Some commentators have inaccurately claimed that EU leader Jean-Claude Juncker recommended basic income during a speech earlier in the year.
In January 2017, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission (the Executive Branch of European Union), addressed a European conference on the Pillar of Social Rights. He advised EU member states to adopt minimum salaries and wages, stating, “There should be a minimum salary in each country of the European Union” and adding (according to a report in Reuters) that those seeking work should also have a guaranteed minimum level of income.
Basic Income News did not initially cover the story, as it is not directly relevant to basic income. Since this time, however, Juncker has been occasionally misreported as having advised members states to adopt a basic income. In fact, he said no such thing at the Pillar of Social Rights conference, where he merely called for minimum salaries to workers and unemployed job-seekers throughout the EU. Generally speaking, moreover, Juncker has not been known as an advocate of basic income, despite earlier statements suggesting that he might support the idea.
“While harmonised minimum income and minimum wage levels throughout Europe would be an improvement, this has nothing to do with moving towards a basic income.”
One of our proposals – that a ‘Eurodividend’ be paid to every EU citizen – would be a far more ambitious and transformative option where the EU could take the lead rather than waiting for the Member States to act. This would truly help support EU citizens through times of crisis, help balance income distribution throughout the EU and mitigate forced migration through lack of jobs and/or income. It could help those countries most affected by the economic crisis get back on their feet by making it possible for their youth to stay.
“Given the urgency of the economic and political situation, and the widening discussions of basic income both inside the European Parliament and its committees, we urge the European Commission to follow the lead of its Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen. She has already pointed out the necessity of discussing basic income when thinking about future transformation of our social systems.
“Further laws and directives around minimum income and wages will have little effect on those countries already forced to cut their social security budgets under austerity measures. The EU should lead the way in providing some form of income security for all of its citizens if it wants to stem the rising tide of nationalism throughout Europe.”
On February 16, the European Parliament voted on a series of policy recommendations for the European Commission concerning the future of work. The Parliament rejected a proposal to recommend that “a general basic income should be seriously considered” to address the economic impact of automation and artificial intelligence.
Reviewed by Genevieve Shanahan
Photo: Jean-Claude Juncker, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 epp group
In a February 2017 vote on recommendations to address the effects of automation, the European Parliament rejected a proposal to recommend consideration of basic income.
As previously reported in Basic Income News, the Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament prepared a draft report with recommendations concerning the regulation of artificial intelligence and robotics as well as their economic and societal effects.
Among numerous other recommendations to the European Commission, the draft stated that “in the light of the possible effects on the labour market of robotics and AI a general basic income should be seriously considered” and that it invited all Member States of the European Union to do so. Maddy Delvaux, the Socialist Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Luxembourg who authored the report, has stated that she personally supports a universal basic income. The report, however, merely proposed to raise the idea for consideration without endorsing it.
The European Parliament voted on the Committee on Legal Affairs’ report on February 16, 2017. This vote determined the recommendations that would be delivered to the European Commission with respect to technology policy.
The recommendation to “seriously consider” basic income was rejected for inclusion in the final report, with 328 MEPs voting against the recommendation, 286 MEPs voting in favor, and eight abstaining from the vote.
It’s a shame that the conservative and liberal parties seem to be afraid of an open-minded debate on basic income. On the positive side, we’re thankful MEP Mady Delvaux raised the issue, and provoked the first serious discussion of basic income at the European Parliament. The EP’s Legal Affairs Committee, in charge of this report, also supported universal basic income in the draft text. Since the vote was taken by roll call, we know who supported the proposal, and this gives us a much stronger basis for lobbying in the future. We will keep pushing the basic income debate for sure!
Other controversial recommendations put up for consideration included a tax on work performed by robots, which was also voted down (302 to 288, with 22 abstentions).
According to EurActiv.com, “A majority of MEPs preferred to focus at this stage on the issue of liability, one of the main elements included in the report, instead of discussing the introduction of controversial taxes. Instead of the universal basic income, legislators spoke in favour of support programmes to facilitate the transition to new jobs.”
Eighteen members of the European Parliament have signed an open letter to the Head of the European Central Bank, emphasizing the need to consider “helicopter money” — a proposal to distribute money directly to people as a citizens’ dividend.
However, while basic income advocates might argue about the advisability of printing new money, the European Central Bank (ECB) has pressed on with its decision to do so: under the Quantitative Easing (QE) program, which ECB President Mario Draghi initiated in March 2015, the ECB been creating €60 billion each month. The ECB then uses this money to purchase government bonds, primarily from private institutions.
The question at this point is not whether to print new money, but what to do with it.
Many economists have worried that QE has been ineffective. Although the policy is meant to stimulate the economy (in particular, inflation), detractors contend that it has done little to spur economic growth — while, meanwhile, poverty and inequality have increased, and inflation remains very low.
The Quantitative Easing for the People campaign holds that, rather than being given to banks, “the money created through QE should be spent into the real economy so that it can benefit individuals and society as a whole.” For example, the money could be distributed directly to individuals, as in helicopter money.
The letter puts forward two proposals [as alternative policies to QE], including a ‘green quantitative easing’ plan and the so-called ‘helicopter money’, a mechanism by which central banks would distribute money directly to individuals. It was co-signed by MEPs from 11 countries of the EU, including representatives of the Socialists and Democrats, the Greens, and members of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left groups of the European Parliament.
In March, Draghi called helicopter money a “very interesting concept.” Nonetheless, the ECB was not considering it. The letter from the MEPs urges Draghi and the ECB to reconsider.
You recently cited the potential legal obstacles to the deployment of helicopter money. However, several eminent economists have already outlined how helicopter money could be distributed directly by the ECB, without going through government accounts and remaining in compliance with the EU Treaties. [emphasis in original]
Stan Jourdan, Campaign Manager for QE for the People and former basic income campaigner, has called the letter “a strong signal that an alternative to QE is needed, and that there is political appetite for discussing innovative monetary policy ideas.”
“The letter is an outstretched hand to the ECB to open up the discussion on policy alternatives with the Parliament. We hope that Mr Draghi takes up their offer.”
The first EU-wide opinion survey on basic income finds a great majority of Europeans know about basic income and are supportive of the idea.
While it is no surprise that basic income has gained a lot of popularity over the past few months, it is difficult to grasp exactly how mainstream basic income has begun. That’s where opinion polls can help.
In Europe – where most of the political developments are happening in Finland, the Netherlands, and France – a new poll survey shows the magnitude of the trend – and it’s very encouraging.
According to the preliminary results (pdf here) from a survey carried out in April 2016, about 58% of the people are aware of basic income, and 64% would vote in favour of the policy if there was a referendum about it.
The survey was produced by the Berlin-based company Dalia Research, within the framework of its research programme called e28TM, a European-wide survey, to find out “what Europe thinks.” The e28TM is conducted every 6 months within a sample of 10,000 people, representative of the EU (28 countries) population. The respondents were invited to an online survey via their smartphones, tablets or computer desktops without knowing in advance the topics of the poll. Last April, the survey included basic income.
In the questionnaire, basic income was defined as “an income unconditionally paid by the government to every individual regardless of whether they work and irrespective of any other sources of income. It replaces other social security payments and is high enough to cover all basic needs (food, housing, etc.).”
Only 24% of the respondents said they would vote against it, while 12% would not vote. More interestingly, though, the results show a correlation between the level of awareness about basic income and the level of support. In other words, the more people know about the idea, the more they tend to support it:
According to the survey, countries where basic income is most popular are Spain and Italy (with 71% and 69% of respondents, respectively, inclined to vote for a basic income).
However, those results are not entirely accurate as they do not show results for smaller countries where the population being interviewed was too small for the results to be statistically significant.
Respondents were also asked about their biggest hopes and fear if a basic income was to be introduced. It turns out the most convincing arguments in favor of basic income were that it would “reduces anxiety about basic financing needs” (40%) and improve equal opportunity (31%). Perhaps the most surprising result is that the downsizing of bureaucracy and administrative costs was considered the least convincing argument (16%).
Only 4% of the people would stop working.
On the other hand, the most frequent fear or objection was that basic income would encourage people to stop working (43%). However, the survey also provided evidence that this would not in fact be the case — with only 4% of the respondents saying that they would stop working if they had a basic income. Moreover, only 7% said they would reduce their working time, while another 7% said they would look for another job. About 34% of the people surveyed said basic income would “would not affect my work choices” while another 15% said they would spend more time with their family.
Besides the apparently unfounded concern that people would stop working, other objections considered convincing were that people would massively immigrate (34%), that basic income is not affordable (32%) and that only the needy should receive assistance (32%).
Overall, those results are very positive for basic income. They finally provide evidence that basic income has become mainstream and is likely to be supported by a majority of the population – at least in the EU.
While a number of national polls have already found a good level of support for basic income in France (60%), Catalonia (72%), and Finland (67%), Dalia Research is the first to have produced a European-wide survey on the popularity of basic income.
In a recent interview with ‘The Economist’, Yanis Varoufakis says basic income is an ‘absolutely essential’ approach for the future of social democracy.
This is a major endorsement from a rising star of the European left. Varoufakis is a Greek economist who served as Finance Minister of Greece under the first Syriza government installed in January 2015. He recently launched ‘Democracy in Europe Movement 2025’ (DiEM25), with the aim of transforming the European Union from an elitist technocracy into a transparent and democratic institution that serves people’s interests.
In the interview, Varoufakis links the case for a basic income to the future of social democracy:
Today we are facing a serious danger of large masses of people who have low economic value. This is a powder keg in the foundations of society. Making sure that the great wealth-creation which capital is capable of does not light this dynamite — the basic income approach— is absolutely essential, but it is not part of the social democratic tradition. Think about it. The post-war consensus was all about national insurance, it was not about basic income. Now, either we are going to have a basic income that regulates this new society of ours, or we are going to have very substantial social conflicts that get far worse with xenophobia and refugees and migration and so forth.
Further on, he adds:
So what do we need to do to capture hope? That is the issue. In the 50s and 60s the dream of shared prosperity was that which gave hope. (…) So I think the basic income approach is capable of doing this as long as (…) you can explain to them where the money will come from, that it will not be simply debt, that we are going to generate a lot more income and a chunk of it is going to fund this. But we, the Left, must not be fearful.
Surfers should be fed
Varoufakis also mentions the famous controversy initiated by Philippe van Parijs and John Rawls about whether ‘surfers should be fed’. Varoufakis stands with van Parijs:
I gave a talk some time ago in the United States and said: yes, surfers in California must be fed by the rest of us. We may not like that, we may feel they are bums, but they deserve a basic income too.
OK, they don’t “deserve”, but they should have a basic income, because this is the way to stabilise society. But you need politicians that are capable of going out there and saying: You see that lazy bum over there that you hate? We should feed him. And we should make sure he has a house. Because if he does not have a house and he gets sick and so on, he is a greater burden for all of us.
It is the first time Varoufakis has explicitly endorsed basic income, but he has made allusions to it in in the past.
Back in 2010, he co-authored with Stuart Holland a report called ‘The Modest Proposal’ in which he elaborated four proposals to fix the structural crisis of the European monetary union. Under his 4th proposal, the Emergency Social Solidarity Programme (ESSP), Varoufakis developed the idea of implementing an EU-wide food stamp-style scheme as an emergency measure to reduce poverty, to unify Europe and to redistribute across all European states the trade surplus accumulated by countries like Germany. Such a scheme could even be financed by the European Central Bank:
BIEN’s 2022 Congress will be held in Brisbane, Australia, from Monday 26th to Wednesday 28th September 2022. Registration now open. This will be a hybrid face to face and online event. The main face-to-face event will take place in Brisbane.
Call for papers closed: Abstracts (250—300 words) please click here for more information.
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more