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Could basic income play a role in the fight against unfree labour?

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A series of articles concerning the role which basic income (BI) could play in the fight against unfree labour in now on openDemocracy.

The introduction by Neil Howard sets the tone for the debate: even though many thinks that coercion by evildoers is the main cause for modern day slavery and human trafficking, this is not the case. Exploited workers often consent to their situation because is their only option to make ends meet.  The question arises: “if we really want to end ‘modern slavery’, and indeed if we’re serious about protecting people from all forms of exploitation, then why not simply ensure that everyone always has a minimum amount of money in their pocket such that they can say no to bad work?” Which is exactly what Universal Basic Income advocates maintain.

The debate starts with an article by Guy Standing, “Basic income and the three varieties of freedom”, libertarian, liberal, and republican freedom. As “freedom costs money”, the impact of the introduction of a Basic Income is greater than its monetary value. Guy Standing explains that the BI works by changing structurally the society in which it is implemented, ant its “emancipatory value is greater… than the money value”.

Simon Binrbaun and Jurgen De Wispeleare, with “The power to walk away: is basic income a bridge too far?”, are concerned with whether basic income really enhances workers’ freedom or not. Their point is that the rationale of BI as an instrument of freedom is clear, as it would endow workers with more contractual power, but when the proposal is faced with reality, some concerns arise. Firstly, the monetary amounts provided with UBI under current proposals seems insufficient to give workers true exit power from their job. Secondly, even if workers were to opt out from a job, the structure of the job market is such that it allows for horizontal but not vertical transfer. And thirdly, it remains to be seen how employers would react to more contractual power from their employees, having them the possibility to use automation as a substitute for human workforce.

Karl Widerquist’s article, “End the threat of economic destitution now”, focuses on how
“UBI is not something for nothing. It is the just compensation for all the one-sided rules of property and property regulations that society imposes on individuals.” Because governments enforce property rights systems that block many from accessing naturals resources, poverty and destitution are not the result of personal choices, but of the lack of freedom implied in this allocation of resources. UBI would thus acts as “… the just compensation for all the one-sided rules of property and property regulations society inherently imposes on individuals”.

Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, with “Basic Income bows to the master”, accuses basic income of just confirming the domination of money over our lives. The elephant in the room, she says, is the lack of a discourse about money per se. Pointing her finger not at the lack of money nor at its unfair distribution, she states that the problem is human dependence on money; one that cannot be solved with UBI. UBI, in her view, “will contribute to the perpetuation and subordination of humans to money”, and it wouldn’t bring dignity to people, as it would only assure material subsistence.

Feminist politics and a case for basic income”, by Kathi WeeksandCameron Thibos, considers the potential for UBI to fix the severance of work and wages.
“Wages do not compensate workers, and especially women, for most of the work they do. A basic income could change that.” Inspired by the Wages for Housework movement in the 1970s, the authors discuss of how much of the activities people (and especially women) have to perform are not remunerated. UBI can be the right tool to enhance freedom in the household and in society as a whole.

In “Basic income can transform women’s lives”, Renana Jhabvalaexplores the result of basic income pilots in India. Starting from a small study in Delhi to the one of Madhya Pradesh, with eleven thousands taking part, we learn how the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a women’s trade union, became one of the earliest advocates of basic income in India. This happened because the introduction of UBI brought on positive welfare effects, an increase in equity, and generally economic growth effects.
“Our pilots showed that basic income has the power to transform the lives of whole families, and especially those of women. Now it is time for India to take the next step and make basic income a reality for all.”

More information at:

Universal basic income, a way though the storm?”, openDemocracy, September 16, 2019.

About Daniele Fabbri

Daniele Fabbri has written 22 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.

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