Basic Income and the Resilience of Social Democracy
22 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2018 Last revised: 16 Jan 2019
Date Written: November 13, 2018
This essay, for a symposium on basic income and the future of paid work, argues that an unconditional basic income (UBI) cannot and should not be the foundation of a new social contract. Part I asks whether a UBI is a moral necessity today. It answers in the negative, because the classic morality of social insurance and social assistance—under which citizens have rights to a robust social minimum, and reciprocal obligations to contribute to the social product in some fashion when possible—is still quite compelling. Part II asks whether a UBI may nevertheless be a practical necessary soon, whether due to automation or the obsolescence of classic welfare state policies. Regarding technology, I argue that there is simply no evidence that a historically unprecedented automation wave is underway, or on the horizon. Regarding the welfare state, I argue that growing inequality and precarity today are not an inevitable result of the decline in manufacturing, but rather an effect of policy choices, especially choices to disempower labor. The conclusion then argues that the better way to deal with today’s problems of work and economic inequality is by building a more social democratic welfare state: one organized around generous benefits that ensure individuals’ basic needs are met and that help de-commodify labor, strong worker rights including powerful and robust unions, and policies that facilitate labor market participation.
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