Multitudes 8 on the Universal Allowance

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* Special Issue of Multitude magazine: #8 on the Universal Allowance


Revenu Universel = Basic Income


Michel Bauwens, 2004:

Yann Moulier-Boutang says that outside the idea of the universal allowance (solution IV: Guaranteed Income), there are three other proposals to solve the 'social question'

- I. Negative taxes or 'tax credits', that would be given to the lowest earners

This is a neoliberal solution that takes the money from other wage earners, are proposed to be very low, and explicitely threaten other social benefits

- II. Universal Salary: Back to full employment: by reducing the working week, making lay-offs very difficult, etc.

Boutang sees this as very irrealistic

- III. A general augmentation of all social benefits

Boutang sees this as more realistic

The characteristics of the Universal Allowance are:

   - Universal, but taxed away for the rich
   - Personalized, not familial
   - Unconditional (if you work or not)
   - Cumulative (on top of your other income)
   - Cash-based (free to use)
   - Unalienable (cannot be seized)
   - High Level (4/5th of current minimum wage in France, the SMIC)
   - Does not replace any other social benefits (health insurance, handicaps)
   - Not taxed on labour

Some historical background on the evolution of labor forms: Merchant capitalism was originally based on slave and merchant labour, but that became unsustainable. Industrial capitalism thus had to accept the free worker, who organized himself to force 'social wages'. But the exodus out of that system is now so serious, that a new change may be imposing itself, i.e. the Universal Allowance as the precondition for a transition to cognitive capitalism.

Yann Moulier-Boutang writes: "Le travail prolétarisé et salarié n'est plus une forme qui permet de stabiliser une nouvelle forme de capitalisme ... Le revenu universel ne libère pas du capitalisme, mais il rend le travail moins infernal, et élargit la sphère de liberté."

Bernard Guibert writes a "History of the Body of the Worker"

   - 1) 1215: the institution of the principle of Habeus Corpus ("you own your body") against abuse by masters
   - 2) the recognition of the "rights of man" which is also a recognition that the human has a soul
   - 3) the creation of workers solidarity in the 19th cy, which is a right to livelihood ('droits de creances'), leading to the creation of the welfare state. Here the 'body-when-ill' is recognized as part of the human family.
   - 4) the extension of habeus corpus to pregnant women in the seventies

At the same time though, the power of capital also increases, from exterior power over bodies, called 'discipline' by Foucault, to the internalisation of these requirements, called 'control' by Deleuze.

A new theory of the 'post-Fordist' welfare state has been formulated by the German political scientist Helmut Wilke, who has defined the new state model as that of a catalyst, able to steer the various functional and partial self-regulating domains towards the Common Good. Though his work has not been translated, he has been instrumental in influencing various Third Way poiticians.

There is a difference between the Bismarckian and Beveridgian form of social insurane, which depends on their form of financing.The first is paid for by the workers themselves; the second by general taxes. The consensus is that reliance exclusively on the former, is no longer realisable.

Robert Castel says that the early XIX cy was one of complete individualisation, and without protection. Then came a collectivisation due to the demands and strengths of the labour movement, enshrined in the welfare state. Lately, we have gone through a new phase of de-collectivisation, though he insists the essential protections still remain standing. Castel also adds that the universal allowance can be abused by liberal forces to force down the general level of salaries, and that it may lead to poujadist reactions in the middle classes.

This profound individualisation of our society leads to a fundamental loss of security. How to solve this ? By also individualising rights, suggests Alain Supiot, who says that financial entitlements should be guaranteed to every individual regardless of his life course. Or, so hopes Castel, we can call for a new collectivisation, carried out by the new and more mobile social forces, but he's not sure they carry sufficient power.