During the 20th century, the increase in purchasing power of the workers in Western Europe was negotiated by the labour unions and paid for by the spectacular increase in productivity of agriculture and industry: we made more and better products with less workers. This yielded generous increases of net salaries and on top of that it allowed governments to pay for schools and health care. This resulted in the general belief that the wealth of a nation is the result of labour, because it paid not only for salaries, but also for social security and other government spending. Since then, the world elite believes that labour participation is the basis of our social security system and our wealth.

There are a few problems with this belief, however.

The first problem is that with the collapse of communism in 1989, the size of the economy grew from 1 billion participants (Europe, the US, Japan and a few small countries) to 6 billion. Cheap labour supply became abundant while the world wide bargaining power of labour unions became irrelevant. Many manufacturing companies moved their production to low cost countries. The “low cost” of these countries was mainly due to the insignificant tax on labour there, compared to Western Europe, where the labour tax was between 100 and 200% of the (higher) net salaries. The saving of the high labour tax was a major cost reduction driver for companies which moved their production, much more than the net salaries of the highly qualified, well trained, loyal, productive local workers which lost their jobs. Political Europe was sleeping apparently, not realising that the corresponding financing of the social security was moving away with the factories.

The second problem is that increasingly machines, robots and computers used in production of goods and services decrease the need for human workers.

The third problem is that social security contributions from the rapidly increasing public and subsidised employment are not real, because the wallet which collects them is the same wallet which pays them: the state.

The fourth problem is that life expectancy is growing, affecting the cost for the state paid pensions. Since health care cost is much higher in old age, the cost of state paid health care increases as well.

The fifth problem is that income from savings is trending toward zero. Citizens owning property are mostly excluded from social aid provided by the state, since they are supposed to derive an income from their property. This induces a new type of poverty. Moreover, the decrease in income from capital affects overall consumer spending, also within the working class.

As a consequence, the purchasing power of the working class has stalled in Western Europe and the US since 2000. This is hidden in the national accounts because in those figures the “income” which households derive from labour is the “gross” income including social security contributions and income taxes. The latter have risen.

Some political parties start to plead the reduction of social security benefits, which would be the start of a negative spiral.

The labour tax based system is structurally unstable. When sales decrease due to economic slowdown and workers are laid off, their income decreases so they buy less leading to further sales decreases and job losses in other businesses. The “Labour Church” will tell you that the central bank then should decrease the interest rate to stimulate investment and spending. This is speculative and slow to start effect. In any case, the interest rate is now zero and hence cannot be reduced anymore. The “Labour Church” system is in deep trouble. They seem to hope for a miracle: I see no “Plan”.

There is however one stabilising factor, our social security, which makes people continue to spend money when they have no work. This hints to the fact that “Purchasing Power” could be the solution to our stalled economic system. When the economy weakens, we should inject additional purchasing power into the economy. When the economy gets overheated, we could reduce the purchasing power injection.

Purchasing Power injection, Basic Income, should replace “labour” as the motor and regulator of our economic system. The distributed purchasing power generates spending, entrepreneurship and work for those who want to earn more money. Tax on labour can only be an auxiliary source of funding if we want such a system to be stable.

Basic Income supporters are a minority still. But we have a Plan.

 

About Roland Duchatelet

Roland Duchatelet has written 10 articles.