussed, among many other things, important arguments for a BI, most notably that “no one should be forced to take a paid job” as it would constitute an infringement on personal autonomy. Other arguments for a BI included its implicit recognition of reproductive work like unpaid domestic and caring work which at the time primarily was carried out by women. “Thus, there would no longer be a basis for the kind of “ownership” of a fellow human being as sanctioned by the old-fashioned gender roles – partnership would exclusively be based on mutual sympathy and common interests.” Moreover, a BI would both recognize as well as reward artists, authors, NGO workers and others who work unpaid, freelance or in insecure positions.

However, in NIM’s view, a BI reform could or should not be seen in isolation from other necessary socio-economic reforms of society, rather it should be founded on the condition of extensive labor market and taxation reforms and, ideally, on severe restrictions on unfettered capitalism. Otherwise, there will always be the risk that economic interest groups will succeed in introducing some form of a “precariat BI” to pacify the masses, rather than a more humane and generous one. This could lead to an undermining of the otherwise unique Danish welfare state. In the book, the vision of a utopian society in which a more equal and just society goes hand in hand with “green” policies for a sustainable future is called a “humane sustainable society”.

In 1986, NIM participated in the first international conference on Basic Income in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, which led to the foundation of BIEN, Basic Income European (now Earth) Network. In this meeting he presented ideas such as a gradual phase-in of a Basic Income through a “Basic Income for the youth” and a “Sabbatical Basic Income”.

He also participated in the UBI Nordic 2016 conference on Basic Income Pilots in Copenhagen. The paper he presented in this context can be found here.

Niels I. Meyer will be missed for his tireless participation in public debates and for his unfailing support of fellow-activists, friends and family.


Karsten Lieberkind

See also an obituary in Danish in by Erik Christensen