Skip to main content
Read page text

China’s space programme goes ballistic – Pages 4-5

MAY 2013  N o 1305

Price: £3/US$4.99

Money to live The proponents of a basic minimum income – rather than a wage

– think that its time may have come, now that technological progress means paid work is available to fewer people. Get over the initial absurdity of the idea, and it makes a novel sense james coignard – ‘Front to Back’ series (1973)

Tyranny of the one per cent

By Serge Halimi

Some revelations come as little surprise. It’s not really news that some politicians love money and like to spend time with those who have lots of it. Or that they sometimes behave like a caste that is above the law. Or that the tax system favours the affluent, and that the free circulation of capital enables them to stash their cash in tax havens.

The disclosure of individual transgressions should lead to scrutiny of the system that created them. But in recent decades, the world has been changing at such a pace that it has outstripped our analytical capacity. With each new event – the fall of the Berlin Wall, the emergence of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), technological advances, financial crises, Arab revolutions, European decline – experts have fallen over themselves to announce the end of history or the birth of a new world order.

Beyond these premature birth and death notices, three main, more or less universal, tendencies have emerged which warrant initial exploration: the marked rise in social inequality, the disintegration of political democracy and the decline of national sovereignty. Every new scandal is like a pustule on a sickly body: it allows us to see each element of this trio reemerge separately and operate together. The overall situation could be summed up thus: governments allow their political systems to drift towards oligarchy because they are so dependent on the mediation of an affluent minority (who invest, speculate, hire, fire and lend). If governments balk at this abandonment of the popular mandate, international pressure from concerted financial interest ensures they topple.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” As we all know only too well, the first article of the Declaration of Human Rights has never been strictly observed. Differences between people’s lots have always been due to other things than the common good: where you have the good (or bad) fortune to be born, your parents’ status, your access to education and healthcare and so on. But the belief that social mobility could overcome inequalities of birth sometimes alleviated the burden of these differences. For Alexis de Toqueville, such a hope, more common in the US than Europe, helped Americans tolerate greater disparities in income than were found elsewhere. A junior accountant from Cleveland or a young Californian without a degree could dream that

Continued on page 2

Inside this issue North Korea: scary and scared by philippe pons Page 4 France: influence through Nato by hubert védrine Page 6 Britain: in or out of the EU? by jean-claude sergeant Page 7 Kurds profit from a changing region by vicken cheterian Pages 8-9

BY MONA CHOLLET

You work and you get paid. Suggest overturning the fundamental logic of that and you will be thought mad: the idea of a guaranteed basic income – a universal regular payment that’s enough to live on, independent of paid employment – seems an aberration. We still believe that our individual subsistence depends on hard work, but reality suggests otherwise.

Many social security benefits already decouple income and work: student grants, maternity and paternity leave, old-age pensions, family allowances, unemployment benefit, French subsidies for part-time workers in entertainment industries. These may be criticised, but they prove that, if a guaranteed basic income is utopian, we already live in Utopia. As Daniel Häni and Enno Schmidt point out in their film Basic Income (1), only 41% of Germans’ income comes directly from work. In France in 2005, 30% came from redistribution via benefits: “Despite all the ideological rhetoric and despite the dismantling of the welfare state, much reviled by neoliberals, the proportion of statutory payments inexorably rose under presidents Mitterrand, Chirac and Sarkozy” (2).

It wouldn’t be impossible to recalibrate the system to protect everyone from need. A basic income would make the problem of unemployment disappear as an issue for society and as a source of anxiety for the individual. The money spent on the official goal of full employment would be saved, and there would be no justification for grants to induce companies to hire workers – the associated costs of corporate tax exemptions and reduced social security contributions rose from €1.9bn ($2.2bn) in 1992 to €30.7bn ($40bn) in 2008 (3). In 1989 the South Korean Daewoo group was given €35m ($46m) to build three factories in Lorraine, which closed in 2002 with the loss of a thousand jobs. Since a basic income would be universal and unconditional – paid to rich and poor alike and recovered from the rich through tax – the cost of administering the benefit system and

Mona Chollet is a member of Le Monde diplomatique‘s editorial team

India: why a minimum income works by benjamin fernandez Page 12 Renewables for profit or for people? by aurélien bernier Page 13 Those problem EU borders by laurent geslin and sébastien gobert

Pages 14-15

monitoring claimants (which is humiliating, intrusive and censorious) could be saved (4).

Let us define a basic income, since a measure put forward in the 1960s by economists as different as James Tobin – of the financial transactions tax – and the neoliberal Milton Friedman may perplex. (In France, the basic income as promoted by Christine Boutin of the Christian Democrats, is different from the version supported by Yves Cochet of the Greens, or by the Utopia movement, which draws support from Greens and the left.)

Neoliberals believe the basic income should be too low to make it possible to survive without a job, so would it function as a subsidy to business, as part of the dismantling of social protection. This is the rationale of Friedman’s negative income tax (see Deserving and undeserving poor, page 11). For the left, the basic income must be enough to live on – the arguments are over what ‘‘enough’’ means; public services and social security (pensions, unemployment and sickness benefits) as well as certain welfare benefits would be maintained. There is also agreement on the left on other features: it should be paid monthly to individuals rather than households, from cradle to grave (with minors receiving less than adults), without conditions or obligations, and it should be possible to combine it with income from employment.

Everyone would be able to choose what to do with their life: to go on working, enjoy their life on a low level consumption, or combine the two. Periods of unemployment would no longer be seen as suspect, since paid employment would not be the only option. Those who chose to live on the basic income would be able to devote themselves to projects they were passionate about and/or were socially useful, alone or in groups.

In 2004 two researchers at Louvain University tried to work out the effects of a basic income by studying the winners of Belgium’s Win for Life lottery, in which the prize is a monthly income. That prize and the basic income aren’t identical, though, and Baptiste Mylondo picked up something the researchers overlooked: “Whereas the recipient of an unconditional income is surrounded by other recipients, the lottery winner is completely isolated. The value of free time increases in proportion to the number of people with whom you can share it” (5). A guaranteed income would radically alter our relationship to work, time, consumption and other people – and some effects would be transferred to those

Continued on page 10

Gordon Ramsay: chef or psychologist? by marc perrenoud Page 16

My Bookmarks


Skip to main content