Sep 252017

reposted from OCAP and signed up to by DPAC

The Neoliberal Danger of Basic Income


Statement for endorsement: We have drawn up the following statement on basic income (BI). It makes the case that, progressive hopes to the contrary notwithstanding, BI is being developed as a measure of neoliberal attack that should be opposed. We invite progressive organizations and individuals who hold positions in agencies and academic institutions, who agree with our arguments, to sign onto the statement. We hope that it will raise a voice of opposition and help develop information sharing and forms of co-operation among those, internationally, who reject the notion that basic income represents any kind realistic response to the neoliberal attack.

Endorsements and other responses can be directed to us at

The Neoliberal Danger of Basic Income

We, the undersigned, are convinced that the emerging model of basic income, reflected in pilot projects and other initiatives in a number of countries and jurisdictions, is one that would intensify the neoliberal agenda. The hope that there is any realistic chance of ensuring a truly adequate, universal payment, that isn’t financed by undermining other vital elements of social provision, is misplaced in our view.

We are far from wanting to suggest that existing systems of income support are anywhere close to adequate.  They provide precarious sub poverty income under conditions that are marked by intrusive regulations and forms of moral policing.  Moreover, decades of neoliberal austerity have made these systems considerably worse.

However wretched and inadequate present systems may be, the assumption that basic income must or even could be an improvement on the status quo has to be tested by considering a number of factors.  Historically, income support has been provided because those in political power concluded that outright abandonment of those not in the workforce would create unacceptably high levels of unrest and social dislocation. In the far from dead tradition of the English Poor Laws, income support has been provided at levels that were low enough to maintain a supply of the worst paid workers, in forms that were as punitive and degrading as possible. Again, the neoliberal years have seen these features intensified in what we must concede has been a highly effective drive to create a climate of desperation and a plentiful supply of low paid and precarious workers.

If austerity driven governments and institutions of global capitalism are today looking favourably at basic income, it’s not because they want to move towards greater equality, reverse the neoliberal impact and enhance workers’ bargaining power. They realize that a regressive model of basic income can be put in place that provides an inadequate, means tested payment to the poorest people outside of the workforce but that is primarily directed to the lowest paid workers. This would be, in effect, a subsidy to employers, paid for out of the tax revenues and it would be financed by cuts to broader public services. Such a model would lend itself to disregarding the particular needs of disabled people and, as a “citizen’s income,” could readily be denied to many immigrants, especially those left undocumented. Under such a system, you would shop through the rubble of the social infrastructure with your meagre basic income. The kind of pilot projects and other initiatives that are emerging offer severe warnings in this regard (we include some links that provide information on several of these)*.

However, some suggest that while regressive models could be developed and may pose a danger, a progressive and even “emancipatory” form of basic income is possible and realistic as a goal. Often, this is linked to the idea of preparing for a “workless future” in which vast numbers of technologically displaced workers can be provided for. The notion is that a universal payment would be provided unconditionally and that it would be adequate enough so that paid work, if it were an option, would be a matter of choice rather than necessity. While there are a few who suggest this could be won through large scale social action, advocates for a progressive basic income more often seem to assume that capitalist support and acceptance by the state can be won by way of a vigorous lobbying effort.

In our view, a truly adequate and redistributive, let aside transformative, basic income is not possible within the confines of the current economic system. Firstly, the present balance of forces in society, after decades of neoliberalism, does not lend itself to the conclusion that a sweeping measure of social reform, that would reverse this whole agenda, is immediately likely. Beyond this, however, an income support system that removed economic coercion in a way that progressive basic income advocates suggest, would be more than turning back the neoliberal tide. It would actually mean that the state was providing the working class with an unlimited strike fund. It would undermine the very basis for the capitalist job market. It would constitute social transformation, a revolutionary change that is, to say the least, beyond the capacity of any possible social policy enactment.

If basic income as emancipation is not possible, it can only too easily take form as neoliberal intensification.  Yet, sadly, progressive advocates end up offering legitimacy to that regressive alternative but placing hopes in musings about basic income by Silicon Valley billionaires or by presenting cynical pilot projects, set up by austerity driven governments, as flawed but important first steps. However much they wish otherwise, the sow’s ear will not become a silk purse.

If faith in a progressive basic income is misplaced, we wish we could offer a shining and readily attainable alternative but this is not possible.  We are largely fighting a defensive struggle against a virulent agenda to undermine social provision and increase the rate of exploitation. We can only offer the hard slog of building stronger inclusive movements of social resistance, rejuvenating unions and building a working class political challenge to neoliberalism. As we do this, we must fight for free, expanded and accessible public services. We must win decent wages and workers’ rights. We must struggle for income support systems that are based on adequacy, full entitlement and that are purged of intrusive rules and moral policing. We must infuse all of these movements and struggles with a sense of a very different kind of society from the capitalist one we are fighting. This doesn’t have the glitter of the dream of a progressive basic income but it does accept that reality that there is no social policy way around neoliberalism or a long and hard fight against it. The progressive welcome mat for basic income is a very big mistake.




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 Posted by at 15:16

  6 Responses to “Why DPAC has concerns about a neo-Liberal Basic Income”

  1. If by Progressive you mean Variable, then that’s not what the Universal Basic Income movement want at all. A UBI must by definition be unconditional, universal, and sufficient – not just for a year but for the whole lifetime of the recipient, if need be. It should be enough to permit a yearly holiday, an occasional dinner out, and to permit civic and social engagement. I don’t know ANYONE who is suggesting that disability benefits should be included into the UBI calculation.

    • I am assuming by progressive they are referring to the proposals from within the progressive UK parties (Labour/Lib Dems/Greens/SNP/Plaid/SDLP) all of which have some degree of Basic Income advocacy (particularly Greens and SNP as it is policy for them), rather than as in progressive taxation.

      I think, but I am not sure, that at least some of the right wing proposals in the states include cutting all other forms of benefits. And Luke Martinelli at IPR modelled the impact of doing so in the UK (answer, it isn’t great!).

  2. The oncoming “workless future” also doesn’t fit with the “confines of the current economic system”. That system is all but guaranteed to fail eminently.

    If you don’t like BI, fine. I’d love to hear as many other transitional suggestion and goals for post-capitalism.

    Your suggestion of fighting hard is as applicable to fighting to making sure BI is fair and equitable as fighting for anything else. What are you recommending fighting for?

  3. While I do agree with deep concern over the neo-liberal and libertarian arguments for Basic Income, I don’t really agree with a rejection of arguing for a progressive vision of a Basic Income, or at least certainly not without a convincing argument for an alternative progressive vision of what social security ought to be

    The automation/jobless future stuff is troubling, I think, especially as it is all to easy to see that operating on very ableist lines, but at the same time I don’t think it will ever be reality, and that a general movement towards reducing average working hours is probably a good thing.

  4. I don’t know where you got the idea that a guaranteed basic income would be means tested, if it’s means tested then it is not a basic income guaranteed for all from birth. Means testing can only be part of a complex system which cannot be guaranteed because it would vary according to a set of means testing criteria, so it is not a guaranteed basic income.

  5. To characterise BI as only supported by neoliberal austerity driven governments is wrong. BI is supported by anti austerity organisations including the GMB Union and SNP government.Any system that is used to provide citizens with the financial support for basic living will be inadequate if sufficient funding is not put in to sustain it. This is the present situation with the Tory neoliberal austerity programme. They are now the only austerity party apart from UKIP. BI has many advantages over the present largely means tested, bureaucratic and inhumane welfare system. BI treats people with humanity and not as serfs.

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