Guy Standing, Economist, Professorial Research Associate, SOAS University of London, Founding member and honorary co-chair of BIEN (Basic Income Earth Network), speaks to ENA arguing for the necessity to establish a Universal Basic Income (UBI), as a tool for effectively ensuring basic social, economic and health security for every citizen and as a crucial step towards social justice.

Interview by Nikos Erinakis, Director of Research, ENA Institute

Instability, insecurity, precarity, inequality: Concepts that illustrated our modern societies pre-Covid19 state of play. How the pandemics will impact these situations?

The neo-liberal economic strategy that began in the 1980s has created a global economic system best described as rentier capitalism, in which more and more of the income and wealth generated has gone to the owners of property – financial, physical and so-called intellectual property. And while less has gone to those dependent on labour for their income, the new class of the precariat have been receiving even less, and they have been suffering from chronic economic insecurity. They are living on the edge of unsustainable debt.

But precarity is more than merely having unstable jobs and uncertain income. The worst feature is that the precariat feel increasingly like supplicants, having to plead for income and support, without strong social and economic rights. All of this has been made much worse by the pandemic, because the precariat has the least resilience, the capacity to withstand shocks. And, ironically, in most countries the counter-measures by governments have actually worsened inequality and the insecurities felt by the precariat.

The Covid-19 crisis destabilized some of the fundamental pillars of the last 3 decades globalization process? Something “new” will be born or gradually we’ll be directed to a “business as usual” direction?

Governments, central banks and international financial agencies will try to resurrect financial capitalism. As in the case of the financial crash of 2007-2008, they have already poured huge amounts into propping up financial markets. This will result in many millions of people joining the precariat and becoming homeless, indebted and subject to suicidal tendencies. But I hope that enough people will refuse to allow them to continue that route. We know that helping the financial sector will only make matters worse and lead to a second round and a third round of the pandemic slump.

What should be the appropriate policy mix in order to tackle the crisis’ consequences & secure a sustainable & fair recovery path? The classic Left-Right dichotomy can give answers to the current policy dilemmas?

I will answer these questions in response to the next set. But I want to emphasise that this is a pivotal moment for those claiming they are on the political left. They must offer a transformative strategy based on Enlightenment values, a strategy based on dismantling rentier capitalism and on building an ecologically sustainable society.

Universal Basic Income, Guaranteed Minimum Wage, Job Guarantee etc Which of these tools can be more suitable the day after the pandemics? Maybe a combination of some of them?

I have made my position as clear as possible in my books. We must demand and work for a new income distribution system, one that rejects the tired dictates of labourism that the old social democrats espoused unsuccessfully in the 20th century. Marx said that labour is ‘alienated activity’ and he was right. A Job Guarantee scheme would be absurd, and would lead to ‘workfare’, as I have explained in my book Battling Eight Giants: Basic Income Now. Why do progressives want as many people as possible to be in positions of subordinated labour, in jobs? If you are in a job, you are necessarily answerable to a boss. Fair enough. But let us not romanticise that as some progressive goal.

A Minimum Wage is an industrial labour market policy, which could work to some extent in an industrial labour market. But it is basically just a decent gesture in the flexible, indirect labour relations of today and the future.

I have argued for a basic income as an anchor of a new income distribution system for over 30 years. It is not a panacea. But it would be a matter of social justice, would enhance liberal and republican freedom and give everybody basic security. It should be funded by the construction of Commons Capital Funds, as I have argued in my book Plunder of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth.

Both from the Left & the Right express reluctance on whether all these “guaranteed” tools may be efficient. The ones point out the possible dismantling of the Welfare State & the further deregulation of employment, while the others stress out the economic burden & the moral hazard. Are these critics legitimate?

The old left is being pathetically conservative, even reactionary. Albert Hirschman, in a brilliantly perceptive book, pointed out that every time a new social policy emerges into prominence, critics claim it would lead to loss of other social policies, such as the welfare state. That is never what has happened. We always have to struggle to maintain social distributional advances. That surely does not justify giving up on other progressive objectives. I believe everybody should have access to sufficient resources on which to survive in dignity. Why is the left so afraid of that? No wonder social democrats have been losing support everywhere. They have become the party of yesterday.

As for the political right, they are surely exposed today as economically bankrupt. Their only hope is some form of economic populism to prop up rentier capitalism. But the inequalities and insecurities and the pandemics they breed have become risibly insane. Their sword carriers are Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Victor Orban and a crazy Jair Bolsonaro, with Salvini and others waiting in the wings. We must continue to pour scorn on them, while making sure we focus on offering a progressive agenda that is based on a vision of a Good Society. We must re-invest the Future.


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