The Universal Guaranteed Minimum Income Mirage

basic income swiitzerland

Guaranteed Minimum Income is always a sweet spot for “progressives” and left-wingers throughout the world. Its mere enunciation rings like poetic justice to the ears of some. Once the frantic racket mutes, and you actually take a better look at the current PLQ plan here in Quebec and most Universal Guaranteed Income implementation plans throughout the world, the objectives become clear.

It would be odd for an ultra neoliberal ideologue such as Philippe Couillard to all of a sudden declare a new-found love of social justice and endorse “commie” policies such as the redistribution of wealth. The practitioners of the shock doctrine à la Québecoise haven’t renounced prescriptions yet. Quite to the contrary Universal Guaranteed Income is but their latest pain-killer.

Universal Guaranteed Income has become dogma, promoted as a monolithic vaguely defined concept. Universal Guaranteed Income is good, first dogma. Second, it will reduce inequality within society. Third it will allow to a certain extent a decommodification of certain aspect of life. Our concept of time with regards to labor will be transformed and thus guaranteed minimum income has the amazing power to deconstruct our entire rapport with value, growth, production and consummation.

All of these things are true, but they must be put into perspective. Guaranteed Minimum Income is a tool, not the spearhead of a movement designed to take certain aspects of life out of the realm of the market.

(l-r) Premier Couillard and François Blais the new Employment and Social Solidarity Minister who will spearhead this project
(l-r) Premier Couillard and François Blais the new Employment and Social Solidarity Minister who will spearhead this project

Our current concept of production and value stems from the Ricardian theory put forward by 19th Century classical economist David Ricardo. It is based on time. Only labor can produce value and value is merely a crystallization of the labor time put into production. Needless to say this is an oversimplification of an idea that has been at the heart of political economy since its inception.

The principal premise of a Basic Income is that it would eliminate two important pillars of the capitalistic framework. First it would end the “need” to work, if every individual was attributed with a certain sum of purchasing power, enough to reproduce himself comfortably, no individual would be forced to work to feed himself. Secondly it would completely alter our notion of value and the productive forces, coercive powers that have for conceptual foundation that specific notion of value.

And yet one must wonder why would a neoliberal government be inclined to accept such an erosion of everything that is at its core and guiding principals? Because neoliberal theory has taken the utopia of a Guaranteed Minimum Income, altered it and sculpted it into the spearhead of a new phase of an in depth re-engineering of the state.

The blueprint is the following:

Guaranteed Minimum Income is put forward as a mechanism for the betterment of society, the abolition of poverty and all those good things. In reality, though, it actually serves the purpose of a complete commodification of the last aspect of society that are outside of the realm of the market.

In the book the Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State authored by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, a demagogic masterpiece and an anti-democratic pamphlet of reactionary social engineering,  Guaranteed Minimum Income joins privatization of public services and the transformation of universal health care and education into voucher systems as a way to reduce the state.

Guaranteed Minimum Income for Couillard & Co is a neoclassical economics wet dream. Each actor becomes its own isolated unit, then Guaranteed Minimum Income is used as an argument to slash social programs and to privatize large sectors of society, opening-up new parts of human life to the logic of the market.

In an age where the market needs expansion to bypass its internal contradictions, the dynamic of austerity is the avant-garde of this revolution, breaking down the barriers erected to ensure that society and not the market would still have some semblance of prevalence. Karl Polanyi argued that the market was in a struggle against society itself. To prevail, the market needed to disembed itself from society and control politics as well as society’s effect on its environment.

A striking parallel to this new liberal ideal of Guaranteed Minimum Income is the system that was put in place in reaction to the novice brutality of a nascent market system, the Speenhamland reforms. They were designed to keep rural wages artificially high in 19th century England. One of Polanyi’s most ardent critiques of the system was that it not only allowed the Bourgeois and corporate class to rob, pillage and abundantly privatize rural communities, but it also gave a direct subsidy from the government to private interests to do so.

Guaranteed Minimum Income, within the current dynamic, will be the same. It will be used as an argument to privatize galore, to introduce the user-payer notions into every last bastion of resistance towards commodification including health-care, education and more.

But most importantly it will silence the voices that are calling for wealth redistribution, equity and economic reparations. The notion of class, of inequality not only with the realm of economic capital but in heritage and assets and holdings, in cultural capital etc… will never take the spotlight. Guaranteed Minimum Income becomes the perfect mechanism to silence a powerful movement calling for the prevalence of the society over the individual, of the political over the market, of the people over the market, of uncomodifying every aspect of life, of the embedding of the market in society and not the other way around.

The biggest illusion of the Basic Income psychosis is that the ruling neoliberal consensus driven by the cult of profit would benevolently have a change of heart and embrace socialism. Social gains in any shape or form aren’t given, they are taken.

Equality and equity entail a struggle, protests, strikes, occupations, the creation of networks outside of the logic of the market. We will build our future, it won’t be dictated to us or handed down, crumbs from the throne.

A luta continua,

Niall

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