Rentier Capitalism, the Precariat and Basic Income for China

Rentier Capitalism, the Precariat and Basic Income for China

Find the Chinese translation here for Guy Standing’s talk in China. The original English of the talk can be found below.

Throughout history, capitalism has evolved, changing character and changing the class structure defining each era. The changes in the 20th century can be understood by reference to what Karl Polanyi called the Great Transformation. Briefly, in his formulation, in the 19th century, mainly in Britain, there was an initial period in the evolution of industrial capitalism that was dominated by financial capital, in which old systems of distribution, regulation and social protection were dismantled, in what we would call the pursuit of a ‘free market economy’. 

In Polanyi’s terminology, this was a period in which the economy was ‘dis-embedded’ from society, that is, out of control by civilising social forces. As a result, inequalities and economic insecurities multiplied until there was a systemic crisis, and in his words ‘a threat of the annihilation of civilisation’. This manifested itself in the Great Depression, and the rise of fascism and a dehumanised form of state socialism in the Soviet Union. 

After the Second World War, there was an era in which the capitalistic economy was re-embedded in society through what is usually called welfare state capitalism, led by countries of western Europe, and welfare capitalism, mainly in the USA. There were many distinctive features of this period of capitalism, which we will not discuss here. However, most relevant for the narrative of this presentation, it was a period in which capital made concessions to the main working class, the proletariat. 

It was the era of a brief triumph of social democracy. In return for accepting capital’s right to manage and control the accumulation process, the state pursued policies that shared the gains from economic growth between capital and labour while partially decommodifying labour. The state provided labour-based security, and a broadening array of non-wage state benefits, while capital provided non-wage enterprise benefits to employees. What should be called the social income of workers shifted steadily away from the money wage, as the value of non-wage benefits rose. As we know, similar policies were part of Leninism in the Soviet Union and the danwei ‘iron rice bowl’ policy in the China of the 1950s and 1960s.

The proletariat under capitalism were, in effect, provided with labour-based security against what are called contingency risks, such as unemployment, accidents and illness, and lifetime hazards, such as maternity and old-age. But this security was made strictly conditional on the performance of labour and the willingness to perform labour, or being a dependent person on somebody performing labour. So, it was really fictitious labour decommodification. If you did not provide full-time labour, you had no security, or what you had was determined by being dependent on a wage labourer.

Two problems became acute in the 1970s. Because the money wage had fallen to being a low percentage of total labour remuneration, there was no incentive to perform labour productively. This reached extreme form in the Soviet Union, in which workers had a joke, ‘They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work.’ 

The second problem was devastating for industrialised capitalistic economies. The welfare state capitalism model had in effect taken labour out of international trade. Countries producing competitive manufacturing commodities had similar levels of labour costs, with similar non-wage benefits, while developing economies had very low labour costs but were producing mainly complementary primary goods. That meant labour costs were not a major factor in international trade. But in the 1970s, this changed dramatically, with the emergence of export-oriented ‘newly industrialising countries’ (NICs), mainly in south-east Asia. For that and other reasons, welfare state capitalism experienced acute crisis. The embedded phase of Polanyi’s Great Transformation collapsed.

This led to the neo-liberal economics revolution, led by economists known as ‘the Chicago school’. Once again, advocates of capitalism were in ascendancy, advocating a ‘free market economy’, but really supporting financial capital and stronger state regulation of labour, designed to weaken the bargaining position of workers and to lower their social income. It was a period of labour re-commodification, in which non-wage benefits and social services were cut and in which social democratic political parties lost power.

But, as argued in my books, the ‘free market’ neo-liberalism was only a transitional phase. By the 1990s, financial capital was firmly in control, and a form of capitalism emerged that was the opposite of what the neo-liberals claimed they wanted. It is best described as global rentier capitalism. It was the triumph of private property rights, in which more and more of the income flowed to the owners of property – physical assets, financial assets and so-called intellectual property. 

This new system came into full effect in 1994, when an international agreement was reached called TRIPS, the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property. This globalised the US system of intellectual property rights. It marked the hegemonic pinnacle of the United States. At that time, China was not included. It only joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001, after which China rapidly expanded as a rentier state, soon filing more patents and other forms of intellectual property rights, giving monopolistic profits to leading corporations and financial capital.

The point of most relevance to this lecture is that globalised rentier capitalism meant that more and more income flowed to property owners and less and less flowed to those who performed labour and work. Real wages stagnated or fell in industrialised capitalistic countries and income and wealth inequalities rose all over the world. Making all that worse was that governments gave huge subsidies and tax breaks to their major corporations to increase their competitiveness in export markets.

…and the class structure changed  

Meanwhile, due to globalisation, an ongoing technological revolution and neoliberal labour and social policies, a new globalised class structure took shape. Every configuration of capitalism produces a new class structure, and it is a mistake of some Marxists to portray the class structure in dualistic terms, as if classes and the class structure are the same today as they were in Marx’s time in the 19th century. 

A class can be defined in terms of three dimensions – distinctive relations of production, distinctive relations of distribution and distinctive relations to the state. Bearing that in mind, we may briefly describe the global class structure under rentier capitalism.

In descending order of average income and state power, at the top is the plutocracy, made up of a tiny number of billionaires, making most of their vast income from forms of property. Below them is an elite, mainly in managerial positions, but also gaining from property. Then there is a small group of independent self-employed, which I call proficians, making a lot of money but living insecurely. Then, there is a larger salariat – those with salaried employment, occupational pensions, houses and shares. 

These four groups are defined in detail in my books. The crucial points for this lecture are that, first, all are recipients of rentier income, and second, all are objectively and emotionally detached from existing welfare states. They do not gain much from social policies and do not expect to need them. It is often overlooked that the salariat, as well as the plutocracy and elite, have done very well during the rentier capitalism era, gaining in particular from asset price inflation. The new class structure is not the “1% versus the 99%”, as too many commentators have claimed. 

All this means that those top strata – perhaps accounting for 25% of the population in most countries – have little inclination to defend wages, labour standards or state benefits, unless they are driven by fear of losing their privileges as a result of a revolt from disadvantaged majority below them in the structure.

Below those groups in the evolving class structure is the old proletariat, for whom social democratic political parties and labour unions were built, and whose interests were advanced globally by the International Labour Organisation. The key points here for this discourse are that, first, the proletariat was subject to proletarianization, that is, habituated to the disciplines of stable full-time labour, and second, they experienced fictitious decommodification, in that the money wage shrank as a share of social income, with more non-wage benefits giving them labour security. As stated earlier, it was not real decommodification, since they were obliged to sell labour (effort and time) in order to obtain those entitlements, or be married to someone prepared to do so.

For the proletariat, the norm was and is to be in a stable full-time job. They were induced to have a form of false consciousness. Their political representatives wanted as many people as possible in full-time labour. They romanticised being in a job, promising Full Employment, and quietly resorting to what is known as ‘workfare’, that is, by denying benefits to anybody not providing labour. As socialists, they conveniently forgot that being in a job is being in a position of subordination, and failed to recall Marx’s depiction of labour in jobs as ‘active alienation’. 

The norm of the proletariat’s relations of production was employment security, not occupational security, in that they have had to do what activity they are told to so. They have been exploited in workplaces and in labour time. As for their relations of distribution, those in the proletariat were never rent-recipients, having no income from property. But as a norm they were also not structurally exploited by rent mechanisms.         

This leads to the emerging mass class of rentier capitalism, the precariat. This is not an ‘under-class’, which is a category cut off from society. The precariat’s distinctive relations of production include having unstable, insecure labour, having to do a lot of work that is not labour, including work for the state, having no occupational or organisational narrative to give to themselves, and being exploited and oppressed off workplaces and outside labour time as much as within them. 

Many are being drawn into what in the economics literature is called ‘platform capitalism’, as ‘concierge’ workers or as ‘cloud taskers’, controlled and manipulated by apps and other labour brokers. Above all, they are being habituated to precariatisation – the opposite of proletarianisation, that is, pressured to accept and adapt to a life of unstable labour without a secure occupational identity. The nearest equivalent in China is the vivid idea of ‘the ant tribe’.  

The precariat’s relations of distribution are distinctive. First, they must try to survive solely on low, volatile and uncertain money wages, with few if any non-wage benefits or assured state benefits. Second, they are systematically subject to exploitation by rental mechanisms, living constantly on the edge of unsustainable debt. The insecurity they experience is unlike that of the proletariat, being characterised by chronic uncertainty and fragility in the context of  unpredictable but common shocks to their lives. 

That is bad enough. However, it is the distinctive relations to the state that most define the precariat. The primary antagonist of the precariat is the state, rather than capital directly. The reality is that they are losing or not gaining the rights and entitlements of citizens. Above all, they are reduced to being supplicants, dependent on the discretionary benevolence of landlords, employers, parents, charities and strangers, hoping they will show them pity. The etymological root of precariousness, from the Latin, is ‘to obtain by prayer’. The precariat are almost like beggars; they must rely on people’s charity. They have no secure rights, and so experience constant insecurities.

It is important to emphasise that the precariat is a class, in that capital and the state want it to exist as a functional part of the productive system. But below the precariat is a huge and growing lumpen-precariat, an ‘underclass’, consisting of millions of people living and dying in the streets prematurely, from social illnesses, opioids and suicidal depression. The underclass represents a threat to the precariat. It reminds them that unless they conform to the new norms, they could fall into an even worse existence.

The precariat is the core working class of the 21st century. But it is important to emphasise that the precariat is a class-in-the-making not yet a class-for-itself. What this means is that, whereas members of the precariat are conscious of the conditions that define themselves, they are not yet united in having a common vision of what type of transformed society they want. Indeed, the precariat consists of three groups.

The first can be called Atavists. These are people who came from old proletarian families or communities and who look back to a real or imaginary life of labour security. They tend to be relatively low-educated, and want to recover the Past. This group has tended to support neo-fascist or populist politicians, like Donald Trump, who promise to bring back some imaginary glorious Yesterday.

The second can be called Nostalgics. These are mostly migrants and racial minorities, who feel they do not have a home anywhere. They do not have a Present, a Here-and-Now. They will not support neo-fascists or populists, but feel and are dis-enfranchised, left out of society. There are a huge number of people in this group, and from time to time they indulge in ‘days of rage’.

The third faction in the precariat can be called Progressives. These are mainly the young and educated, who were promised a Future if they went to university or college, but who come out with no Future other than the prospect of persistent debt and uncertainty. They too will not support a neo-fascistic agenda. But across the world they are looking for a new Future.

It is this third group that could be the vanguard of a new progressive politics. The reason why they are a new dangerous class is that they do not identify with either capital or labour. They do not suffer from a false consciousness, of believing that an ideal situation is to be in full-time jobs. Of course, most do want jobs, out of necessity. But they see jobs as instrumental, not defining their lives, identities or aspirations. We must appreciate that the precariat are not just ‘victims’. They are also active and are seeking an alternative reality to what is the norm of today.   

This is behind the new phenomenon in China and elsewhere of ‘lying flat’, simply not conforming to the norms imposed by capitalism, norms that say people should strive to be successful economically and should labour hard in the hope or expectation of upward social mobility. Political leaders must respond to the precariat’s sense of agency and their aspirations

The Age of Uncertainty

The precariat is growing in size in the context of an unstable global economy, in which the main feature is unpredictable uncertainty. This is made more severe by a unique combination of historical forces. Capitalism has always been unstable, as Marx first made clear. But he could not have anticipated the way today’s rentier capitalism has coincided with a seismic technological revolution and an ecological crisis, in which financial crises, natural disasters and pandemics are increasingly widespread and global in character.

We are living in a transformational moment, a time of constant crisis, in which, to recall Karl Polanyi’s assessment of the 1920s, the world could either lurch into a dark night of authoritarianism, philistinism and neo-fascism or it could make a decisive turn into a new age of Enlightenment. At the moment, the first seems more likely. But it can be averted. 

The key point on which to concentrate is that we are living in an age of chronic uncertainty, in which crises pile into one another, plunging masses of people in almost every country deeper into social and economic insecurity, impoverishment, stress and ill-health. 

There was the financial crash of 2008, followed by more than a decade of ‘austerity’ in western countries (when state benefits and public social services were severely reduced), a series of six pandemics just since the beginning of the century culminating in Covid, with more to follow. And now a ‘cost-of-living’ crisis as inflation surges, exposing more people to unsustainable pressures. In the background are disgusting wars that are little more than neo-colonial land grabbing. If we are not scared by all that, we should be. 

In 2007, a Lebanese-American financier Nassim Taleb coined the term ‘black swans’ to designate social and economic shocks that are rare, unpredictable and have devastating consequences. It was a good metaphor. Most swans are white; it is a shock to see a black one. However, today social and economic shocks are not rare at all. But they are uncertain in terms of when, where and why they occur and who will be adversely affected. As such, you and I cannot be confident that we will not be among the victims. Most people feel vulnerable.

There is something else too. It looks as if a growing proportion of the population will be affected by the shocks. It was predicted, for example, that two-thirds of the population of Britain would suffer from fuel-related hardship during the winter of 2022-2023, bringing more deaths and ill-health. That is what has happened, resulting in more homelessness, more queuing outside ‘food banks’ (places where food donations are given out to the poor) and more debt. And, of course, Britain is not alone. Everywhere, natural disasters, such as extreme weather events, hit numerous whole communities, and being in a job these days is far from a guarantee of escaping poverty or economic insecurity.

Three deductions should flow from this bleak scenario. First, more rapid economic growth will not overcome the threats; it could merely accelerate global warming and the existential crisis. Second, the old social policies are not valid for tackling the new crises. Third, there is an unprecedented need to build societal Robustness (immunity to shocks) and societal Resilience (the ability to cope with and recover from shocks), based on a new income distribution system and a new social protection system. ‘Targeting’ assistance on a minority would be futile and inequitable, if only because it is a majority who are actually vulnerable. 

This is the modern reality. Yet there is an awful hesitancy among politicians. It appears as if even nominally socialistic parties are sleepwalking into self-defeating timidity, bringing to mind Gramsci’s chilling aphorism written from prison in 1930:

‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’

Appeasement is in the air. So-called leftish political parties criticise the plutocracy, and yet accept their largesse in the form of donations and media support. Their leaders take every opportunity to tell ‘business’ that it will be safe in their hands. In the west, the political landscape is occupied by social democratic ‘think tanks’, exuding respectability, seeking ‘relevance’ and eagerly expressing ‘moderation’, granting them continuing access to benevolent ‘donors’. Governments are reacting to events, not being prepared to control them.

There is a fear of the grand narrative or vision of the Future, and a willingness to play a game with rules set by the rulers, the financiers and the plutocracy. That must end.

Basic Income: Anchor of Freedom, Security and Eco-Socialism

So, in China and in all significant countries, it should be clear that the old income distribution system has broken down – the labour share of income has fallen, the precariat has grown and will become more restless, alienated, insecure and angry unless structural change takes place – and there will be more ecological and economic crises, and more pandemics. 

It is a transformational moment. It is a time for a new Manifesto, not the old Communist Manifesto of 1848, but a Precariat Manifesto. There is no time in this lecture to consider all elements in such a Manifesto. I want to conclude by just considering one fundamental policy, which almost every country could afford. And I want to argue that its justification is philosophically grounded.  

The proposal is that everybody in society should be provided by the state with a modest basic income, a monthly amount paid individually, without behavioural conditions, paid regardless of income, wealth, work status, marital status or gender. It should be paid equally to men and since the intention would be to give each resident citizen and equal ‘share’ of public wealth, strengthening social solidarity. The level of basic income would be set by a government-appointed but administratively independent council, and could be paid from a Commons Capital Fund, a form of sovereign wealth fund, as elaborated in my recent books.            

There are three philosophical rationales for a basic income. The first is that it is a matter of common justice. The income and wealth of all of us in society are determined mainly by the contributions of many generations of our ancestors. But it is impossible to know whose ancestors contributed more or less. If we allow for the private inheritance of private wealth, as every society does, then we could see a basic income as a form of common dividend, a share of inherited public wealth.

In addition, all societies were built on the commons, which belong to all of us equally – the land, sea, seabed, the natural resources and the social amenities built by past generations. Karl Marx was radicalised in the 1840s not by anger at exploitation in capitalistic factories or mines but by seeing how the commons were being taken away from the peasants and other commoners.    

In every country, over the centuries elites and commercial interests have taken the commons, depriving commoners of their heritage. The demand for a basic income is a demand for compensation for that deprivation.

A basic income would also be a matter of inter-generational justice. In every country there are areas where economic growth and capital accumulation have been more rapid than elsewhere. But often, areas of past growth become areas of decay and backwardness, whereas the wealth was taken elsewhere. An equal basic income paid to everybody across the country would equalise the gains and actually raise living standards in poorer areas relative to richer areas, reducing income inequality.

A basic income would also be an instrument of ecological justice. The rich cause far more pollution and greenhouse gas emissions than the poor. But the poor suffer much more from pollution, which damages health and living standards. Every country needs to raise taxes on carbon and fossil fuels more generally. This will only be politically feasible if it is guaranteed that the revenue is recycled as part of the basic income.

It would also be an instrument of what should be called compassion justice. Instead of reducing citizens to supplicants, relying on state charity in times of emergency or relying on other forms of charity, each citizen would have an equal economic right. In other words, a basic income would reduce the role of the state as charity provider, which should surely be an objective of any socialist.

A basic income would also be an instrument of work justice. Under capitalism and old-stye state socialism, only the performance of labour has been regarded as deserving of remuneration by a money wage. This is sexist and absurd. The performance of care work, done mostly by women, is just as productive – it is reproductive – and in ageing societies is becoming even more important as contributing to a Good Society. A basic income would encourage and reward care work and community work on which society depends.

The second ethical or philosophical justification for a basic income is that it would be an instrument for promoting freedom. Most social thinkers, not just Marxists, claim to be in favour of freedom. But freedom requires assured access to material resources. There are three forms of freedom that a basic income would strengthen.

First, there is what can be called libertarian freedom. This is the freedom that is what neo-liberals and other capitalist advocates emphasise – the freedom to choose. The trouble is that is meaningless or insulting if people are poor or chronically insecure, in which case they have to do whatever is necessary in order to survive. The freedom to say “No” to an exploitative employer or landlord can only exist if the person has access to material resources with which to survive.

Second, there is what should be called liberal freedom. This is more interesting for a Marxist. It is the freedom to be moral, the freedom to take decisions that one believes are morally consistent with one’s values and culture. Again, unless a person has basic income security, they cannot easily take the moral course of action. But the state should wish to strengthen its citizens capacity to be moral.

Third, a basic income would strengthen republican freedom. This is the freedom from arbitrary interventions in a person’s decision-making. A person is not free if she has to seek approval from a husband or father or other figure of authority, even if that person is a very benevolent person. A person is only really free if they can make decisions themselves, whether or not others approve.

So, a basic income would strengthen all three forms of freedom. It remains to consider the third ethical or philosophical justification for basic income. And this is perhaps the most distinctly relevance for our era. A basic income would promote basic security

Basic security is a fundamental human need. It is also what economists call a public good, in that if one person has it, that does not deprive others from having it. Indeed, I would call it a superior public good, in that if everybody has basic security, the whole community is likely to gain. 

But we should distinguish basic security from total security. If you are too secure, you are likely to become careless or indolent. What is needed is basic security so that you know that you will be able to survive even if you have an accident, an illness or make a mistake in your life. And psychologists have shown that unless a person has basic security, their mental capacity declines, their intelligence actually drops and their capacity to make rational decisions drops. Seen that way, it is unfair of the state to expect people to behave with a sense of social responsibility if its people are economically insecure. A basic income responds to all that.

And here we come to the crucial points of most relevance in this age of uncertainty. Throughout the 20th century, social policy was built on the presumption that the state would provide protection after an adverse event hit somebody, such as unemployment or an illness, for which a probability of it occurring could be calculated and a rough estimate of the likely cost could be calculated. But today every part of the world is struggling with chronic uncertainty. People live in fear, feeling a new shock will hit them and their community at any time, but not knowing in advance how it will affect them and if they will be able to cope and recover. 

In such circumstances, we need a system of ex ante social protection, that is, a full guarantee that basic security will exist. A basic income is the only way to provide such protection. Of course, it is not sufficient in itself, but it is necessary as an anchor of a Good Society. 

Besides the three philosophical justifications – justice, freedom and security – a basic income is also justifiable economically. It could provide an automatic macro-economic stabiliser, that is, it could be adjusted upwards in times of economic crisis and downwards in times of economic boom, or at least have a component that could be adjusted in that way.

And there is evidence of its positive effects from basic income experiments. This speaker has been fortunate enough to be able to help put into practice a policy in which he believes. Experiments, using independent objective methods, have been done in which thousands of peoples from very different types of community have been provided with basic incomes, with the results being monitored over several years. They have been done in countries as different as Canada, India, the USA, Spain and Kenya. 

Everywhere the results have been broadly similar. Basic income results in improvements in health, particularly mental health. In low-income communities in particular, it results in better nutrition, most notably for young children. It results in improved attendance in school and fewer drop-outs from school. It has an emancipatory effect for women. And, contrary to critics, it results in an increase in work, not less, and in increased productivity in work. And it results in a reduction in income inequality, not just because the amount is proportionately more for low-income people but because it enables the lower-income people to increase their economic activity. Perhaps most encouragingly of all, if all members of a community are provided with basic incomes, that induces a strengthening of social solidarity.

Basic income is not a panacea. But it an imperative if society is to experience a reduction in all the ills of chronic economic and social uncertainty. In his speeches, President Xi has said dozens of times that income inequality must be reduced in China. In other parts of the world similar sentiments are expressed. Providing a basic income would be a powerful way of reducing the inequalities that could otherwise become explosive over the next decade. Let us promote it.

Taiwan Makes History with Universal Cash Payment Plan

Taiwan Makes History with Universal Cash Payment Plan

Taiwan is making history by sending out a one-time universal cash payment of $6,000 New Taiwan dollars (NTD) to every citizen “young and old.” This is the first time the country has implemented such a policy, and it comes as a result of excess tax revenue of $450 billion NTD, much of which is coming from corporate taxes that have seen record-high profits. $140 billion NTD will be dedicated to the cash payments, with the remainder going towards improving labor and health insurance systems and providing funding for local governments.

UBI Taiwan hailed the move as a victory for Taiwanese citizens, as the payment is unconditional and universal, meaning that everyone in the country will receive it, regardless of income or other circumstances. They said it reflects the growing demand that a greater proportion of Taiwan’s growth is shared with average families.

“This is a huge victory for the basic income movement,” UBI Taiwan founder Tyler Prochazka said. 

UBI Taiwan promotes unconditional basic income (UBI) in Taiwan. UBI is a policy that periodically sends out unconditional cash payments to every citizen in a country regardless of an individual’s income or job status. 

The organization has noted the problem of stagnant wages for the last two decades in the country and the rising cost of housing. Through basic income payments, they argue that many Taiwanese could pursue better opportunities and improve their education.

“Unconditional cash transfers are an efficient way to provide an ‘economic vaccination’ to make sure that everyone can face the future in a healthy and happy manner,” said Jiakuan Su, the new chairman of UBI Taiwan.

Over the last few years, Taiwan’s economy has experienced record-breaking 6.45% GDP growth in 2021 and over 8.73% growth in exports in 2022. However, most people have not enjoyed the fruits of this economic growth, as a 104 Job Bank survey found that real wage growth was nearly zero in 2022 due to inflation. The universal cash payment is a way for everyone to have a small share in Taiwan’s economic success. 

“With the rise of the pandemic over the last few years, Taiwan has experienced rapid changes in its economy and society,” Su said. “We have experienced directly why Taiwan needs a resilient social welfare system to protect each person’s economic security.”

Since the payment is equal to all taxpayers, it will have a progressive effect with a greater proportion of the refund going to low-income earners. There is some expectation that the cash payment could help stimulate the economy because low-income households are more likely to use the money to satisfy their essentials, such as food and housing, freeing up some additional discretionary money for recreational uses as well. A greater willingness to spend by average families could help smaller businesses that may have struggled since the pandemic.

Both political parties have agreed on the general outline of the proposal and the cash could be sent out as soon as February. A surprise has been that the plan appears to be a universal rebate of the revenue instead of a targeted one, which will make it easier for everyone to apply and reduce administrative costs and time. One area still under consideration is whether foreign taxpayers will receive any of the money.

Previous cash assistance schemes during the pandemic were targeted and a stimulus voucher was sent universally. The pandemic vouchers were limited in how they could be spent and had an expiration date, similar to the vouchers under former President Ma Ying-Jeou.

Members of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) argued during the pandemic that cash should have been sent out instead of vouchers. At the time, the TPP held a news conference with UBI Taiwan to discuss the benefits of cash over vouchers. Many also complained that the targeted cash programs were difficult to receive because of the strict conditions. 

Research by the World Bank later demonstrated that the simplicity of universal and unconditional cash payments during the pandemic increased access to the assistance and likely provided economic stimulus. Previous research showed a multiplier effect up to $2.6 for every dollar sent. Fears of saving the cash were largely overblown. For example, in over a dozen economies primarily in East Asia, 40 percent of the universal cash transfers during the pandemic were directly used for consumption. 

Besides improved standard of living, research on basic income consistently shows improved mental health and trust in society. A meta-analysis of basic income policies looked at eight governmental reports as well as seven peer reviewed studies. They found there was justification that the alleviation of stress from financial instability could be a reason for improved mental health from basic income.

There have been criticisms of the current cash payment plan, including concerns about inflation. However, it is important to remember that this is surplus tax revenue that has already been collected and is not new money created by the central bank. An effect on inflation is just as likely if the government directly spends the money or if it is sent back to taxpayers. 

Additionally, while it is true that Taiwan’s insurance systems require further reforms for sustainability, the vast majority of the surplus revenue is being used to shore up these systems and provide an emergency fund. A one time injection of funds is helpful but will not save these systems in the long run. 

Previously, basic income advocates from UBI Taiwan have suggested that Taiwan could establish a sovereign wealth fund (SWF). Such a fund would act as a guarantee that Taiwanese could enjoy more equity in the growth of Taiwan’s economy even if wages remain stagnant. Excess revenue could be placed in the SWF and invested in the economy, with dividends from the SWF distributed back to the people each year, similar to the system in the US state of Alaska. The Alaska Permanent Fund sends out a yearly payment from the oil revenue generated in the state. In 2022, the universal payout reached a record high of $3,284 USD. 

“I applaud the government’s decision to send the universal cash transfer and hope this establishes the precedent for Taiwan to consider making this a permanent policy,” Su said.

Prochazka furthered that by making this payment equal to all citizens, the government is taking the “first small step” towards ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are shared by all. 

Join Hands & Hearts With BIEN

Join Hands & Hearts With BIEN

A convergence of various circumstances in the 21st century has made a Basic Income policy
an achievable goal. Discussions and policy debates about Basic Income are taking place in countries across the world. We see this as an incredible opportunity for BIEN to strengthen its reach and solidify its role as a go-to-source on Basic Income.

BIEN’s mandate is to foster informed discussion about this topic throughout the world. For this, we should continue to provide reliable information and a rigorous interpretation of facts about Basic Income. We want to reach every politician, scholar, activist, and artist in every country. To do this we need hands, hearts, and funds.


Since 1986, BIEN has grown thanks to the incredible efforts of its volunteers. All BIEN Executive Committee members are dedicated volunteers. We need more volunteers. We also need paid staff.


We need more supporters, more members and affiliates across countries. We appeal to our members to encourage others to become members and affiliates of BIEN. We want to learn from our affiliates with whom we aim to have a strong and mutually empowering relationship.


We are initiating BIEN Hubs in different parts of the world – Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Europe. To support this effort, we have been working on fund-raising since 2021. In 2022, we secured a three-year grant from Mustardseed Trust to increase and strengthen BIEN’s presence at the global level. The grant essentially enables BIEN to employ paid staff to strengthen the Hubs. However, a big chunk of the grant is earmarked as a matching grant, realizable upon BIEN raising funds from other sources. In other words, for every Dollar we raise, Mustardseed Trust will give one additional Dollar. No amount is too small . Please donate any amount you can afford. Whatever you give, it doubles. Our immediate requirement is to raise 10,000 Dollars to appoint a Manager for BIEN Hub – Latin America.

BIEN is seeking funds for the first time in its 36 years history. We request you to support our efforts to strengthen Basic Income movement across the world. Please join hands and hearts with us.

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This South Korean Presidential Election is Vital

This South Korean Presidential Election is Vital

There are rare moments when a combination of threatening circumstances leads to a wonderful transformation that only a short time before would have been unimaginable. This year may be such a moment. The Republic of Korea could set an example to the world that would bring happiness to millions of Koreans, and to many more around the world.

The risks if politicians are too cautious are enormous. Before COVID-19, the global economy was already heading towards a crisis. For over three decades, more and more of the income and wealth were going to the owners of property, financial, physical, and “intellectual”. The commons, belonging to everybody, were being converted into the source of profits and rents. A new class, the precariat, was growing everywhere, suffering from multiple forms of insecurity, drifting deeper into debt. It was incredibly high debt – private, corporate, and public – that made the global economy uniquely fragile.

Meanwhile, the public across the world were realizing the threat posed by global warming and destruction of the environment. Nothing was being done. If that continues, life for our children and grandchildren will be impaired. And it is clear that mistreatment of nature has helped make this an era of pandemics. The COVID-19 outbreak is the sixth pandemic this century.

In these circumstances, policies that merely try to go back to the old normal will not work. We need a bold transformative vision, one of courage, one designed to give people basic economic and social security, one designed to make the economy work for society and every citizen, not just for the bankers and plutocracy, and one designed to revive the commons and our natural environment.

Jae-Myung Lee is campaigning for the Presidency in the March 2022 presidential election with an exciting and feasible strategy, based on a promise of a basic income for every Korean man and woman, paid equally, as a right, without conditions. It is affordable. What is important at this stage is not to set some ideal amount, but to be on the road towards living in a society in which everybody has enough on which to survive, even if they experience personal setbacks.

What makes the proposal for a basic income so profound is that Jae-Myung Lee has come from a humble background, knowing poverty and insecurity from his childhood. He understands two fundamentals. First, the income of every Korean is due to the efforts of all those Koreans who lived beforehand, and it is based on the commons, nature and resources that make up the country, which belong to all Koreans. Those who have gained from taking the commons, most of all, the land, owe it to all Koreans to share some of the gains. A modest Land Value Tax, or levy, is justifiable and fair, and should help fund the basic income.

He also understands that pollution and global warming must be combated by a carbon tax or eco-taxes. The rich cause more pollution than the poor, the poor experience the bad effects more than the rich, including bad health from exposure to poisonous air. So, the solution must include carbon taxes to discourage global warming and polluting activities. But by themselves such taxes would hit the poor harder, because the tax would amount to more of their income.

The only sensible solution is to guarantee that the revenue from eco-taxes will be recycled through a Commons Capital Fund to help pay for the basic income, as Carbon Dividends. The poor will gain, while society will be on the road to fighting global warming and ecological decay. A basic income will also encourage more care work and ecological work, rather than resource-depleting labor. It will stimulate the desirable form of economic growth.         

The second fundamental Jae-Myung Lee and his advisers have understood is that basic security is essential for rational decision-making and mental health. There cannot be individual or societal resilience against pandemics or economic crises unless there is basic security, so that people can behave rationally rather than in desperation. Experiments have shown that a basic income improves mental health and the ability to make better decisions, for oneself, one’s family, and one’s community.

In the Korean edition of my book Plunder of the Commons, I paid respect to the ancient Korean ethos of hongik ingan, which helped found Korea in 2,333 BC. It expresses a historically-grounded wisdom that Koreans should be re-teaching the world in an era of self-centered individualism and consumption-driven “success”. It conveys the sense of not just sharing in benefits of production but sharing in the preservation and reproduction of a sense of community, our sense of participation and our relationships in and with nature. A basic income would pay respect to that ethos. Jae-Myung Lee should be commended for having pioneered it in Gyeonggi Province, and would set the country on a new progressive road if elected President on March 9.


A Korean translation of this article was published by Pressian – a political news website headquartered in Seoul, South Korea. 

Arguments for UBI were presented at the Constituent Assembly in Chile

Arguments for UBI were presented at the Constituent Assembly in Chile

On the 1st of December, the Comission of Fundamental Rights received the president and secretary of the Chilean Basic Income Network (Red Chilena de Ingreso Básico) Gabriela Cabaña and Cristóbal Ramos. The intervention included the justifications of basic income as a right that should be guaranteed in the new constitutional order, as part of a wider re-articulation of the state. It also included legal considerations and different ways in which Chile’s current legal order supports the constitutional consagration of a basic income. The presenters also answered questions from members of the Convention.

The constitutional convention will present a new constitution for national approval via referendum next year. You can watch the full intervention (in Spanish) here

Spanish Text

A new project from FRIBIS: Universal Basic Income and Gender

The Freiburg Institute for Basic Income Studies (FRIBIS), a network of several faculties at the University of Freiburg, has expanded with a new international team which focuses on basic income and gender issues, pulled together by Enno Schmidt. It uses as a starting point, the study by Prof. Toru Yamamori on the British women’s liberation movement in 1970’s, which was already calling for a UBI. According to Yamamori, grassroots feminist economic and political thought forms a basis of the demand for basic income, and the beginning of this can be seen during the women’s liberation movement in 1970’s Britain. For this reason, the relationship between grassroots feminist economic and political thought and basic income deserves to be re-examined, as this area has often been overlooked.

As a comprehensive research and design goal, the initiative seeks to examine grassroots feminist economic understanding and behavior and its potential in forming a new social contract with a particular focus on asic income. Based on this main principle, to amplify the voice of women in basic income research and design, the initiative seeks three objectives.. First, the further elaboration of Toru Yamamori’s study with final book publication, supported in particular by the collaboration of Barb Jacobson and Dr. Liz Fouksman in the UK. Secondly, a study and documentation on the question of women’s understanding of and behaviour in the economy and cooperation with members of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India under guidance of Renana Jhabvala. This will be supplemented by similar empirical research by Liz Fouksman in South Africa and Prof. Dr. Kaori Katada in Japan and by the experiences, data and results of basic income projects in Canada by Chloe Halpenny. As a third goal, enriched by the outputs of the other 2 goals, the initiative aims to embed their relevance in a potential new social contract for real gender equality. This is planned to be introduced as a pilot project, in a yet to be determined region in the USA under the guidance of Prof. Dr. Almaz Zelleke and others to come. However, the team is also open to new influences and directions that arise during the collaboration, for example an additional focus on China.

For these purposes, the research programme will take place in 4 stages. The first phase will include a manifesto and presentations based on research which is already ongoing and which will start shortly. At this stage, the data, interviews and questionnaires of the participating researchers will be used. In the second phase, the focus will be on the collective reconstruction and articulation of “grassroots feminist economic and political thought”. At this stage, the experiences of relevant people in the research team will be used. In the third stage, the aim is to determine the positions of the above research in academic disciplines. In this sense, theoretical and anthropological studies will be carried out at this stage and the theoretical infrastructure of the outputs of the first two stages will be established. Based on the presentation and evaluation of the nature of women’s cooperation and work, and women’s perspectives on work and economy, this will significantly benefit from the experience of SEWA, and the Basic Income Pilot Projects for women in New Delhi and the 2009-10 pilot project in Madhya Pradesh. The fourth and final stage as envisaged so far, will include the implementation of UBI and new laws in a community in the USA.

In summary, the project aims to combine the introduction of a basic income and the creation of a new social contract from the point of view of women. The output that is intended to be reached at the end of the project is the draft of a new social contract. In other words, the main goal here is to present in a holistic way a draft programme for a society based on unconditional basic income, which is necessary to bring women to equal status with men.

The research team consists of Dr. Liz Fouksman, Chloe Halpenny, Prof. Dr. Kaori Katada, Prof. Dr. Toru Yamamori, Prof. Dr. Almaz Zelleke and as actors from social society Barb Jacobson and Renana Jhabvala. PhD student Jessika Schulz is organisational coordinator of the team on the part of FRIBIS.

Further information about the initiative and the project can be found at the following links:

Endless thanks to Enno Schmidt for his valuable contribution to this article.

Serkan Simsir