Floyd Marinescu, a Canadian entrepreneur who describes himself as “an angel investor, author, humanitarian, and homosapien”, is featured in this interview, on CBC Radio, which has been condensed into a Whiteboard animation. Floyd has been a long-time defender of basic income, from a business perspective. According to him, the rise in aggregate demand which basic income will generate, is just what business needs to flourish. Paying for a basic income would also be fairly straightforward, Floyd reasons, especially when you realize that it’s net cost that matters, not gross cost. Financing would then come from closing redundant welfare programs, resolving tax loop holes, moderate rises in income tax and a series of other tax revenues (e.g.: carbon emissions, financial transactions, natural resources extraction, intellectual property).
Marinescu talks about “compassionate capitalism”, which builds on innovation and entrepreneurship, but also redistributes corporate gains to the whole of the population, so that “the working poor don’t need to be destitute”. For him, basic income also means freedom, personally and professionally, given the high number of people clearly mismatched with their current jobs, since it would allow them to make the necessary changes in their lives. Basic income would also allow more risk-taking, which is essential for entrepreneurship. Overall, according to Marinescu, basic income would be a great economic stimulus for Canada, putting more money into circulation, benefitting most people and also the government, which would collect more taxes to spend on public goods and services.
Tribal groups, in which all men and women on Earth have lived since humanity emerged, have functioned through cooperation and solidarity among their members in tasks such as obtaining and distributing food, building shelters, and family dwellings or taking care of community assets; tasks that today we would call ‘economic’. In fact, over hundreds of thousands of years of human presence on Earth the whole economy was cooperative and supportive. And at the time it was sustainable. About 6,000 years ago things began to change when the first sophisticated civilizations arose and put into practice a variety of new forms of economic organization; from the range of traditional systems based on agriculture or trade to, subsequently, feudalism, mercantilism and everything else after that. Today, however, all the economic diversity that existed over those 6,000 years is virtually nullified, and an (almost) unique model has once again consolidated. It is called capitalism, and it has been going on for about 200 years.
Ancestral economies were based on solidarity and cooperation among people, on a harmony between them and nature and on an orientation towards the mere satisfaction of their needs. Capitalism is characterized by competition among peers, by the predation of the Earth and by an orientation of its agents aiming at unlimited material accumulation. Both modes are hegemonic, each in its own time, but that is about as much as these modes have in common.
Can, like its ancestral homologous form, the present ‘state of the art’ in economic organization – capitalism – last for hundreds of thousands of years? It does not seem possible, given the condition in which it left the planet and humans, after only 200 years. Earth’s soils, rivers, oceans, and atmosphere are now filled with the poisons left over from our economic activity; the climate is changing, the elements unsettled and life as we know it may be doomed, if we do not make deep and rapid changes. As for us humans, materialistic as we have become, we too often forget who we really are and can do: our nature as creators; our ability to generate art, mathematics or philosophy; our potential for freedom, for choosing paths, for changing ourselves and the world as we decide, and the lack of any natural bound between us and what we can achieve or be. By forgetting so much, we reduce ourselves to economic roles, going now so far as to even discuss whether artificial intelligence and robots will make us pointless and expendable one day. The culprit is our current economic culture and system.
However, despite its pitfalls, an important merit can be attributed to capitalism: with the demand for accumulation and profit, it has given us machinery, techniques, and knowledge that can now allow us to access the resources necessary for the material comfort of all. This is only a possibility though since these machines, techniques, and knowledge only provide the capacity, not the guarantee of its use.
Our collective future is unforeseeable. It will be the result of an infinity of both conscious choices and involuntary actions, taken by billions of individuals and groups, in a chaotic general movement that no one can control or anticipate. And yet, it can be felt that capitalism would make no sense in human history unless it was fated to eventually free us from the shackles of material scarcity. Hence, the great economic question of our time must be: how to accomplish the potential that capitalism offers us? The simple ‘progress’, as currently evolving, does not seem to be the way. Reality shows us, everywhere, that the mere growth of the present economy, without any change or innovation in its logic and processes, will never free us. Neither will the strengthening of the so-called welfare state, in its traditional, bureaucratic, expensive and life-controlling form. It can do no more than mitigate poverty, but at a high cost in dignity to its beneficiaries, and a cost in humanity to all the others. The more unnecessary this becomes the more intolerable it gets.
Each one of us, rich or poor, directly or indirectly is suffering from the lack of a process which guarantees the essentials for all. Clearly, this is no longer a problem of production capacity, but one of economic organization. The satisfaction of the basic needs of all people is not inherent to capitalism, nor has it ever been added to it. However, without such process, we will not rid ourselves from the specter of material poverty, and therefore from this never-enough culture in which we find ourselves in. Mainly reduced to producers and consumers, we are exhausting the energy that could alternatively be spent in higher occupations which our potential allows and claims for us.
And yet, we can immediately introduce such process of guaranteeing the essentials for all: let us recover from our ancestral economic way its core element of solidarity among people.
A Future – the UBI-AA
Solidarity among people is the essential idea behind the alternative resource distribution model here described: the Unconditional Basic Income of All for All, or ‘UBI-AA’.
UBI-AA is a revenue redistribution process, generically designed to operate monthly, providing automatic and unconditional transfers among citizens, from those who have higher incomes to those with lower or no income at all. Built, supported and leveraged by them alone, the process will invite participants to take responsibility and engage in their communities, which will reinforce these.
It works in two stages:
1) As it is acquired, each member of the community discounts to a common fund – a ‘UBI Fund’ – a proportion of their income, at a single and universal rate;
2) At the end of each month, the Fund’s accumulated total is equally and unconditionally distributed among all members of the same community.
This simple process, which demands the same effort from all participants while offering them the same benefit, treats everyone equally. It turns those who, at each moment in time, have above-average incomes into net payers to the UBI Fund, and those who have below-average incomes into net receivers. Thus, the process operates a joint distribution among participants of part of their individual incomes. In addition to reducing inequalities, this solidarity among peers creates an unconditional guarantee of income for all, that is, an Unconditional Basic Income.
It follows from the UBI-AA process that the loss of available income by some will be the gain of others. Importantly, for the scheme to be accepted by the former and really useful to the latter, the losses involved should be moderate and the gains significant. This should not, however, lead to a devaluation in the possibilities of the mutability of all individual positions. As time goes by and while exercising the options which the process itself opens to participants, individual situations of income ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ should always be seen as circumstantial.
To achieve its intended effects, the implementation of the UBI-AA should be accompanied by the release of its participants from the burden of personal income tax. Such tax relief will compensate them for the contributory effort required by the UBI-AA process. However, for those above a certain level of income, such compensation may turn out to be merely partial.
Once the personal income tax is abolished, the moderation of losses for citizens with above-average incomes and, simultaneously, the material significance of gains to those with under-average incomes, will be possible if the rate of contributions to the UBI Fund is set at an optimal level, balancing the two outcomes.
A more complete description of the UBI-AA process, as well as a simulation of the financial effects it would have produced, both in individual citizen spheres and in the State budget, hypothesizing it in force in Portugal in 2012, can be reached here.
UBI-AA differs from most current traditional redistributive processes because it is unconditional. It also differs from most unconditional alternative processes since it is a construct of common citizens, instead of a government, a central bank or any other ‘power’ policy. We see it as a humane alternative to organizing the economy on its distributive side. Operating through the income distribution process described above, it will favor the rehabilitation of values such as solidarity and voluntary cooperation among people, and the creation of an unconditional guarantee of income for all will be a corollary.
We cherish the hope that this may contribute to the flourishing of a new and less materialistic culture. Who knows, if making everybody’s access to essential material resources as simple as breathing, will not end up instilling in people the same attitude towards those resources – money and the things it buys – as the one we have towards the air we breathe: no matter how valuable it may be to us, we do not quarrel with each other for it; we only use it in the quantities we need; accumulating it does not even occur to us. Such a cultural shift would certainly be a great human civilizational progress and a much-needed step towards a reconciliation between us and our environment.
An article by John Clarke, ‘Progressive Dreams Meet Neoliberal Realities’, poses an important question: Is it true that ‘we can draw a line between the models that are concerned with improving lives and raising living standards and those that are focused on intensifying the capacity for capitalist exploitation’?
First of all for some of the mistakes in the article. The ‘progressive’ camp is well described as offering a range of schemes that would be ‘responsibly redistributive, reduce poverty and inequality and ease up on bureaucratic intrusion’, and that would provide enough money to live on: but it is not true that those who propose schemes that would be ‘responsibly redistributive, reduce poverty and inequality and ease up on bureaucratic intrusion’ ‘pay great attention to explaining how nice their systems would be but give little if any thought to the concrete prospects of implementation’. Research published by the Institute for Social and Economic Research and by the Citizen’s Income Trust shows that schemes that would be ‘responsibly redistributive, reduce poverty and inequality and ease up on bureaucratic intrusion’ can be perfectly implementable.
A second mistake is to suggest that ‘there is a fight to be taken forward for living income, full entitlement and programs that meet the real needs of unemployed, poor and disabled people, as opposed to the present ‘rituals of degradation’ they embody.’ Unfortunately, it is precisely the fitting of benefits to needs that results in the ‘rituals of degradation’.
In the section of the article that matters, ‘Neoliberal version’, Clarke suggests that the motive underlying the schemes proposed by at least some of those governments proposing pilot projects is in fact the same as Charles Murray’s: the dismantling of all other welfare provision. He suggests that Citizen’s Income plans might be described with ‘progressive’ phrases, but their purpose is pernicious. He also suggests that Citizen’s Income proposals can provide cover for additional austerity within the current system; and that Citizen’s Income is being proposed in order to promote a more exploitative employment market.
In the section ‘Progressive Dreams’, Clarke suggests that ‘progressive’ versions of Citizen’s Income would be politically infeasible because they would tip the balance of power away from employers. He claims that it is neoliberal governments that seem to be interested in Citizen’s Income, suggesting that ‘progressive’ versions don’t stand a chance; that pursuing an infeasible Citizen’s Income might divert attention from tackling neoliberal depredations; and that Citizen’s Income would be an inadequate response to the problems facing our society. Clarke suggests that what we need is such public services as ‘free, massively expanded and fully accessible systems of healthcare and public transportation’, social housing, universal childcare, ‘living wages, workplace rights and real compensation for injured workers’.
Clarke’s final paragraph is worth quoting in full:
I am suggesting that our movements need to challenge, rather than come to terms with, the neoliberal order and the capitalist system that has produced it. For all its claims to be a sweeping measure, the notion of progressive BI is a futile attempt to make peace with that system. In reality, even that compromise is not available. The model of BI that governments are working on in their social policy laboratories will not ‘end the tyranny of the labour market’ but render it more dreadful. The agenda of austerity and privatization requires a system of income support that renders people as powerless and desperate as possible in the face of exploitation and that won’t change if it is relabelled as ‘Basic Income’.
The arguments need to be tackled one by one, starting with Charles Murray’s. Those who would like to replace public services such as healthcare with a Citizen’s Income confuse two different kinds of universality. The universality of healthcare must be one of availability, whereas the universality that characterises Citizen’s Income is one of provision. Whether healthcare is provided via the highly efficient NHS, or via an insurance system riddled with market failures, what individuals require is availability when it is needed, however much that costs. One person’s absorption of healthcare resources will be very different from another’s. Some people might spend months in hospital, and others might hardly ever see the inside of one: but they all need healthcare to be there when they need it. No standard amount of money can replace such a universality of availability. No doubt this argument will need to be made constantly. The important thing is that it is the only right argument and that it has to be made.
Some of Clarke’s other statements are genuine wake-up calls, and suggest that only Citizen’s Income schemes that do not impose losses at the point of implementation should be proposed. Similarly, nobody should be suggesting that a Citizen’s Income scheme could substitute for a National Minimum Wage or for a Living Wage. Citizen’s Income and a Living Wage would function very happily alongside each other, and would function far better than a Living Wage with a means-tested benefits system. Every time a Living Wage level is raised, means-tested in-work benefits fall, whereas this would not happen to a Citizen’s Income.
Some of Clarke’s arguments need to be tackled. No financially feasible Citizen’s Income would tip the balance of power very far away from employers and towards employees, if at all. Means-tested benefits function as dynamic subsidies – that is, they rise if wages fall – whereas Citizen’s Income functions as a static subsidy because it doesn’t rise if wages fall. Thus employers might experience more resistance if they attempt to cut wages. Also, because a Citizen’s Income might give to some employees more choice over employment patterns, and thus more ability to negotiate in the employment market, it might look as if the balance were shifting towards employees. However, because the overall effect would be to reduce the inefficiencies in the employment market, employers would find their firms becoming generally more efficient. This really could be a situation in which everyone wins.
No doubt some experiments are being conducted by neoliberal governments. This will not be a problem if researchers test the piloted schemes for household losses, and for changes in inequality and poverty. The best response, though, would be for governments across the political spectrum to research and pilot Citizen’s Income, and not to leave it to governments at only one end of it.
Finally, if universality and unconditionality are good for benefits systems, then they are good for everything else. The UK’s Sure Start childcare provision was designed to be universal, which removed the possibility of stigma. The NHS attracts no stigma, and it is highly efficient. Some services will need to be paid for, at least to some extent: experiments with free public transport can mean overloaded transport systems – but many public services are more efficient if free at the point of use. So far from Citizen’s Income being seen as a replacement for public services, it should be regarded as a default model for them unless proved otherwise.
As for Clarke’s final paragraph: let’s be realistic – the neoliberal age might be with us for some time to come, so what the situation requires is survival mechanisms and a modelling of how it might evolve to the benefit of people and planet. Citizen’s Income is precisely what is required. If Mr. Clarke would like to suggest a better alternative then we would be pleased to hear from him.
Gary Johnson recently told me he is “open” to the Universal Basic Income (UBI). Based on some of the comments on the story (calling me slanderous and Johnson a statist), you might think he just endorsed a socialist takeover of the government.
Understandably, there is hostility among many libertarians toward the idea of the Universal Basic Income. The UBI is not just a pragmatic step to eliminate government bureaucracy. In fact, it is a desirable policy outcome because it will likely help usher in a new era of free markets and civil society.
Much has been said on the pragmatic libertarian case for replacing the current social safety net with a UBI. Primarily, it eliminates government paternalism and enhances the efficiency of welfare delivery.
Moreover, a Universal Basic Income removes the poverty trap created by the loss of welfare benefits as individuals move out of poverty. This incentivizes recipients to remain in poverty to retain these benefits. A UBI has no such incentive and allows recipients to choose the course of action that actually provides the greatest real benefit.
Through the basic income, recipients are also fully in control with how to spend the money, eliminating welfare’s distortions on the marketplace.
Most libertarian UBI advocates take Milton Friedman’s view of the basic income, approving of it as a substitute given that government welfare already exists (and is unlikely to go away). Instead, libertarians should consider wholeheartedly endorsing the UBI as a way to expand free markets.
The last century has shown us that free markets and free trade have been the greatest source for prosperity and peace the world has ever seen. However, the free market consensus seems to be eroding at a frightening pace, even in the Western world.
Free market’s savior? The basic income.
If libertarians are being honest, free markets are the best source for lowering poverty, but they alone are not sufficient. For example, Hong Kong has the freest economy in the world, but also a good amount of debilitating poverty. While visiting McDonalds throughout Hong Kong, it was hard not to notice the McRefugees (as they are called in local media) that were sleeping at tables.
Socialism is not the answer to the poor’s woes, as we saw with devastating consequences in the human trials of socialism in the Soviet Union, Mao’s China and still today in North Korea and Venezuela.
Instead, the answer is to open up the free market to everyone through the basic income.
Pilot programs have shown that the basic income increased entrepreneurial and market activity (among other positive social benefits, such as improved health). Individuals previously locked out of the free market can now be active participants. The understandable worry that people would stop working is not only overblown, but the opposite was actually shown to be true in Namibia, as business activity dramatically picked up.
The largest meta-analysis of cash-transfers ever further illustrated that the risk of reduced work is nil and in fact it has the potential to increase work hours and intensity. Some parents reduced work hours to care for their children, but this likely brings a positive long-term outcome to society.
Work brings dignity and the basic income does not eliminate the basic desire to contribute to society. When polled, most Americans say they would still work even with a financial windfall.
Basic income gives recipients free choice, unlocking the market’s full potential. People do remarkable things when given freedom and opportunity.
Additionally, poverty is one of the biggest factors when determining a child’s likelihood to succeed in education. Just giving parents money substantially improved their child’s educational outcomes and behavior. The same was shown under the basic income.
The basic income is not a pragmatic giveaway to socialists. It is precisely the opposite: it is the essential element for sustaining the durability and expansion of free markets.
Beyond opening up the market to new participants, it is likely that a basic income would allow society to reevaluate the necessity of a whole host of government policies.
Human beings are born with a natural inclination to be empathetic toward others. And there are individuals that are also inclined (perhaps hardwired) toward government solutions for society’s ills. No matter how effectively free markets lower poverty, there will always be calls for a government backstop.
As libertarians know, these calls for government “solutions” often do more harm than good and end up impeding the very forces that allow the free market to lift individuals out of poverty (e.g. the minimum wage).
As jobs are increasingly automated, it is especially crucial that libertarians guide political discourse toward a light-touch approach to resolve the disruption robots will cause in the marketplace. There needs to be a permanent method to alleviate the fears of the market place, rather than relying on the eternal vigilance of Congress to do the right thing.
A robust basic income would mute many of the calls for government intervention because it gives employees greater freedom to choose their employment situation, rather than being forced into employment by the threat of poverty.
The fears felt by those inclined toward government intervention would be lowered and libertarians would have a far more persuasive case to make for allowing individuals to shape the market instead of the government. Indeed, it would allow libertarians to push for removing many of the excesses of government intervention.
The Universal Basic Income is not just a pragmatic compromise to lower welfare bureaucracy. It is the essential prerequisite to usher in a new era of free markets. And libertarians would be well suited to be at the forefront of this movement.
In Italy, the debate on basic income has lasted for almost 20 years. Back in August 1997, the ECN.org website published my pamphlet titled “Ten thesis on citizenship income”. This text, which saw a successful circulation, especially underground, was re-edited in the book “Tute Bianche”, presented an overview of the Italian debate regarding the introduction of a basic income, a proposal that had begun to circulate in the neo-worker environments in the previous 2 years.
Twenty years later, it should be acknowledged that the definition of “citizenship income” has created more negative effect than positive. At that time, the phenomenon of migration had not yet assumed today’s proportions, although it had started to see an uptick. So, guiltily, the term “citizenship” was used without thinking that the concept of “citizenship” is terribly ambiguous. In fact, it can be used in an ethical and philosophical framework for designating that every human being is born as a “world citizen”, regardless of his or her nationality of origin. But today, the concept of citizenship is increasingly tied to the legal-national sphere within a grid of limited rights ius soli, not be extended to all those who were born elsewhere. From this point of view, the idea of a “citizen’s income” can only be misunderstood as a limited proposal to whomever has that specific nationality, in contradiction with what is our idea of an individual “right to income”. The term “basic income” appears therefore more appropriate and inclusive.
There are now numerous proposed pieces of legislation in Italy and abroad, as well as policy initiatives and declarations in favour of the introduction in Italy of some form of income support independent of employment status.
There are also numerous different interpretations of such a measure. In the cultural political debate promoted by Bin-Italy, which for years has promoted a cultural and socio-political campaign aimed to introduce a guaranteed minimum income (basic income), it is necessary to define certain parameters, to reduce the interpretive confusion that has now reached a critical level, making it unclear what a “citizen’s income”, “minimum income” or “a dignity income” actually is (to use the most common names).
To actually talk about “basic minimum income” (we use this term in a broad and provisional sense), we believe that at least 5 criteria have to be verified:
Individuality criterion: the minimum income must be paid at the individual level and not filtered through family members. From this we can discuss if children under 18 years enjoy this right or not.
Criterion of residence: the minimum wage must be paid to all individuals who, residing in a given territory, live, rejoice, suffer and participate in the production and social cooperation regardless of their marital status, gender, ethnicity, religious belief, etc.
Criterion of the maximum extension of unconditionality: the minimum income must be provided by minimizing any form of compensation and/or obligation, maximizing free individual choice.
Access criteria: the minimum wage is paid in its initial phase of experimentation to all individuals who have an income below a certain threshold. This threshold may, however, be greater than the relative poverty line and converge toward the median level of the personal distribution of existing income. Moreover, this level of income must be expressed in relative terms, not absolutely, so that increasing the minimum threshold (as a result of the initial introduction of the measure) the range of beneficiaries will increase continuously until it reaches universality.
Criteria for funding and transparency: the modalities of financing of minimum income must always be set out on the basis of economic viability studies, detailing where resources are obtained based on an estimate of the necessary costs. These resources have to fall on general taxation and not on other assets of origin (such as, for example, social security contributions, sale of public assets, privatization proceeds, etc.)
The criteria 1, 2, 5 should not be amendable, while criteria 3 and 4, are expressed in relative terms, may be subject to additional definitions depending on the context of reference, but within the principle directives we have just outlined.
The basic income as a primary income and therefore unconditional
The basic income today is a good and just idea. The reasons for this claim are inspired by the forms of the social composition of labor and the modalities of accumulation and exploitation which are today dominant.
In this regard, it is necessary to propose a cultural leap before we take the political leap and affirm that Basic Income is a primary distribution variable: the basic income must intervene, in fact, directly in the income distribution of productive factors, such as salary (which remunerates certified work hours), profit (which rewards the business entity), or rent (which derives from a property right). Primary distribution variable means that it is not a re-distributive variable: it directly occurs at the level of the balance of power and social relations within a certain process of accumulation. Despite it, a redistribution of income, which occurs at a later stage, is the outcome of a second level of indirect distribution, an extra market level, thanks to appropriate discretionary economic policies.
If basic income is remuneration, the question is what is the level of pay. To answer this it is necessary first to analyze what the main sources of exploitation are in contemporary capitalism. More and more studies confirm that today life itself, in every daily event, is the productive factor par excellence. If we take into account the acts of daily life that characterize our existence, they can be categorized into four types: labor, work, leisure, entertainment/games. Today it is not only labor that is the basis of added value, but also the time of creation (opus/work), the otium/leisure time, entertainment time. These are all included in a growing and continuous enhancement mechanism.
The classic dichotomy of the Fordist paradigm between labor and non-labor time, between production and consumption, between production and reproduction are now partially obsolete. It is the result of a historic process of structural changes in manufacturing processes and labor organization, which marked the transition from a material Fordist capitalism to a bio-cognitive and financialized capitalism. Today, wealth production derives, at the same time, from absolute surplus value and relative surplus value extraction, where for absolute surplus value we intend the existence of a sort of primitive accumulation in capitalist organization based on capital employment and on private property. The result is the change of the relationship between productive and unproductive labor. What in the material Fordist capitalism was considered unproductive (i.e. no production of surplus value and therefore not remunerable), has now become productive, while the remuneration remained anchored to the one of the Fordist era (the salarization crisis). As a result, we are facing new ways of valorization such as “dispossesion” (Harvey) and “extraction”, to whom no remuneration is applied, according to the dominant rules (legal, industrial relations, uses and so on).
It is no coincidence that unpaid labor is sharply increasing from those sectors in which more has been invested by the transformations of the enhancement methods and the adoption of the new linguistic-communicative technological paradigm (cognitve-relational activities).
Against this background, one proposal that could be advanced to counter this phenomenon of unpaid labour (i.e., basically “slavery” with another name, even though for most it is not perceived as such) is to proceed with its salarization. But we ask yourselves: is it possible? If the answer is yes, then the basic income should be not necessary
The vagueness of labor time
This question opens up a second theoretical problem – both political and methodological. When technological and organizational transformations favor the spread of increasingly intangible productions with a high degree of non-measurability, when value is created by a whole range of life activities, from learning processes, to social reproduction and networks of relationships, then arises the problem of “measure.”
The theme of the measure is linked to the calculation/quantification of labor productivity. Unlike in the past, where this calculation was possible because employee labor activity could be measured in hours and by an equally measurable amount of production on an individual basis, productivity today has changed shape: it depends on the increasing use of new forms of scale economies: learning and network economies. These are scale economies no longer static but dynamic, because it is the flow (continuously) of time to allow for growth and learning of social skills as well as social reproduction and thus increase productivity, whose effects can be seen no more on individual basis but on social one. Both learning and networking, in fact, need a social context and a social cooperation. The productivity in bio-cognitive capitalism is therefore primarily social productivity or, with reference to the role of knowledge, general intellect.
Learning economies are based on the generation and dissemination of knowledge. Knowledge is not a scarce resource, such as material goods, but abundant: the more you swap, the more it spreads, the more it grows, with a highly productive cumulative mechanism: cumulativeness requires relationships and social networks. Learning and network are two sides of the same coin: if knowledge is not spread through relational over individual processes, it is not economically productive. Only if you develop social cooperation and general intellect does it become productive.
We are not talking in the traditional sense of the term co-operation, that is, “join forces” but co-operation, namely the interaction of individual operations that only achieve synergy in the common processes of accumulation and thus of surplus value creation. These relational activities often hide forms of hierarchy and exploitation, whose value is difficult to measure, not only on individual basis but collectively as well. If traditional factory productivity was based on precise technical mechanisms that allow you to measure individual productivity in the labor places today, then the productivity of social cooperation cannot be measured in terms of individual productivity.
Not just individual productivity but also the same product of social cooperation is not measurable. When you are producing symbols, languages, ideas, forms of communication, social control, what kind of measurement can we take? Every relationship between output value, its production time (measured in hours) and its remuneration (measured in wages) becomes almost impossible or very difficult and subjective.
The crisis of the labor theory of value derives from the fact that the individual contribution today is not measurable and the output tends to escape a unit of measurement, as production tends to become immaterial. And this takes place in a context in which the measure of value is no longer constrained by a scarcity factor. As was pointed out earlier, learning (knowledge) and network (space) are abundant inputs, theoretically unlimited (especially if we consider the virtual space), as the human nature. A theory of value based on the principle of scarcity, such as the one implicit in the theory of free market founded on the law of supply and demand, no longer has any economic and social relevance. It is only artificially perpetuated in market dynamics which have continuously defined power relationships. Paradoxically, the only theory of value that appears adequate to contemporary bio-cognitive capitalism, the labor theory of value, is not able to provide one measure.
How to give a measure to social cooperation and general intellect?
It is a question that can only surmise some answers. One possible aspect to consider has to do with the sphere of financialization. The pervasive and central role of financial markets, such as investment financing tools, privatization of social welfare and the form of partial compensation of the high content of knowledge labor, has affected not only the sphere of realization but also that of production. In capital gains, the speculative activity partially derives from the value produced by the cognitive-relational living labor. It is in financial markets that we can roughly see the implementation of the process of expropriation of social cooperation and of general intellect.
This process is not immediate and direct. It is often handled by the dominant bio-power management and the hierarchical relationships that continually redefine the property structure and market structure.
From this point of view, basic income, as a primary income, becomes even more a tool of direct re-appropriation of the wealth that is generated by the common life time put to labor.
The inadequacy of wages form at the time of the body-mind
The order of discourse leads us to say that the traditional salary structure is no longer adequate, it does not fully capture the transformations in the valorization process. The classic wage structure can still be useful in those parts of the overall production cycle in which there is a measure of the value of labor in term of time. But it cannot be generalized. From a theoretical point of view, this issue leads to the need to review, rethink and redefine the Marxian labor theory of value.
The inadequacy of the wage form as remuneration of all the productive life, leads us to say that we need another way of remuneration (in addition to the wage forms where these are measurable). From this point of view, basic income is something structurally different from salary (though potentially, in the future, convergent); it cannot simply be understood as an extension of the wage form, because it is necessary to take into account the quantitative and qualitative change that new technologies have generated.
In particular, I would like to stress the relationship between human and machine.
In the sixties, the relationship between human beings (with his body, his nerves, his muscles, his brain, his heart, his eros) and the machine was a relationship between separate domains: on the one hand, the human being, living labor, on the other hand, the machine, the dead labor. The relationship between life and death was clear, physically traceable. From the point of view of human inner, the machine was something external and tangible, separate from himself.
From the nineties to the present, such a separation is no longer as clear. The machine becomes mechanic and loses some of its materiality: the old Tayloristic machine becomes increasingly linguistic and relational. In presence of linguistic-communication technologies (ICT), only the support is material (hardware) but the core depends more and more on cognitive-relational human faculties processes. The use of language as the main tool of the mechanic operation changes the relationship of interdependence between human and machine typical of Taylorist technologies. In digital technologies, the despotism of the machine is less prevalent.
But is this hybrid between man and machine that takes direction? And is it the machine that is humanized or rather the human becoming mechanical? That is the challenge of bio-robotic.
Consider the web 2.0 and the recent spread of social media. “The profit of advertising agencies, just like the profit of all firms in web 2.0, depend almost entirely on the ability to develop control technologies. Social control is then presented as the only way to innovate and develop in the future. But what is checked, exactly, today? Our identities and how they change. “The profiling algorithms of digital technologies feed on human biodiversity that it is itself channelled and integrated “in a Panopticon space, completely transparent, where we are called to act publicly”. See Google Pagerank, for instance.
Control of the body-mind becomes today (in agreement with the unpaid labor) the new enhancement border. Even if such activities were salarized or simply paid otherwise (which is not), our freedom of choice would be conditioned.
An unconditional basic income is a tool not only to recognize that our life is an active part (though often not aware) of contemporary exploitation but also able to exercise the right to choice, that is towards an individual and social self-determination: the right to choose our destiny as far as social participation is concerned, and also the right to refuse bad and indecent labor conditions. And this cannot be allowed, otherwise there is the risk to break the fragile balance between social control and the supine condition of subordination. From this point of view an unconditional income is subversive and that is the political struggle.
Author: Andrea Fumagalli (Università di Pavia – BIN Italia)
 A. Fumagalli, M. Lazzarato (eds), Tute Bianche, Derive-Approdi, Roma, 1999
 M. Bascetta, G. Bronzini (eds), La democrazia del reddito universale, Manifestolibri, 1997. Il tema di un reddito sganciato dal lavoro, etichettato con il termine salario sociale era già stato patrimonio del dibattito degli anni Settanta a parte dalla formulazione del rifiuto del lavoro(salariato).
The 2020 BIEN Congress was to be held in Brisbane in Australia from the 28th to the 30th September 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the event has been cancelled. BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more
A series of conversations from around the world that explore the relationship between the Covid-19 pandemic and Basic Income. Read more