Promoting Income Security as a Right: Europe and North America

Promoting Income Security as a Right: Europe and North America

by Guy Standing (Editor)


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This book is about an idea that has a long and distinguished pedigree, the idea of a right to a basic income. This means having a modest income guaranteed – a right without conditions, just as every citizen should have the right to clean water, fresh air and a good education.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781843311744
Publisher: Anthem Press
Publication date: 03/01/2005
Series: Anthem Politics and International Relations Series
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 615
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Guy Standing is Director of the Socio-Economic Security Programme of the International Labour Organization. He is Chairman of the Basic Income European Network (BIEN). He has written and edited numerous books, including 'Beyond the New Paternalism: Basic Security as Equality' (Verso, 2002) and 'Global Labour Flexibility: Seeking Distributive Justice' (Macmillan, 1999).

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Promoting Income Security as a Right: Europe and North America

By Guy Standing

Wimbledon Publishing Company

Copyright © 2005 International Labour Organization
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84331-174-4



Guy Standing

1. A Vision: Basic Income Security and 'Decent Work'

We live in strange times, in a world of greater monetary affluence than at any time in history, yet with more people living in wretched poverty than ever before. Wars and retribution make the news every day, and the voices of peace have been reduced to a whisper. There is economic insecurity almost everywhere, which has helped fan intolerance, and the anger of relative and absolute deprivation. This in turn has been feeding extremism, 'angst', bitterness and anomic consumerism. And yet, so much of all this is so unnecessary. Politicians, their advisers and policymaking civil servants should step back and think again.

There is a desire for something better and calmer. People around the world have begun to say with increasing conviction that, unless policies and institutions can be made to reduce injustice, insecurity and inequality, we will live an existence in which more and more resources will be devoted to police, prisons and weapons, extended to protect the relatively privileged from the effects of rising anger among the poor and insecure. We surely do not wish to see a fortress world for the privileged, in which everybody feels unsafe. Finding more effective ways of providing universal basic security should be at the top of the international agenda.

In the early years of the twenty-first century, can we form a vision of the Good Society of the future? Let us start with two fundamental questions, to keep at the back of our minds. Bearing in mind that all theories of distributive justice espouse the equality of something, the first grand question is:

What is it that should be equalized in the Good Society of the twenty-first century?

We may start with an underlying premise, which is that readers are egalitarian in some sense of that word, believing that a Good and Just Society must rest on some principle of social justice in which something should be equalized, whether it be income, wealth, status or opportunity to work, save, invest, and live a decent life. In this respect, we may claim that society should rest on a simple principle, that everybody should have basic security – to be equally free, equally protected against morbidity, and have equally good opportunity to develop their competencies and capabilities. Across a broad political spectrum, this fundamental principle is surely accepted. It defines our civilization and our civility, the basis of our inter-generational, intra-generational and cross-national discourse.

So, the essence of the answer is that for real (substantive) freedom, everybody in society must have equal basic security. This must be unconditional and individualized, the former being critical for liberty and for combating paternalism, the latter being critical for gender-related (and many other) issues. The word 'real' is used to signify that there must be a combination of 'negative liberty' – the negation of deprivation and unchosen controls – and 'positive liberty' – the opportunity to make informed and worthwhile choices. Real freedom might be described as the opportunity and capacity to function rationally and purposefully and to develop one's capacities or capabilities.

The second, complementary grand question is:

Assuming a veil of ignorance (i.e. not knowing where they would be in the distribution of outcomes), what sort of society would we want to leave for our children?

The gist of my own answer is that they should be living in a society celebrating a diversity of lifestyles, constrained only by the need to avoid doing harm to others, and living in circumstances in which a growing majority of people work on their enthusiasms, and pursue their own sense of occupation – combining their competencies or 'functionings', varying their work status, and possessing the means to be responsible to their family, neighbours and wider community. People live in an environment of co-operative individualism, in which individual freedom of action and reflection is backed by collective agency. This notion of development may be called occupational security – the security in which to develop capabilities and a working life combining forms of activity, including the stillness of contemplation. This is very close to what the ILO is espousing through its 'decent work' concept. This is also a vision of the Good Society based on real freedom and on equal basic security, or what might be called complex egalitarianism.

This paper contends that a citizenship income is essential for the Good Society of the twenty-first century, and that it could promote both individual liberty and personal and communal security, without which one cannot envisage a flourishing of all the talents. Before continuing, let us pause here to reflect on the key words. The concept of basic income security obviously encapsulates three concepts – 'basic', 'income' and 'security'. Each of these words begs for a definition, as do each of the couplets (basic income, basic security, income security), and even the notion of universalism that often accompanies each of them.

A key point about 'basic' is that it must be meaningful, in that it would have to be more than a charitable gesture. It means that it would have to be sufficient for survival. A key point about 'income' is that the payment must be in a form that allows the individual to decide for him- or herself how to allocate the resources. It is non-paternalistic in this respect, unlike a food subsidy, for example. A key point about 'security' is that whatever is provided must be assured. There should be no 'moving of the goalposts', which has been a striking feature of most welfare states over the past fifty years or so.

Adequate socio-economic security is the bedrock of real freedom. However, one must allow that, both for individuals and for society, too much security holds as many dangers as too little. Without basic security, you cannot be expected to be able to make rational decisions. However, freedom does require democratically chosen restraints, to check recklessness and selfish opportunism. These restraints must presumably pass some veil of ignorance test – that they apply equally to all groups and individuals, and that we accept them regardless of what position we occupy in the system of distribution.

Let us assume that we accept that universal basic economic security is a fundamental principle of a Good Society. If so, two policy-decision principles seem to follow. The first, following Rawls but making security the locus of strategy, may be called the Security Difference Principle:

A policy, or institutional change, is socially just only if it reduces (or does not worsen) the insecurity of the least secure groups in society.

In other words, real freedom cannot be advanced if, say, supply-side policies, such as 'structural adjustment' strategies or 'shock therapy', deliberately worsen the insecurity of those at or near the bottom of society. And this would hold regardless of claims made on behalf of political democracy, i.e., if a majority could be induced to vote for policies that would make the worst-off worse off.

This decision rule, or principle of constitutionality, provides justification for a floor, to protect and enhance freedom in moving towards universal basic security. After all, if one accepts that real freedom is the opportunity to pursue a life of dignified and dignifying work, then one must recognize that this is about distributional outcomes – the woman outworker, the labourer and the peasant should have the same (or equivalent) basic security as the lawyer, the economist or the shareholder.

The first policy decision rule should be complemented by one dealing with the threat of various forms of paternalism and state control, which also threaten freedom. This may be called the Paternalism Test Principle:

A policy, or institutional change, is just only if it does not impose controls on some groups that are not imposed on the most free groups in society, or if it reduces controls limiting the autonomy to pursue occupation of those facing the most controls.

Thus, unless husbands are subject to the same controls as wives, unless the poor the same as the rich, and the unemployed the same as the employed, then policy, institutional or relational controls should be opposed as invalid. And they would remain invalid even if a political majority could be engineered to vote for them. Reducing the freedom of a minority (or a majority, in the case of women in many societies) cannot be accepted, even if the change enhances the freedom of others.

The Paternalism Test Principle will be crucial in the first decade of the twenty-first century, because of the dangers of ostensibly benign State paternalism. The bristling machismo of politicians and their 'think tanks' in recent years has condemned universalistic social protection without behavioural conditions through the use of loaded terms such as 'nanny State' and 'dependency'. The irony is that State paternalism, in the form of 'workfare', 'welfare- to-work' and other directive schemes, more deserves the epithet of nanny State – although such euphemisms should be treated with some disdain.

If the Paternalism Test and Security Difference Principles were respected, we should favour policies and institutions that move people's work away from external controls, and towards greater autonomy, security and equality. This is not just about laws and regulations. It is also about work structuring – shaping work to suit people, not merely shaping people for jobs, or to make them more 'employable', or even to give them more 'human capital' or 'human capability'. Freedom cannot be equated with capabilities or entitlements, unless one defines these terms so broadly that they lack specificity. We should wish to provide basic security for all, since that is essential to facilitate the individual's freedom to develop. By the latter is meant a freedom to develop ourselves through a creative, multi-sided existence, in which our work and our contemplative sides are balanced and balancing. It is of course clear that the way social security and social protection systems have been evolving around the world is in no way compatible with this vision. Before considering the latter in more detail, therefore, let us highlight – very schematically – the most relevant broad characteristics of the emerging economic system and the patterns of distribution associated with it.

2. The Context

We live in a 'globalizing' world, in which social and economic insecurities seem pervasive, in which there is no prospect of 'full employment' in the Keynesian sense of the word (and arguably no good justification for making that the primary social policy objective). There are extensive, and probably growing, inequalities of income, wealth and the opportunity of making either. Corporations and governments are mostly eager to create more flexible labour markets and labour relations, and unions are too weak in most places to do much about it.

Above all, we live in a world in which traditional family and community networks of social protection are breaking down, and where extended families are becoming more rare, where household membership becomes more transient, where 'bowling alone' is becoming a more prevalent way of living. It is also a world in which employers are increasingly disinclined to provide a wide array of social benefits for ordinary workers, and in which the State is shrinking in the sense of being able and willing to provide a growing array of decent 'cradle to grave' benefits and entitlements.

One may criticize these trends or one may welcome them. The key point is that we must take them into account in thinking of feasible and desirable options for moving towards basic income security. Good policy is not based on unrealistic assumptions.

The context, then, is one of widespread and growing economic and social inequality and insecurity. We are in the midst of a great transformation, in which the economy has become disembedded from society, such that there are no adequate systems of regulation, redistribution or social protection to moderate the inequalities and insecurities being thrown up. Globalization and the spread of flexible, informal labour markets are associated with capital and labour fragmentation, in which controls over workers and citizens are becoming more complex and indirect, and in which income flows are also becoming more complex. A small minority are receiving income mainly from capital, with a small part coming from performance of highly paid labour. At the top is an elite, blessed by absurdly high incomes and windfall gains that are a spreading dark stain on global capitalism. The stain is spreading, not just because more executives are demanding that level of remuneration but because these incomes convert into huge wealth that is passed from generation to generation, producing the concentration of financial wealth that is a starting point for our deliberations.

Alongside the wealthy elite, a shrinking core group of workers are receiving income from a variable mix of wages, state benefits, enterprise benefits and capital (shares). Below both groups in terms of income, a heterogeneous group has mushroomed, which for present purposes may be called outsiders (flexi-workers, unemployed, and a lumpenized detached group of homeless or socially ill people scraping by). The outsiders instil the fear of insecurity in the stomachs of the insiders, who in turn retreat into implicit or explicit 'concession bargaining' with their firms.


Excerpted from Promoting Income Security as a Right: Europe and North America by Guy Standing. Copyright © 2005 International Labour Organization. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures; ;List of Tables; Introduction; Section 1. Basic Income as a Right: 1. About time: Basic Income Security as a Right; 2. How Basic Income is Moving up the Policy Agenda: News from the Future; 3. Can there be a Right to Basic Income?; 4. Wasteful Welfare Transactions: Why Basic Income Security in Fundamental; 5. Migration, Citizenship and Welfare State Reform in Europe: Overcoming Marginalization in Segregated Labour Markets; 6. The Liberal's Dilemma: Immigration, Social Solidarity and Basic Income; Section 2. Rationales for Basic Income: 7. The Psychological Rationale for Basic Income; 8. The Limits of Production: Justifying Guaranteed Basic Income; 9. Liberal and Marxist Justifications for Basic Income; 10. Basic Income, Commons and Commodities: The Public Domain Revisited; 11. 'Calling': A Christian Argument for Basic Income; 12. Social Credit as Economic Modernism: Seven Theses; 13. Deliberative Democracy and the Legitimacy of Basic Income; Section 3. Legitimizing Basic Income Politically: 14. Mobilizing Support for Basic Income; 15. A Legitimate Guaranteed Minimum Income; 16. Republicanism and Basic Income: The Articulation of the Public Sphere from the Repoliticization of the Private Sphere; 17. Working Poor in Europe: A Partial Basic Income for Workers; 18. Basic Income, Social Polarization and the Right to Work; 19. Popular Support for Basic Income in Sweden in Finland; 20. The Principle of Universalism: Tracing a Key Idea in the Scandinavian Welfare Model; 21. Women's Politics and Social Policy in Austria; 22. Bio-Economics, Labour Flexibility and Cognitive Work: Why not Basic Income; 23. Exploring Ways to Reconcile Flexible Employment with Social Protection; Section 4. Building Towards Basic Income: 24. On a Path to Just Distribution: The Caregiver Credit Campaign; 25. A Care-Worker Allowance for Germany; 26. Feminist Arguments in Favour of Welfare and Basic Income in Denmark; 27. Public Support for Basic Income Shemes and a Universal Right to Health Care: What the French People Think; 28. Activation of Minimum Income and Basic Income: History of a Comparison of Two Ideas; National and Regional Initiatives: 29. The Universal Grant and Income Support in Spain and the Basque Country; 30. The Impact of Basic Income on the Propensity to Work: Theoretical Gambles and Microeconometric Findings; 31. A Failure to Communicate: The Labour Market Findings of the Negative Income Tax Experiments and their Effects on Policy and Public Opinion; 32. Basic Income and the Means to Self-Govern; 33. The Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend: An experiment in Wealth Distribution; 34. Social Citizenship and Workfare in the United States and Western Europe: From Status to Contract

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