In this new book, work, technology and society are discussed through a series of view points, given by several authors (e.g.: Matt Zwolinski, Michael Cholbi, Andrea Veltman, Evelyn Forget, among others). Universal Basic Income is a policy described at the center of this crucial societal challenge, analyzed by the authors in its wide implications. Michael Cholbi and Michael Weber are the editors.
In the summary it can be read:
Technological advances in computerization and robotics threaten to eliminate countless jobs from the labor market in the near future. These advances have reignited the debate about universal basic income. The essays in this collection offer unique and compelling perspectives on the ever-changing nature of work and the plausibility of a universal basic income to address the elimination of jobs from the workforce. The essays address a number of topics related to these issues, including the prospects of libertarian and anarchist justifications for a universal basic income, the positive impact of a basic income on intimate laborers such as sex workers and surrogates, the nature of “bad work” and who will do it if everyone receives a basic income, whether a universal basic income is objectionably paternalistic, and viable alternatives to a universal basic income. This book raises complex questions and avenues for future research about universal basic income and the future of work in our increasingly technological society. It will be of keen interest to graduate students and scholars in political philosophy, economics, political science, and public policy who are interested in these debates.
Charles Eisenstein. Picture credit to: Resilience.
Charles Eisenstein, author, thinker and true believer that a better world is possible, has spoken his mind about Unconditional Basic Income (UBI). For that purpose, he has recorded this short video.
In his view, UBI stands as a threat for the current work marketplace, since people (getting a UBI) would not easily do “degrading, dangerous work”, or that “no one would do it for very long, or very much…unless you paid them to do it”. He goes as far as to say that UBI would “change the whole structure of the economy”, since people would no longer submit to terrifying work conditions, or under-poverty line salaries, just in order to survive. With UBI, Eisenstein reasons, “people wouldn’t be trapped in those things”. In fact, he continues, today’s economy is locked in with millions of people undergoing degrading work.
People want to do things, people have dreams, Eisenstein says. But in this present-day economy, people’s wants, needs and dreams are trampled on constantly by the relentless speed and coldness of “survival”. So, he questions affluent people: “Do you want your affluence to be built of the humiliation of other people?”. At the bottom of his argument, Eisenstein points to “force”: work is only degrading when people are forced to do it. And so UBI would simply revolutionize capitalism, since people would no longer be forced – by means of a “survival threat” – into labour, but gain enough freedom to pursue their dreams and passions.
The real threat of #BasicIncome. The power of saying "No." Now imagine everyone has an enhanced ability to refuse to work, and to demand better. UBI is "F YOU" money for all, and with that kind of power comes a new relationship between labor and management.
Chamberlain’s book explores universal basic income (UBI), which he calls unconditional basic income, as a potential step on the way from a “work society,” in which individual gainful employment is placed at the center of citizenship and community membership, to a post-work community in which the wellbeing of others is valued over individual achievements. Undoing Work, Rethinking Community focuses primarily on the UK and the US, moving through a detailed discussion of the place of work in contemporary life and politics, as well as more recent changes that have witnessed a gradual erosion of worker’s rights and stability, contending that the current overvaluation of work undermines freedom, equality, and justice. It then outlines a potential role for UBI in Chamberlain’s vision of the transition away from the work society, along with guidance for UBI advocates who share similar priorities with regard to shifting the conversation from its focus on encouraging employment. Finally, it sketches the theoretical beginnings of a “post-work” community.
Employment in Politics and the Meaning of Citizenship
Chamberlain begins by touching on the centrality of work and employment as a right and citizen’s obligation to the campaign rhetoric on both sides of the US 2016 election. Beyond America, he also points out 2011 UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s focus on employment as a solution to riots through the words “work is at the heart of our society.” In his very first pages, Chamberlain outlines his central contention: that citizenship and social participation are conditional upon employment and that those who are not able (or do not desire) to pursue employment for any reason, be it ability, other priorities or means of subsistence, family responsibilities, etc., are marginalized and configured as social pariahs or “freeloaders” rather than good citizens. In essence, he argues that society itself is currently understood to be the product of collective labour, and thus the work society values work ethic, the independence it permits, and the full citizenship or social participation made possible by said independence.
Interestingly, Chamberlain traces a brief history of types of “dependence” that used to be considered socially permissible or positive (that of a wife, for example, or the elderly) but have become more and more suspect, such that one must demonstrate the reason for one’s dependence (i.e., in the case of pregnancy, disability, or other inability to work) or show that one has paid one’s dues (in the case of the elderly) or is preparing oneself for employment (in the case of youth in school).
Undoing Work outlines the roots of the work society in history and political theory and examines several of the key arguments that connect work to citizenship. For example, the idea that individuals exist outside of society but collectively create society with their labour implies, in turn, that a lack of gainful employment is necessarily anti-social. This can be tied to a kind of apocalyptic, chaotic rhetoric, saying that unemployment will lead to social unrest and disintegration (as in David Cameron’s focus on employment in response to social unrest).
The “Work Society” Limits Freedom and Demands Increasing Flexibility
What is the problem with this social emphasis on everyone “pulling their weight”? Chamberlain argues that it limits the freedom to act according to one’s own “values, needs, and desires,” (10) when a person needs to take any or all employment available. Freedom is also limited when all of one’s time is occupied by making money with no opportunity to spend time on activities that don’t have a price put upon them. Furthermore, the increase in information technology has begun to dissolve the boundaries between work and the remainder of life. Importantly, restrictions to freedom do not fall equally upon a population, with regard to access to greater varieties and qualities of employment: “One can understand justice as equality of freedom or, more specifically, the equal ability of all members of society in ways that reflect their own ends” (12).
In his third chapter, Chamberlain discusses the idea of increasing flexibility of employment, from Reagan and Thatcher to the gig economy and the increase in remote work. Flexibility is a double-edged sword. Half of it entails deregulation, erosion of support for workers, increased precarity in terms of employment and compensation, dissolution of work–life boundaries, lack of collective bargaining, and other employer-friendly policies. Many qualities of flexibility can also be worker-friendly, however: flexible scheduling and the dissolution of work–life boundaries may allow a person to work from home or on their own time, or it may ask them to devote significant quantities of their life to work without any additional compensation.
UBI: Undoing or Supporting Employment?
If our jobs are becoming increasingly flexible and precarious, allowing us to participate socially in a complete manner and support ourselves as independent citizens less and less, then UBI is one way to fill that gap and allow people to continue to find meaningful employment: however, it is just this argument for UBI that Chamberlain finds suspect. In Undoing Work, UBI is established as a partial solution to many of the aforementioned issues, a very important stop-gap permitting what he claims is actually required, which is to dismantle the work society and the social value of employment.
Chamberlain identifies an ideological disjuncture within the UBI movement, between advocates who say that UBI will support employment and advocates who contend that supporting employment is beside the point. This is echoed in the works reviewed by BIEN, as emerging UBI research and economic simulations define different metrics for success, and many of them are focused on employment rates rather than health indicators or other measurements associated solely with wellbeing. Undoing Work places UBI proponents on a spectrum from a full commitment to the work society to the preference for freedom from employment/right and ability to refuse employment. However, Chamberlain acknowledges that some who have argued for UBI’s positive impact on employment rates have done so for the sake of expediency. In other words, supporting a truly Unconditional BI may necessarily be politically precarious due to its promise to give “something for nothing.”
Chamberlain then contends that UBI’s implementation and effects depend upon the ideologies of social participation and citizenship by which it is surrounded. Whether or not a UBI recipient lives in Chamberlain’s “work society” will have a significant impact on a basic income’s ability to transform their lives for the better.
To highlight his point, Chamberlain contrasts UBI with workfare/unemployment and means-tested benefits, examining the differences between the administrative goal of re-integrating a person into the workforce and UBI. An implementation of the latter without a corresponding ideological shift may simply result in social forces creating the same stigmas against and marginalization of those who appear not to be contributing in a normative manner. In other words, without a cultural change in the value of work, people receiving UBI will still feel the pressure to take jobs regardless of interest or aptitude. From the perspective of a reader perennially curious about the intercultural differences in UBI implementation around the world, this is an interesting and important point, though it is beyond this book’s purview to speculate about the international differences that might be seen in UBI implementation depending on each country or region’s ideological variations.
A more radical implementation of UBI may in fact encourage people to shape new “purposes,” voluntary or collectively informed but not necessarily rewarded or validated by a wage. Indeed, if work is as essential to a valuable and meaningful life as its proponents suggest, Chamberlain suggests that it is unlikely that UBI recipients (i.e., all of us) will simply give up any kind of occupation or responsibility.
The Post-Work Society
The final chapters of the book examine visions of a post-work society. Chamberlain suggests that many contemporary visions of post-capitalism (e.g., André Gorz’s work, or Hardt and Negri’s Empire) have not in fact theorized a real “post-work” society because they remain centred upon community-oriented production and reproduction: they still see the common/society as produced by some form of work or labour, and participation in their post-capitalist models is still frequently predicated upon social contribution conceptualized as labour.
A real post-work society, argues Chamberlain, means that membership in one’s community must not be connected to work (paid or unpaid). Rather, he suggests a vision of community that is predicated upon concern for the wellbeing of others but does not then turn around and stigmatize or marginalize community members who do not appear to share similar concerns.
One key part of this is that we should not view individuals as things that can be separated from a community or society (or accordingly marginalized as “non-contributors”). Rather, a community is in its fundamental form made up of interconnected relationships that have little to do with labour.
Chamberlain argues that the tendency to think about this kind of community as encouraging “freeloading” is an intuitive response from those of us who have grown up valuing employment so highly. Accordingly, Chamberlain provides some insightful advice for UBI advocates, suggesting that arguments for UBI should be focused on collective well-being rather than employment potential, shaped in a way that does not encourage critics to jump straight to criticisms about giving “something for nothing.”
Chamberlain’s vision for a post-work society is outlined in terms of what it must not be. The lack of a fuller picture is understandable given the magnitude, impossibility, and perhaps unsuitability of attempting this task theoretically (a challenge he acknowledges). Despite this, the last few pages of the book cite reasons for hope of a transition: the prevalence of conversations about UBI, minimum wage movements, and economic cooperatives, as some examples.
A reader may wonder if none of the smaller communities established within and regardless of political boundaries, including economic or social cooperatives, faith-based communities, secular or intentional communities, families, or Indigenous or ethnicity-based communities, already value interpersonal wellbeing more highly than labour and, accordingly, exhibit unique social economies. While it is sensibly out of the book’s scope to conduct an international comparison of work ideologies, Chamberlain’s focus on national discourse feels relevant and interesting but also general and totalizing, spoken from the “voice” of the work society without exploring the diversity that may be occurring within a nation or testing its borders on local scales. However, overall, Chamberlain’s Undoing Work, Rethinking Community is a considered and valuable critique of the role of employment in life, politics, and UBI policy and discourse. His discussion of increasing precarity, demand for flexibility, and the lack of freedom that employment often delivers despite independence’s promises to the contrary will strike home for many readers.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Picture credit to: The Cut.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) tabled a Resolution on the United States House of Representatives (H.RES.109) which hinted, in a first version, that “the Green New Deal would take care of people who are “unwilling to work””. That last bit of the sentence started a political hurricane in the United States. In that country, work is seen as tightly linked to jobs, and jobs are conceived as essential to value, and so “unwilling to work” is simply understood as “lazy”. Period. So, taking care of the lazy just sounds nonsensical to most Americans.
Because most people and politicians in the United States equate “unwilling” with “lazy”, it’s very difficult to pass on the message that “unwilling” might actually mean unwilling to perform a certain job/task that can be revolting, disgusting, unfair, tedious, repetitive and/or badly paid. Rigid work ethics and years of living in an economic crisis has also helped to lower people’s expectations, and be more open to exploitation. What is at dispute, at bottom, is the nature of work.
On the aftermath of those three words having been read on an official document, AOC was showered by a rain of criticism, particularly from Republicans, while being left isolated by colleague Democrats. Everybody fled, including AOC and her assessors. In an attempt to clear the record, AOC team tried to link it to the GOP, then alleged the release was a draft version. On the “final” version of the 109’th Resolution, cited above, indeed no reference is made to “unwilling to work”, or “unwilling” anywhere. Also, the reference to “basic income programs”, which was a part of a draft text for the Green New Deal that had already hit the news (for more positive reasons) was eliminated. So now, the creation of a Green New Deal, as proposed by AOC and some of her team and fellow Democrats, is completely devoid of references to basic income and unconditionality, while referring only to “universal access to clean water” and “universal access to healthy food”. And, on the H) paragraph of the 4th chapter, one can read the more fundamental and still core Democrats value as far as work is concerned: “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States”. What remains to be seen is how AOC and other supportive Democrats envision achieving these universal rights – e.g.: access to clean water, healthy food and a decent income – without actually implementing a basic income in the country.
Basic income supporters / activists say, however, that the unwillingness to work is one of the reasons basic income should exist. American philosophy professor and author Karl Widerquist says it eloquently: “This idea that somehow people who are unwilling to work are bad or lazy is a horrible idea. Because whenever there’s a job offer and somebody doesn’t want it, what you have is a dispute about wages and working conditions”. Andrew Yang, the American presidential candidate who is running his campaign on the basic income concept, said that, in fact, the language (“unwilling to work”) “is unfortunate. It does make it easier to try and portrait [UBI] as extreme”. Widerquist added that “It’s really horrific to use the threat of poverty and homelessness as a work incentive”, qualifying that as “monstrous”. However, it seems, the monstrosity hasn’t been enough to break the bond most Americans hold dear, between wealth and work.
Senator Chris Murphy, on this issue, has stated that, although he thinks basic income is not sellable to the American public right now, the discussion about it should start today, because, to him, it will become a necessity in “decades” from now. In other countries, though, far away from the US geographically, economically and culturally, such as India, not only that debate has been going on for decades, but recent developments indicate that implementation of a basic income type of policy is on the verge of becoming a reality.
A new working paper released by Growthpolicy, which disseminates research by Harvard scholars on the topics of economic growth, employment, and inequality, argues that a universal basic income is superior to current low wage subsidies in several ways. The author, Associate Professor of Economics at Harvard, Dr. Maximilian Kasy contends that these subsidies, specifically the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in the United States, comparatively carries several economic, moral, and political disadvantages.
The EITC is a subsidy to low income working families and increases with income to specific thresholds, depending on household size. The credit has been found to incentivize work, reduce welfare dependency, improve child health and educational outcomes, and lifts roughly 6.5 million people above the official poverty line. Kasy argues that a basic income could produce similar outcomes while eliminating several important drawbacks. First, because the demand for labor is finite, especially in times of recession, incentivizing some workers to work more, which ultimately creates fewer jobs overall. In other words, if a service sector employee works overtime hours in order to maximize the EITC credit, her employer will not need to hire an additional employee to cover those hours. Further, multiple researchers have found that subsidizing low wage work via the EITC plus cuts to traditional welfare, in the 1990s, decreased pressure on employers to offer a living wage and ultimately contributed to the declining value of the minimum wage. In essence, Kasy argues, the EITC is a subsidy to employers. Conversely, a UBI would increase the bargaining power of workers and wages would thusly rise.
Dr. Kasey also asserts that a basic income would reduce the coercive power that employers, abusive partners, and a paternalistic welfare system hold over economically marginalized populations. Low wage workers, survivors of domestic violence, and mothers at the mercy of intrusive welfare policy would have an increased ability to walk away from exploitative situations. Furthermore, a basic income would fairly compensate child and elder care work, which is largely done by women and goes unrewarded in our current wage-based system.
Finally, as many have argued, Dr. Kasey finds that a universal basic income carries potentially greater political stability than means-tested benefits. For example, while the passage of Social Security in the 1930s and Medicare in the 1960s was met with cries of “Socialism!,”, these were soon widely popular across the political spectrum and are rarely considered as potential areas for federal budget cuts.
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
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