Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Goodbye UBI

Is the universal basic income (or citizens wage) the miracle reform that reduces social inequalities and relieves millions of people from the threat of poverty? Both right-wing and left-wing thinkers have rallied to the idea of an unconditional income.  The universal basic income is based on the principle of equal opportunity, which characterizes liberal capitalist thinking. This idea differs from the principle of equality founded on the socialist assumption that everyone contributes according to his possibilities and benefits according to his needs.

 There are as many types of universal income as there are people promoting them. They differ mainly by their degree of unconditionality, their amounts, their degree of substitution for social security and their method of financing.

The experimentation of a basic income of €560 per month granted to a population of 2000 unemployed people in Finland is currently very discussed. It has been implemented by a right-wing government made up of three parties, Kesk (center), True Finns (extreme right) and Kok (conservative nationalist), as part of an austerity policy aimed at reducing public spending and containing wages. The main motivation for this initiative is that an unemployed person currently receives a large number of benefits (unemployment, housing, child, etc.) and that a job, in order to reach the level of the unemployment benefits collected by an unemployed person, must correspond to a monthly gross income of €2,300. The goal of granting this basic income is therefore to reduce unemployment spending, to contain wage costs and to reduce the current 9% unemployment. We are far from the promise of a universal income.

The paradox consists in either advocating a high-cost universal basic income, the feasibility of which implies questioning social security and public services and thereby accepting a considerable social regression; or being satisfied with a modest allocation which could be conciliated in whole or in part with the social protection system. In the latter case, the modest amount of the allowance would require the use of complementary jobs to live or survive, thus condemning the beneficiaries to accept precarious and low-paid jobs. Instead of letting people choose whether or not to be employed and enabling them to devote themselves to a chosen occupation, the beneficiaries of a universal basic income would be reduced to accepting any part time job. Such a system, therefore, constitutes a powerful incentive to accept a job and leads to the institutionalization of precarious employment. We are actually far from principles that usually constitute unconditional income. Such a system, even if watered down, entails the risk of lower wages and a subsidy to employers.

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