The universal right to capital income


The right to laziness has traditionally been reserved for the wealthy have, while the poor have had to fight for decent wages and working conditions, unemployment and disability insurance, universal health care and other necessities of life. worthy. The idea that the poor should receive sufficient unconditional income to live on has been anathema not only to the great and powerful, but also to the labor movement, which has adopted an ethic revolving around reciprocity, solidarity and contribution to society.

When unconditional basic income schemes were proposed decades ago, they inevitably encountered indignant reactions from employers’ associations, unions, economists and politicians. Recently, however, the idea has resurfaced, garnering impressive support from the radical left, the green movement, and even the libertarian right. In question, the rise of machines which, for the first time since the start of industrialization, threaten to destroy more jobs than technological innovation creates and to pull the rug out from under the feet of white collar workers. .

But as the idea of ​​a universal basic income returned, resistance from both right and left followed suit. Right-wingers point to the impossibility of raising enough revenue to fund such programs without crushing the private sector, and a decline in labor supply and productivity, due to lost incentives to work. . Leftists fear that a universal income will weaken the struggle to improve people’s working lives, legitimize the idle rich, erode hard-won collective bargaining rights, undermine the foundations of the welfare state, encourage passive citizenship and promote social protection. consumerism.

The cheerleaders in these programs – left and right alike – argue that the Universal Basic Income would support those who already bring invaluable value to society, primarily women in the care sector – or, indeed, artists. producing great public works for almost no money. The poor would be freed from the vicious control of the welfare state’s resources, and a safety net that could trap people in permanent poverty would be replaced with a platform they could stand on before seeking something better. .

The key to moving forward is a new perspective on the connection between the source of funding for a universal basic income, the impact of robots, and our understanding of what it means to be free. This implies combining three propositions: taxes cannot be a legitimate source of funding for such regimes; the rise of machines must be embraced; and a universal basic income is the main precondition for freedom.

While a Universal Basic Income is to be legitimate, it cannot be funded by taxing Jill to pay Jack. This is why it must be financed not by taxes, but by the return on capital. A common myth, promoted by the rich, is that wealth is produced individually before being collectivized by the state, through taxation. In fact, wealth has always been produced collectively and privatized by those who had the power: the wealthy class. Farmland and seeds, pre-modern forms of capital, have been developed collectively through generations of peasant efforts that landowners have stealthily appropriated for themselves. Today, every smartphone includes components developed by a government grant or through common ideas, for which no dividend has ever been paid to the company.

So how should society be compensated? Taxation is the wrong answer. Businesses pay taxes in return for services the state provides them, not capital injections that must pay dividends. There are therefore strong arguments that the commons are entitled to a share of the share capital and the associated dividends, reflecting the investment of the company in the capital of the companies.

A simple policy would be to enact legislation requiring that a percentage of the share capital (shares) of each initial public offering (IPO) be funneled into a common capital deposit, with the associated dividends funding a Universal Base Dividend (UBD). This UBD should, and can be, entirely independent of social benefits, unemployment insurance, etc.

The fear of machines that can free us from the drudgery is a symptom of a timid and divided society. The Luddits are among the most overlooked historical actors. Their vandalism of machines was a protest not against automation, but against social arrangements that deprived them of life prospects in the face of technological innovation. Our societies must embrace the rise of machines, but ensure that they contribute to shared prosperity by granting every citizen property rights over them, producing a UBD.

A universal basic income enables new conceptions of freedom and equality that link previously irreconcilable political blocs, while stabilizing society and reinvigorating the notion of shared prosperity in the face of an otherwise destabilizing technological innovation.

Anyone who is still not reconciled with the idea of ​​’something for nothing’ should ask themselves a few simple questions: Wouldn’t I want my children to have a small trust fund that protects them from fear of destitution and Allows them to fearlessly invest in their true talents “Would their peace of mind make them lazy.” If not, what is the moral basis for denying all children the same benefit? ”


Yanis Varoufakis is Professor of Economics at the University of Athens and former Minister of Finance of Greece.

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