EUROPE: Basic income is an essential approach for social democracy, says Varoufakis

In a recent interview with ‘The Economist’, Yanis Varoufakis says basic income is an ‘absolutely essential’ approach for the future of social democracy.

This is a major endorsement from a rising star of the European left. Varoufakis is a Greek economist who served as Finance Minister of Greece under the first Syriza government installed in January 2015. He recently launched ‘Democracy in Europe Movement 2025’ (DiEM25), with the aim of transforming the European Union from an elitist technocracy into a transparent and democratic institution that serves people’s interests.

In the interview, Varoufakis links the case for a basic income to the future of social democracy:

Today we are facing a serious danger of large masses of people who have low economic value. This is a powder keg in the foundations of society. Making sure that the great wealth-creation which capital is capable of does not light this dynamite — the basic income approach— is absolutely essential, but it is not part of the social democratic tradition. Think about it. The post-war consensus was all about national insurance, it was not about basic income. Now, either we are going to have a basic income that regulates this new society of ours, or we are going to have very substantial social conflicts that get far worse with xenophobia and refugees and migration and so forth.

Further on, he adds:

So what do we need to do to capture hope? That is the issue. In the 50s and 60s the dream of shared prosperity was that which gave hope. (…) So I think the basic income approach is capable of doing this as long as (…) you can explain to them where the money will come from, that it will not be simply debt, that we are going to generate a lot more income and a chunk of it is going to fund this. But we, the Left, must not be fearful.

Surfers should be fed

Varoufakis also mentions the famous controversy initiated by Philippe van Parijs and John Rawls about whether ‘surfers should be fed’. Varoufakis stands with van Parijs:

I gave a talk some time ago in the United States and said: yes, surfers in California must be fed by the rest of us. We may not like that, we may feel they are bums, but they deserve a basic income too.

OK, they don’t “deserve”, but they should have a basic income, because this is the way to stabilise society. But you need politicians that are capable of going out there and saying: You see that lazy bum over there that you hate? We should feed him. And we should make sure he has a house. Because if he does not have a house and he gets sick and so on, he is a greater burden for all of us.

It is the first time Varoufakis has explicitly endorsed basic income, but he has made allusions to it in in the past.

Back in 2010, he co-authored with Stuart Holland a report called ‘The Modest Proposal’ in which he elaborated four proposals to fix the structural crisis of the European monetary union. Under his 4th proposal, the Emergency Social Solidarity Programme (ESSP), Varoufakis developed the idea of implementing an EU-wide food stamp-style scheme as an emergency measure to reduce poverty, to unify Europe and to redistribute across all European states the trade surplus accumulated by countries like Germany. Such a scheme could even be financed by the European Central Bank:

CC picture: EU Council Eurozone

About Stanislas Jourdan

Stanislas Jourdan has written 43 articles.


The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.


  • Universal Basic income for all is the next step towards a truly civilised society. Imagine being more truly free than ever before in the history of human existence. Free to choose to work or not. Capitalism will no longer control us and if we choose to work, companies will have to treat us with respect and the respect will be mutual. Minds will be free to be truly creative and society will improve exponentially because of un-stressed input from a happy people. UBI is very progressive. Also we must work towards cancelling all debt as a way of reseting society. Interest rates must also be ended as interest leads to debt. Profit is only needed to cover debt. We print enough money to circulate to create the cycle the fuel to keep society functioning. We must also be working towards a “Resource Based Society” Jacque Fresco’s beautiful visionary plan to lead to true human civilisation The dream of escaping the chaos into our true new world order is becoming a reality. We have been stuck for so long in this seemingly never ending cycle of debt and capitalistic slavery. Now the next stage of Socialising our society is real we cannot mess this up or we could revert to the middle ages again and lose the knowledge we have gained for our transformation. The future is beautiful 8O)

    • Andrew Middleton, you say “we could revert to the middle ages again”. In one respect this is happening as a result of neoliberalism, with the increasing financial and social gap between the exceedingly wealthy and the rest of us whose moderate wealth has been robbed and eroded to support the owners of big businesses and irresponsible banks. The system is a modern version of feudalism.

  • André Coelho

    He was sure to come on (the basic income) board. 😛

  • John Mobley

    @ Andrew Middleton

    LOL. This is hilarious your post. How much kool-aid did you drink?

    “Free to choose to work or not”. Socialism is a failed joke of the past kiddo. Maybe you need to read some history books. When someone is free to choose whether to work or not, society gradually becomes lazy and breaks itself apart.

    Who chooses to work? You work because you need to. People will not work as hard to support others. First world to second in a heartbeat. Labor becomes more expensive with this garbage system and causes inflation rates to fly. So your basic income becomes not basic anymore.

    Just wait lazy boy, when the economy collapses you will be sorry if this garbage ever passes

    • Andrew Middleton

      Never mind mobley. Someday you may actually have a clue.

    • Tina Obias

      You really should check your ‘OWN’ truth – do you get paid to troll – or have you grown a pair because you think you are being incognito- remember there is something much bigger and brighter than the noble Troll – you know you will create a troll look about yourself- especially in personality – and you better reconcile yourself with the light if you’re cabal… LOOK UP NESARA AND GESARA.

    • Anita Tuesley

      The word “academic’ can be traced back to ancient Greece. The city states’ elites had much free time, being able to afford slaves to do all their work. They dedicated this free time to pursuits that gave us great thinkers like Plato. Throughout our history our great thinkers have been those who don’t need to spend their lives tired to work to make a living. Also, the fact that full employment is achieved when there’s work available proves that people want to be active and are generally not lazy.

    • NoDifference

      It’s OK for wealthy people to kick back and take 8 vacations a year when most people cannot afford to take even one…in their lifetimes?

      Uhm. Who is the lazy class here?

  • Noelio

    Hey Jonh, when machines take over chicken factories for example. There are thousands of people working there cutting chicken by hand the whole day, when robotics can do it in 10 minutes and the owner could save millions in labor. Jonh if you were the owner of this chicken factory, what would YOU do to save these workers from losing their job and poverty?

  • zame

    ..another work and another job..
    *work,avocation contributes to balance human..& not relation to money to live,.
    Finding money to live..prevents the proper intellectual development of man
    *another business

    • Peter

      The problem is that the population is growing and jobs are shrinking, because robotics are taking over. Leaving millions of people without hope to get a job in the future.

  • R. Overby

    In the modern world fossil fuel driven machines does the work of N workers. How large is N? Nobody knows, but very large!

    Those armies of invisible workers cannot be paid so why not give a very small portion (basic income) of what they would have been paid to those who are unemployed?

    That grasping the simple truth of the above requires some uncommonly deep and corageous thinking is not my fault. Gradually and spontaneously it is actually happening already without economists being able to register it consciously.

  • One has to look deeper than they way people are on the surface.

    The majority of people are good people that have been caught up in a capitalistic divide and rule society. And yes! There is criminality because of desperation, poverty and a real need to survive, to amount to something in this life.

    Divide and rule label people as scroungers, lazy or benefit cheats etc to demonise them and turn the public against them. Eventually people become the labels they are given when they are constantly told that is what they are via media or people in the street. Low self-worth becomes a self-perpetuating prophecy.

    The majority are angry and would not have chosen how their lives are turning out but have lost their self-esteem because of constant attack on their character.

    Universal Basic Income will liberate the homeless the poverty stricken and even criminality will reduce. It has been proven in a study where homeless people were given a certain amount of money, they did use the money wisely.

    Laziness is another capitalistic label to make one feel guilty if one is not working as fast as the next person, we are not robots.

    We have been conditioned to believe that we have to work to be of any worth to society and in the current capitalistic society we have to contribute or we are considered scroungers.

    We are human why should we have to be a slave to work to survive, just barely survive in many instances because of the crumby wages the 1% currently allow us.

    Some that have been conditioned by society maybe lazy but then again given liberty the majority may very well prove us wrong. We need to have a little more faith in the decency of most human beings not just what we are told by a capitalistic government.

    Just imagine if you were told everyday that you are a lazy scrounger, the system was against you and there was know way out. Maybe you would give in and become what they tell you you are. Because one cannot continually argue against the masses, so anything for a quite life ayy.

    UBI will free people to make their own choices and as time and generations move on people will surprise by actually starting to live their own dreams in life to aspire to be who they want to be. After all! We ain’t born bad.

    Ask yourself. What have you ever wanted to do with your life if you were free and you will find that most people want something very similar. Not what you might imagine because of capitalistic indoctrination.

    We have a right to be truly free

    People are starving in the street and outside shops with an abundance of food currently denied to them.

  • Merlina Waterworth

    I completed a first degree at a University in the eighties in a “School for Independent Study’ in London, that took a radical approach to higher education which gave people the freedom to design their own syllabus based around a topic that interested them,

    This was in the context of education, but it demonstrated how people become highly motivated when they are free to pursue what really calls them and inspires them. Learning to be a team player and participate in a group was also a requirement. The result was that a strong community spirit naturally evolved amongst the students.

    Therefore I think UBI that gives people a similar kind of freedom would be equally successful – and even more so if combined this model of education that encouraged people from an early age to pursue their true passions and interests.

  • the power of the pen is mighty, instead of laws of money creation by private interests for profit we could have laws of money creation by public interest for the public good. Bankers would say money creation is the banks business and the government should get out of the banking business. Money creation is the governments business, and banks should GET OUT of the governments business! 🙂 Instead of radically changing anything government could seize the ownership stocks of the Federal Reserve and split with all the counties in the country. County governments could incorporate banks to design basic income plans, with plan designs to encourage work, with higher payments for those with at least part time work for 10 years. Public banks are the answer with the pens of law.

  • Inventing the Future by N Srnicek & A Williams includes a brief history of and argument for Universal Basic income (pp118 ff) as part of a manifesto for an achievable postcapitalist world. Publisher Verso has apparently sent copies to all the members of the Shadow Cabinet. Hope they are reading it.

  • Bill Hughes

    The existing “free” market capitalist system cannot cope with massive unemployment, whether caused by increasing automation, financial instability of overstretched bank debt as in the 2007 – 2009 near meltdown or the “normal” economic cycle of boom and bust. Widespread social unrest, rioting looting as in London and other cities in the UK in 2011 will become the norm. Society and economy as we know it will become impossible. Plus the fact that even if economic growth is achieved in the short term it cannot continue indefinitely as resources are finite, pollution and other unintended consequences multiply. Therefore to introduce universal guaranteed income for all and a steady state economy becomes a no brainer for our long term survival

  • Nick

    If you think about the positive financial implications, the UBI would be almost self financing. The income when added to an existing workers income would be taxable. Increased VAT revenues. People in work as well, could actually afford to save, reducing any future welfare concerns. Much low level crime would be eliminated. The majority of people are not inherently lazy. I believe many would use the security of the UBI to do voluntary work, educate themselves to a higher standard.
    There may be no choice regarding this. Over a million retail jobs are expected to be lost over the next decade. Robots do not shop or pay taxes.
    When the average CEO earns 300 times as much as an average workers wage, then that shows there is plenty of money in the system.
    Even in that bastion of capitalism, the USA, their founding fathers said there should be an upper limit on how much an individual can earn.

  • Andrew

    Food for thought 8O)

    What if we did not have a monetary system

    Resource based economies.

    What we make of our world our home is up to all of us 8O)

    What if we did everything for free 8O)

    What if we built houses with just the sweat of our brow and gave them to people to live and house their families?

    What if we grew the food and shared the food for free?

    What if teachers just taught the kids without needing a salary knowing that they had a free comfortable home and free food to go home to at the end of their work?

    What if healthcare was totally free and Doctors and nurses and everyone associated with healthcare studied their vocation for free and cared for all without the prejudice that a monetary system causes?

    What if we had a totally sharing society

    What if fuel was provided for free and if we wanted to travel go on holiday because we just could?

    What if we could book our holiday our flight/holiday as usual for free?

    What if we had an unlimited renewable energy world and we could fuel our transport and go where we wanted to go in a world without borders?

    What if we still worked to maintain our infrastructure our society without the need for wages/payment would we love our jobs more?

    What if work was automated and we did not have to do the mundane work?

    What if innovation still needed people to work and create but for no wages?

    Would we work more willingly and love our work more if we had an abundance of food and home comfort?

    Would we still have fast-food would we need fast-food and the likes do we really enjoy fast-food or is it just a treat for our hard work and low-self esteem?

    Would we even create the concept of fast-food?

    What if we did not have to worry about our local economies and lack of funds?

    What if we did not have to fight for survival would we need borders or walls?

    What if everything was free and we went to the shops to stock up on our food or clothing?

    What if after a period of time as people became accustomed to the idea that everything was free that people would begin to self-regulate their needs and did not feel the need to horde to survive, what if?

    What if scientists continued their work and worked for the benefit of society would we still need to create destructive devices or would scientists be more focused on pure helpful science?

    Do we really need monetary systems?

    Remember that everything is free in the whole world!

    If we weren’t hungry and had a comfortable home would we feel the need to resort to violence?

    Is our current society system the only way we could live?

    Are we currently stuck on the treadmill of a societal narrative created by us and find it hard to make the transfer to a new way of living?

    Why do we have to struggle for the existence we all want in a monetary system that is restrictive if we do it for free we can achieve much more progress than when the money simply runs out and all grinds to a halt when we could continue progression for free.

    What type of person needs more than this?

    What would you add to this list?

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