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Basic Income: What are its Advantages?

Van Parijs, Belgian political philosopher, and political economist takes a theoretical look at the different conceptions of justice in his book What is a Just Society? An Introduction to the Practice of Political Philosophy (1991), in order to give an account of the expectations that have been placed on each of the political theories throughout recent history, with the aim of trying to discern the most appropriate path to follow in order to establish a definition of justice. To this end, he proposes the following: the neutrality of the state must be moderated; the active participation of citizens in decision-making; protecting culture and subcultures, as an act of public good; and, lastly, his most interesting proposition, an unconditional basic income. Thus it is through pluralist and democratic orders, starting from the foundations of liberal solidarism and drawing from other theoretical lines, that Parijs puts forward his contribution to the elaboration of a theory of justice.

Figure 1: Philippe Van Parijs in his library, Sven Cirock (2019).

This idea of a universal allowance will be the subject of much analysis from now on. What is it? Namely, universal basic income is an unconditional allowance granted to all citizens of a social group with the primary objective of reducing contingent inequalities, starting from their origin, and implicitly modifying the conception of justice by facilitating the achievement of citizens' life expectations, which would be no longer subject to "market competition or the wage relationship" (Parijs, 1991). In other words, basic income is constituted as an equalizing mechanism that abandons the ideas of equalizing inequalities so that they impact the most disadvantaged, considering that those actions stigmatize poverty. In this way, basic income attempts to rethink public assistance, to stop conceiving it as a patch and to formulate it as an origin, and thus make it a universal good from which to begin to operate.

However, the universal allowance has been criticized since its first appearance in the 19th century in Joseph Charlier's book Solution of the Social Problem, published in 1848, as Van Parijs tells us in an interview he gave for SinPermiso in 2016. Daniel Raventós, member of the magazine, PhD in Economics and professor at the University of Barcelona, summarises and responds to these criticisms in a talk hosted by TEDx Talks in Sant Cugat in 2016, Unconditional Basic Income: A rational and fair proposal, where he states the following:

  1. Considering the universal basic income as a factory of the poor makes no sense because in that case, children living under the protection of their parents should be also considered "parasites".

  2. Those who claim that this would stop people from working should be convinced to the contrary: basic income provides an incentive to seek paid employment, unlike conditional subsidies, which stop when you start working.

  3. It is something that cannot be financed; states do not have the necessary capital to promote such a measure. Studies on the subject argue precisely the opposite: governments have plenty of capacity to promote a universal allowance, just as they now make use of poverty funding.

  4. It is unfair for the rich to receive it. This is not entirely the case, as the adoption of basic income would, in turn, imply the regulation of tax revenues to finance it; therefore, this measure suggests a major tax reform that would redistribute tax payments more equitably, according to the extra income of individuals.

  5. "It is better to teach people to fish than to give them fish". This observation does not take into account those unable to fish; there is a large group of citizens who are left out of the analysis and therefore deprived of access either to full employment or, on the contrary, to certain specific jobs. So, given that "full employment" does not exist, the universal basic income becomes meaningful.

Figure 2: Activists gathered in a Basic Income’s demonstration in Canada (2020).

Given these considerations, unconditional basic income can be seen as a measure that is presumably feasible and at the same time necessary. This need is based on the youth unemployment statistics and the impossibility of prolonging economic growth without leading to a global catastrophe, as Parijs had already proposed in the interview mentioned above (2016). On the other hand, the author also addresses the monetary aspect of the salary assigned to work and assures that, currently, the part of the wage that corresponds to the work performed is minimal. Hence, the proposal of an unconditional basic income would be an ethical way of sharing the economic surplus inserted in the payroll in a more equitable and, from a liberal solidarist perspective, fairer way.

As a result of this analysis, it can be concluded that basic income is not only configured as an unavoidable, equalizing, and fair proposal but also a proposal that changes the very concept of justice, i.e. its meaning. It is now a question not only of starting from the context of the society which gave rise to an understanding of justice but also of reconfiguring its very basis; changing the paradigm of the situation and giving rise to a transversal transfer of the existing aesthetic regimes, sensibilities, and perception. Material existence is then first guaranteed, while at the same time the real freedom of individuals, which was previously nothing more than a fact contingent on initial inequalities, is given a response.

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1 comentário

15 de dez. de 2021

Very insightful and informative article!

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Alicia Macías Recio

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