Basic Income: the Silence in the Noise

Published on, by DANIEL RAVENTÓS and JULIE WARK, June 15, 2016.

… But there’s something missing in all the heat and light. The discussion ranges (and sometimes rages) around affordability, mechanisation of work, whether basic income would be a disincentive to work, streamlining antiquated welfare systems, ending poverty, the results of experiments in places as far afield as Manitoba, Alaska, India, Namibia, Kenya, Uganda and among the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.

These are all important issues but the underlying politics tends to be glossed over. One reason for this is, perhaps, an over-emphasis on marketing or what Philippe van Parijs , referring to the Swiss referendum, describes as “impressive communication skills”, at the expense of basic normative ideas, although the Swiss have certainly done much to make the measure better known and more widely discussed in many countries. Then again, and herein lies the rub, the push for basic income in recent years has come from grassroots movements, presented as a question of justice, as a radical measure that challenges status quo entitlement. This is what viscerally upsets establishment people like Lawrence H. Summers … //

… The classical democratic republican tradition understands social life as a space seething with power relations at all levels. This indicates the need to construct an institutional framework with mechanisms designed to prevent asymmetries of power which lead to relations of domination among individuals. The first priority, then, is to guarantee the material independence of individuals as the basis of their freedom in social life because otherwise, dependent on others for sustenance, they have to obtain their permission to live, day after day. This undermining of civic dignity and certain related types of social pathology tend to compound problems of exclusion making it increasingly difficult for a person to claim his or her rights. In today’s neoliberal system a few individuals or groups manipulate supply and demand, mould the structure of markets and determine the nature of national economies, thus imposing in productive units, and parliaments as well, the conditions of work for all those who depend on them in order to live. Millions upon millions of people are subject to this alien regime today … //

(full text).

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