Editor’s note: The use of the term ‘basic income’ or ‘universal income’ here does not correspond to BIEN’s definition of basic income, since the payments each month will fluctuate with income. ‘Socle citoyen’ corresponds more closely to a Negative Income Tax, adjusted on a monthly basis.
On November 26 2020, the National Assembly voted on the resolution tabled by the group Agir Ensemble launching a public debate on the creation of a universal income called “Socle citoyen.” Why do you welcome this vote?
Marc de Basquiat: This vote is historic for three reasons. First of all, it was very broad, bringing together the votes of deputies belonging to five political groups close to the centre of the political spectrum: LREM, Agir Ensemble, MoDem, Libertés et Territoires, Socialists and related parties. Credit for this result goes to Valérie Petit, a northern representative, who launched and led an informal working group on the Socle citoyen project based on the platform we published in the Observateur on May 4 with the support of 80 co-signatories, including 50 parliamentarians. In-depth work was carried out, with a series of remote (because of Covid) meetings. The 48 deputies who tabled the resolution voted on November 26th really know the stakes and the key principles of the technical solution that we propose to study.
The second reason to applaud is the strong support of the La République En Marche deputies. Seventy of them voted in favour of the Agir Ensemble group’s resolution. At a time when many people have doubts about representative democracy, we can salute here the joint search for consensual solutions for our country by representatives from diverse groups, including the governing party. Let us recall that at its creation in 1988 the Revenu Minimum d’Insertion in 1988 received the deputies almost unanimous support. Yes, a reform as ambitious as the one proposed by this resolution aims to achieve consensus from all parties of the National Assembly. This is the process that Brigitte Bourguignon, Minister Delegate for Autonomy, supported with her speech.
The third reason to celebrate this advance is the fiscal nature of the Socle citoyen proposal that it is to be studied. Let us quote from the enacted text:
“The Socle citoyen is unprecedented in that it combines tax reform and improvements in social benefits. First of all, we propose to establish the universality of income tax: every French person, from the first euro of income, is taxed proportionally. This very fact constitutes being a part of and being responsible to the national community. It links one to the collective destiny and at the same time ensures assistance and solidarity.
With the mechanism of the Socle citoyen, the universal income becomes an individual tax credit, negative or positive. Thanks to tax withholding at the source, calculation and payment are now possible in almost real time. This is one of the great social benefits of this major tax reform: it makes it possible to calculate and automatically pay out the Socle citoyen, based on the universal tax, at the same time the reform achieves universality.
The fact that universal income is approached from a tax perspective revolutionizes the question of its economic feasibility. It is not a question of creating an nth social benefit that is painfully financed, but, first of all, of ensuring that all citizens are involved, in their own way, in the financing of public services. The same “right for all” is possible because, beforehand, we ensure the same “fiscal duty for all.”
Is this a sign that something is changing, at the parliamentary level and elsewhere, with regard to universal basic income?
Despite the trauma of the 2017 presidential campaign and the failure of Benoît Hamon’s project for a Universal Existence Income, many—of all political stripes, I can attest to that—grasped the importance of a transfer mechanism that would automatically guarantee a minimum of resources to everyone, regardless of the vagaries of life. But until recently, we hesitated to talk about it for fear of being suspected of providing a caution for the Hamonist party, Generation-S.
I believe that with the Covid-19 crisis, we all understand that the issues we are facing go far beyond political posturing and partisan arrangements. I am happy that the only Hamonist deputy in the Assembly, Régis Juanico, has lent his voice to the resolution drafted by Liberal deputy Valérie Petit. It is by working together that our elected officials will be able to re-inspire politics!
On the other hand, I am disappointed that no Les Républicains representatives dared to break with a conservative voting directive. The speech of LR deputy Stéphane Viry started well, but its conclusion is saddening:
“The group Les Républicains salutes the willingness of the National Assembly, the most essential forum for public debate, to address this major issue, since it touches on the fight against poverty, for work, and social cohesion. These are all foundations on which to build a social project, national cohesion, dynamism for our country. As part of our efforts, we must constantly, all together, open up new horizons. (…) You are right to put this debate on the table, and our group is very much in favour of a frank reflection on work, on activity for all, on social protection, on the fight against poverty. However, as it stands, as formulated, we will not follow your proposal.”
In 2016, the Senate had carried out a mission of information on basic income, in which all the political movements, from the right to the communists, took part, leading to the formulation of a consensual report that illuminated the way forward. Let us hope that the 11 deputies who voted against the resolution on November 26 will discover, moving forward, that the Socle citoyen has no other ambition than to strengthen cohesion, economic dynamism and fraternity in our country.
What are the liberal arguments to defend the proposal of a universal basic income and what form does it take in this framework?
What seems to me to be common to all liberals—whether one feels on the right or on the left for that matter—is the importance one places on individual choice. A Socle citoyen can be formulated as follows: everyone pools the same share of their income (around 30%) and benefits from the same individual transfer (around 500 euros per month). With this single rule, which is easy to implement using the mechanism of withholding tax, everyone is in the same boat and knows exactly how the income tax they pay or the assistance they receive will evolve according to the events in their lives: change of job or loss of work, marriage or divorce, etc. the impact is always easy to calculate.
Such a proposal is not really a revolution. In fact, for tax households that are subject to the 30% marginal rate, my proposal is just a reformulation of the current tax calculation, with an identical result. For 2020 income, taxpayers in this bracket pay a tax whose monthly calculation is 30% of the taxable income of the previous month, minus €498.52 per tax share (let’s say €500 for a single person and €1,000 for a couple). This would not change much.
The Socle citoyen amounts to applying the tax calculation formula for wealthy taxpayers to everyone! A single person without income who currently lives with an RSA of €497.01 plus a housing allowance would receive €500 and still receive the same housing allowance. No change in his or her case. On the other hand, all other cases of poor and low-income households would be winners, to what extent, depending on what they have today.
You have been defending universal basic income for several years, as president of the Association pour l’Instauration d’un Revenu d’Existence (AIRE) and as a Free Generation expert. Do you think that the coronavirus crisis can bring about a change in opinion?
In March, with the crisis, millions of people discovered unemployment. In restaurants, transport, household services, construction, shops… All these jobs where you work hard, where you get up early. The State has multiplied measures, first by taking over from employers to pay more than half of the wages! We can see that a hazard can bring the bravest of workers to their knees, making them dependent on the community to ensure their subsistence.
This invites everyone to question the solidity of their inclusion in society. Am I in this position only because I deserve it? Do I owe nothing to anyone? How could the country have endured a “laissez-faire” logic, where everyone was left to fend for themselves in order to make a living despite the fear of catching a virus—whose danger was not really understood at the time?
Today, everyone knows they are vulnerable. Everyone has also experienced their own docility! During the first confinement, we were happy to cheer from the windows, it gave us a recreation and a semblance of social interaction. But deep down, we really understood that we are vulnerable and that we have a vital need of others. This is why the ” Socle citoyen ” project speaks to everyone: we contribute as citizens—through taxes—to ensuring a vital base for everyone. In these circumstances, no one is spreading foolish rhetoric about handouts?
Is the Socle citoyen universel an effective response to the economic crisis that is looming with the coronavirus?
No one knows how the crisis will evolve. In the second quarter of 2020, China is the only G20 country whose GDP has grown. Germany posted -12%, France -18%, India -24%. The second wave caused us to fall back, less sharply, but global economic balances will take time to readjust. Public debt is exploding. Even if it is relatively painless in the short term, no one can predict what interest rates will be in 10 years. Our accumulated debts may weigh very heavily, preventing governments from playing their role as buffers against social shocks. At that time, we will be happy to have established a Socle citoyen, the universal distribution of part of the income among all, so that no one will be in total destitution.
We can also venture the hypothesis that our country will regain the growth necessary to adapt and face the planetary challenges. Here again, the egalitarian sharing of a portion of the fruits of growth will be a tremendous driving force for national unity, a multiplier of energies.
Advocates for basic income have long argued that it is much more than just a poverty relief measure. It is a matter of common justice that would enhance freedom and provide basic security for all. A new survey across six major European countries shows that people understand its potential to improve their lives. Not only do large majorities in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain favour basic income pilots and basic income as a permanent policy. The survey also reveals the advantages people believe a basic income would bring for themselves.
The poll, conducted independently by YouGov, found that two-thirds or more of respondents in the six countries were in favour of pilots and a national basic income system. Excluding the few ‘don’t knows’, support ranged from 65% in France to 87% in Portugal. Women were generally more supportive, particularly in Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
Even before the pandemic, European citizens were suffering from insecurity, stress and precarity, linked to rising inequalities. The pandemic has made things worse. In an era of shocks, policies to strengthen individual and societal resilience are vital. Instead, governments have resorted to measures aimed chiefly at propping up businesses, including furlough schemes, that have worsened inequalities and eroded resilience.
Resilience means being able to handle and recover from shocks. It is about feeling in control, able to handle setbacks because we can envisage a better future. But it cannot be provided by today’s labour market, increasingly characterised by flexible labour relations, insecure jobs and fluctuating wages, or by existing welfare systems, or by better public services alone, even though those are needed.
The survey provides cogent support for arguments in favour of basic income. High proportions of respondents said a basic income would reduce anxiety – over half in Poland and Portugal, and more than 40% overall, especially among women and youth. It is now well established that chronic anxiety increases the risk of mental and physical illness. A basic income offers the prospect of reducing ill-health and demands on health services. It might almost pay for itself.
Respondents also believed a basic income would open up opportunities for a better way of living and working. A high proportion of youths and women said it would give them more financial independence – 50% of young Italians and 41% of young Germans, for instance. This would reduce their sense of precarity, the feeling of being a supplicant reliant on others for discretionary help.
One horror of the pandemic has been the surge in domestic violence. Experiments have shown that, once women have basic income security, domestic tensions decline and women are more likely to walk away from abusive relationships.
Many youths said a basic income would enable them to pursue further education or training, including 49% in Portugal, 53% in Spain and 27% in Germany. This reflects the current inability of the precariat to develop their capabilities in the way they choose, because they must take whatever job they can get and put in as many hours of labour as possible. Basic security is conducive to the development of skills and a more educated society.
A basic income would also improve the quality of living. Young people, in particular, said it would enable them to take part in leisure activities that they cannot afford to do now – about a third in Portugal and Spain, for example.
And a basic income would foster work beyond ‘jobs’. Men as well as women, among all age groups, said a basic income would enable them to devote more time to their family. This was the case for one in five in Germany and more than a quarter of both men and women in Poland. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the extent to which society suffers from a ‘care deficit’. And pilots have shown that a basic income encourages men to do more care work, helping to weaken the gender dualism that feminists rightly condemn.
Basic income would also foster a more entrepreneurial attitude. A significant proportion of respondents said it would encourage them to launch a small-scale business – 8% in Italy, 10% in France, 13% in Germany and 19% in Portugal. Entrepreneurial enthusiasm was even greater among youths – 14% in Italy, for instance. Many youths also said a basic income would enable them to devote more time to volunteering or social activism, including over a quarter of youths in Germany and 13% in France. Society surely wants more socially engaged and active youth.
One lesson surely learned during the pandemic is that most of us are vulnerable, not just to illness but also to shocks to our finances, relationships and lifestyles. In what was a cross-section of people in six relatively rich countries, only small minorities said a basic income would make little difference to their lives – 11% in Italy and 6% in Portugal, for example. Long-term basic security is still something most of us value.
We should implore European policymakers to launch basic income pilots in communities around Europe. Ideally, some courageous governments would move in the direction of a national system. But failing that, surely it is time for pilots to explore the transformative potential of basic income. According to this survey, over 70% of Europeans want them.
Guy Standing is Professorial Research Associate, SOAS University of London, and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network.
A new film is hoping to answer the question of whether life itself should be subsidized. Directors Sean Blacknell and Wayne Walsh have produced a new documentary “The Cost of Living” which discusses the mental and physical burden placed on those with unstable incomes and whether basic income is the right remedy.
The film interviews many prominent basic income scholars, such as Guy Standing and Barb Jacobson. It is focused on the issues specifically facing the United Kingdom, where there are “3.5 million people in ‘in-work poverty.’” With the arrival of COVID-19, the film-makers argue the discussion about basic income is even more pertinent than ever.
The filmmakers expressed that many of the current programs in the UK are failing to rise to the moment with extreme distress around the country, such as the universal credit which they called “dehumanizing.”
“You have to prove you are deserving,” Blacknell said.
Steve Botrill, the deputy chief executive of Urban Outreach Bolton, is interviewed in the documentary. He said that much of the current stress on the poor in the UK is due to reductions in benefits and more stringent conditions placed on social services.
As a result, Botrill said that this is a cause for the “astronomical” growth of food banks in the UK in recent years.
In the documentary, it is argued that much of a person’s wealth is dependent on luck, such as where a person is born.
Initially, the film was going to take a broad look at social programs, but narrowed to basic income as they moved forward. In the long-run, the filmmakers noted that this discussion around basic income will continue to be important because of the changing economic and technology trends around the world.
However, the filmmakers emphasized that after interviewing many scholars they do not believe basic income is a “panacea” on its own. By interviewing a wide range of viewpoints, they hoped to create a “more nuanced take” on basic income.
With new spikes of COVID-19 around the world, Wayne and Blacknell hope the film can reach a wider audience to facilitate this debate. It is now available on Amazon Prime for streaming.
A silent division between the rural and the urban has been rapidly deepening in recent decades in our country. The recovery of the rural world as a space for full and dignified life has been postponed for too long. Since the times of the Agrarian Reform, there has not been a project in Chile to take the countryside out of its deterioration as the country’s “backyard” at the service of the export-oriented agro-industry, energy production and reception of waste from the city, a role to which it has unfortunately been relegated.
Non-urban areas offer the possibility of facing the great challenges of our time: those who inhabit them can take care of the biodiversity of their territories, defend them from damaging extractive projects and dedicate themselves seriously to developing projects of food sovereignty.
But all this is possible only with a minimum level of economic security. This key element would allow, for example, to break the dependence on agribusiness or industries as harmful as salmon farming in the southern coasts of our country. This model has disrupted populations that had had little previous access to money, entramping them in precarious and dangerous forms of work. A Universal Basic Income could be a first step to strengthen the position and possibilities of rural inhabitants to make other life projects a reality.
A practical way in which the implementation of a Universal Basic Income could recognize this historical debt and urgent transformation project would be by prioritizing provinces or regions with a high proportion of rurality for its roll-out. This would allow an early evaluation of the effects of this policy in revitalizing local economic circuits that in many cases are completely depressed, as well as encouraging a return to the countryside of people who perhaps cut off their relationship with their ancestral territories due to the need to have cash. but they still have the tools, the possibilities and the desire to make life outside the city something meaningful.
It would be an opportunity for the flourishing and recovery of activities such as eco and small-scale agrotourism, non-invasive grazing, or the cultivation of grains, fruits or vegetables that have been lost because they do not fit with the agro-exporting model, but that strengthen and enrich our bio-food heritage. It could also stop the urgency of deforestation by increasing the arable areas for commodities such as forest plantations in the south of the country. It could, in short, break with vicious circles that have undermined the social-ecological foundation of much of the Chilean territory due to the urgency of having income (often very low) on a day-to-day basis.
Having a resilient countryside is essential for a society that is entering the period of most important ecological transformations since the emergence of the modern human species. Challenges as important as increasing drought and desertification can be better faced if those who inhabit these territories in crisis have a guaranteed income.
In sum, leaving an urban-centric perspective makes the potential positive effects of having a UBI in Chile even more evident, and its implementation more urgent.
The local organising committee for the 2021 Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Congress in Glasgow are very excited to announce our call for papers for this virtual, online event.
We are inviting you to submit papers and pitches for talks, workshops and other activities that should be represented online at the 22nd BIEN Congress. To submit yours please follow this link.
The theme for the Congress is ‘Idea to Reality’. We want to consider how we take basic income from a big idea for big change to a reality.
The Congress will be hosted digitally only from Thursday 18th – Saturday 21st August 2021. Exact details are to be confirmed but this will be a programme packed with perspectives on basic income in Scotland, the wider UK and around the world.
We will present insights into the status of basic income in Scotland, including: the feasibility study into a Scottish BI experiment, political attitudes and work on basic income, civil society perspectives, creative and cultural demonstrations that represent the Scottish debate.
We welcome your contribution to the Congress. To submit your proposal for consideration please complete this proposal form before the deadline Friday 12 March 2021.
We will be encouraging presenters to submit their papers before the Congress so that they are available for all participants, as attendance will be online only. The changed circumstances of this Congress mean that access to papers and presentations in advance will be more important and inclusive for all. Having these available online will also facilitate feedback and review by a wider range of participants and so improve the potential submission to Basic Income Studies and other outlets. We would welcome the presentations by 6th August 2021.
Publication opportunities: Papers presented at the BIEN congress will go into the pool of papers to be submitted for the Basic Income Studies prize winning essay of 2021, if submitted by October 1st – the annual deadline for the BIS Prize entry.
To be considered for the BIS prize, papers would have to be of the standard scholarly format and length of academic paper journal submissions. The editors of Basic Income Studies also encourage submissions of congress papers of a suitable format to the regular review process. Papers entered this way will also be considered for the prize’.
Taiwan held its first-ever basic income march on Sunday, attracting over 100 participants to rally in front of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan. Current and former legislators joined the march led by UBI Taiwan, calling for greater discussion of a youth dividend and guaranteeing the right to a basic livelihood for all Taiwanese.
A prominent national legislator in Taiwan People’s Party, Tsai Pi-ru, gave a speech at the opening of the march in front of the Legislative Yuan. She said she attended because she wanted to show her support for Taiwan’s young people who are “bravely” speaking out. Tsai discussed the possibility of using a carbon tax and dividend as a step toward basic income.
“While participating in the basic income parade today, I saw young friends stand up. They are courageous to stand up for a new idea that is easily misunderstood,” she said.
UBI Taiwan informally began in 2016 and was formally established in 2018. In that time, the group has held three international conferences and produced multiple white papers analyzing methods for implementing basic income. Most recently, UBI Taiwan released a white paper advocating for an emergency basic income, meeting with legislators in early 2020 to discuss the possibility of including cash transfers in Taiwan’s stimulus measures.
The organizers said there were three main demands of the march: guarantee the right to basic subsistence, protect a sense of economic security, and prevent working families from being trapped in low-paying jobs.
As the global pandemic continues to rage on, Taiwan has not experienced a local transmission for over 200 days which allowed the rally to take place without restrictions. Nonetheless, march organizers said the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic created a new urgency for the basic income discussion in Taiwan. Despite expecting modest growth overall this year, Taiwan has experienced uneven effects from the global downturn which disproportionately harmed low-income families.
Former national legislator and magistrate of Tainan county Su Huan-chih said at the march that promoting the basic income system will help young people increase their flexibility and opportunities in choosing jobs, and will also help the unemployed maintain their dignity.
The General-Secretary of Taiwan’s Green Party Rita Jhang said basic income “provides universal protection for every person, alleviating the plight of exploitation and overwork.” Jhang said Taiwan’s current social welfare system with strict conditions and qualifications is not well suited for the rapidly changing modern era.
“When people no longer have to worry about their basic necessities, they can make longer-term plans for their lives and they can engage in more creative and public welfare work,” Jhang said.
According to Tsai, many of the criticisms against basic income were made 30 years ago when Taiwan began implementing its early social welfare system. At the time, she said many were worried social welfare would bankrupt the government. But welfare is not the area where Taiwan’s government is wasting money, she said.
“The biggest problem is that the government wastes money to build a lot of large and improper construction projects and unused government buildings. These wasteful projects create debt and harm the natural environment,” Tsai said.
To help educate the public on the issues facing Taiwan, the rally included booths to educate the public on basic income, share real stories related to basic income and the global basic income movement, as well as an open space for the public to discuss questions about basic income and the future tech-driven economy.
Prior to the march, prominent basic income scholars from around the world sent their advice and well wishes to Taiwan including Sarath Davala, the chairman of Basic Income Earth Network. Davala said that he hopes the basic income march in Taiwan becomes an “example” for other countries in the region.
“The march that is being organized in Taiwan is a sign of how strong the UBI Taiwan movement has come to and it has the capacity to provide and influence the government to adopt this innovative system,” Davala said.
University of London Professor Guy Standing said in his video address to Taiwan’s march that the pandemic has shown “the resilience of society and the resilience of all of us as individuals will depend on the resilience of the weakest members of society.”
“Now is the moment for a basic income movement and a basic income system. Brave politicians must take this opportunity and usher in a better society,” Standing said.
For Tsai, Taiwan’s first basic income march was a starting point for a larger conversation about how to reimagine Taiwan’s society for the future. She discussed how basic income could help address the problems of Taipei’s high housing prices and the displacement caused by Artificial Intelligence, while encouraging greater risk-taking and entrepreneurship.
“The great changes in the world start from small places. The world is always changing, and our imagination needs to be liberated,” Tsai said.
UBI Taiwan Chairman Tyler Prochazka took the stage to discuss why he has advocated for basic income in Taiwan. Prochazka moved from the United States to Taiwan in 2016 under a Fulbright proposal of studying the feasibility of basic income in Taiwan.
“I truly believe there is a real possibility to implement basic income in Taiwan and open up the unrealized potential among Taiwan’s young people,” Prochazka said.