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  • Translator: Michele Gianella Reviewer: Ivana Krivokuća

  • December, 1982.

  • I had two problems, two worries, two nightmares,

  • that prevented me from sleeping, one night after another.

  • Problem number one, unemployment.

  • There was then massive unemployment, especially for young people.

  • What was the solution?

  • The right and the left agreed: only one solution, growth.

  • Of course, one expected productivity to go up,

  • jobs to be lost as a result of technical change.

  • Never mind:

  • growth that would outpace the growth of productivity

  • was the only solution.

  • But this was already a few years

  • after the alarm call of the Club of Rome

  • about the ecological limits to growth.

  • And I, along with others,

  • thought, \"This is crazy!\"

  • Surely, there must be something else to address involuntary unemployment

  • than this mad rush for limitless growth.

  • But what?

  • Then there was my second problem:

  • capitalism.

  • Capitalism is an interesting way

  • of organizing a complex economy,

  • that has undeniable virtues.

  • But it has at least one major drawback.

  • It enslaves us.

  • It subjects us as individuals, and as political communities,

  • to the dictates of the market,

  • to the dictatorship of competitiveness.

  • Is there a solution?

  • For decennia, some people had said

  • that there was one obvious solution:

  • socialism!

  • The replacement of private ownership of the means of production

  • by collective ownership.

  • We were then a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

  • And I was not the only one

  • to have my doubts about that solution.

  • Because socialist economies,

  • for reasons that didn't seem to be just contingent,

  • were not doing too well in terms of economic efficiency.

  • Their record was disappointing, even with regard to equality.

  • And as regards to freedom, they were really disastrous.

  • So surely, I thought, \"There must be something else

  • as an alternative to capitalism, as we knew it.\"

  • But what?

  • Then one evening,

  • as I was washing up and looking through the window,

  • it clicked.

  • I thought, \"I've got it.\"

  • A very simple, dead simple idea.

  • I hadn't heard of it anywhere.

  • I hadn't seen it anywhere, so I had to coin a new expression for it.

  • I was thinking in French, so I called it \"allocation universelle.\"

  • Universal benefit, in analogy to universal suffrage.

  • What was it, this simple idea?

  • An unconditional basic income.

  • Unconditional? Yes!

  • Unconditional, in three senses.

  • One, unconditional in the sense of strictly individual.

  • One doesn't need to see who you live with

  • in order to determine whether you're entitled to it.

  • Two, universal.

  • One doesn't need to see how much you earn

  • in order to determine whether you are entitled to it.

  • And three, duty free, in the sense that one doesn't need to check

  • whether you are able or unable to work, willing or unwilling to work,

  • in order to determine whether you are entitled to it.

  • These three unconditionalities make it clear that this is something

  • that's quite fundamentally different from social assistance,

  • as born in the beginning of the 16th century,

  • and still existing today in the form of what is here called life loan,

  • and similar schemes in other countries.

  • It's also fundamentally different, even more obviously, from social insurance,

  • which forms now the bulk of our welfare states,

  • born at the end of the 19th century, and covering a number of specific risks:

  • involuntary unemployment, old-age pensions, etc.

  • It's fundamentally different

  • from these two older models of social protection,

  • which doesn't mean that it's not combinable with them.

  • In fact, any serious proposal for a basic income today

  • consists in fitting a modest unconditional floor

  • under the whole of our distribution of income,

  • including social transfers

  • linked to social insurance or to social assistance.

  • Basic income is not there to replace them,

  • but to enable them to do a better job.

  • Now you know more or less what it is.

  • But that is the connection with my initial two problems?

  • Let me quickly ask you a question.

  • Suppose we have such an unconditional basic income.

  • Will wages go up or will wages go down?

  • Will it be necessary to pay work more than now,

  • or will it be possible to pay work less than is the case now?

  • Who among you thinks that as a result of a basic income,

  • wages will go up?

  • Those, raise their hands.

  • Who thinks that, as a result of it, wages will go down?

  • Those will raise their hands.

  • Okay.

  • 58 percent up, 42 percent down.

  • Good news is you are all partly right, bad news that you are all partly wrong.

  • Why?

  • Because a universal basic income

  • is something that enables you at the same time

  • to say, \"No\" to certain jobs, and to say, \"Yes\" to certain jobs.

  • It enables you to accept a number of jobs

  • which are not viable now, which you couldn't accept now,

  • because they pay little

  • or they pay in a very uncertain or irregular way.

  • You couldn't accept them for that reason.

  • But that make plenty of sense for you,

  • because they provide you with additional training,

  • because they provide you with future prospects,

  • because they enable you to do useful things

  • with wonderful people around you,

  • because they enable you to realize your calling,

  • whether as a future rock star

  • or as a future smashing, fantastic inventor-innovator.

  • These jobs don't exist now

  • because you don't have now this unconditional floor to rest on,

  • while doing these sort of jobs.

  • At the same time, a basic income

  • is something that enables you to say, \"No\" to certain jobs,

  • to the shitty jobs where you have to work

  • with a bossy, awful boss,

  • with boring, disagreeable colleagues,

  • doing things that have no meaning to you,

  • under dangerous or unpleasant material conditions.

  • To those jobs you can say, \"No,\" because it's unconditional.

  • As a result of that, certain jobs will become possible.

  • These cheap jobs in a way will develop, because they are meaningful in themselves.

  • But at the same time, for other jobs,

  • it will be necessary to pay them more in order to get enough people to do them.

  • This should give you enough to have the intuition

  • about the connection with my first two problems.

  • Unemployment?

  • Yes, a basic income will enable some people who work too much,

  • who get sick because of working too much,

  • to reduce their working time.

  • To interrupt their career for a while far more easily

  • without any complications that are now.

  • On the other hand,

  • it will enable some people who are excluded from work now

  • to get to these jobs.

  • Partly because they will have been vacated by the people working too much,

  • but also because they can combine these jobs,

  • part-time and full-time,

  • provided they are meaningful to them,

  • with this unconditional basis.

  • That solves the problem of unemployment.

  • What about the other problem,

  • this radical alternative to capitalism as we know it?

  • Yes, a basic income is something

  • that goes far beyond a more effective way of fighting poverty.

  • It's something that's closely related to this old emancipatory ideal

  • that was common to Marx

  • and to the utopian socialists that preceded him,

  • and that is captured in the motto:

  • \"From each according to his capacities, to each according to his or her needs.\"

  • Because the higher a basic income is,

  • the greater the share of the total product that is distributed according to needs.

  • At the same time, of course, the higher the basic income,

  • the more people will contribute voluntarily,

  • according to their capacity,

  • without needing to be prompted to do that

  • by remuneration or higher remuneration.

  • This idea is a fairly old idea.

  • It goes beyond these 30 years ago, as I discovered later.

  • Why is it today, in the last years, in the last month, in the last weeks,

  • more popular, more talked about than it has ever been?

  • In my view, fundamentally,

  • because the two problems I started with,

  • these two worries,

  • are perceived more widely,

  • are perceived more acutely than ever before.

  • Think about unemployment.

  • Of course, there are now these forecasts

  • about all the jobs that are going to be lost

  • as a result of robotization and automation.

  • But this is not new, because in the past

  • you had similar forecasts about loss of jobs.

  • What is new is that the skepticism

  • about both the desirability and the possibility

  • of limitless economic growth has grown, and is now unprecedented.

  • 30 years ago, 1982, no one was talking about climate change.

  • 30 years ago, no one was talking,

  • as an increasing number of economies are talking about now,

  • no one was talking about secular stagnation

  • as being inevitable for Europe and for North America.

  • And above all, growth, we've had growth.

  • We are now twice or three times richer

  • than we were at the beginning of the golden 60s.

  • Has unemployment been abolished?

  • No, hasn't been abolished.

  • It's still there, more than before.

  • More than before.

  • So it's high time that we stopped being fooled

  • by the idea that growth is a solution to unemployment,

  • let alone that it is the only solution.

  • And finally, why my second problem?

  • More than ever today,

  • we need something like a mobilizing Utopia.

  • A sort of vibrant alternative to suicidal neoliberalism,

  • to their murderous alternatives that are provided for some people,

  • even by the worldwide Islamic State.

  • We need something to mobilize people again.

  • Basic income is not the whole of it,

  • but it is an essential, indispensable ingredient

  • for any ambitious project,

  • for a sane economy, and for a free society.

  • For a society that gives the real freedom to say, \"No,\"

  • and the real freedom to say, \"Yes.\"

  • A society that gives real freedom for all.

  • (Applause)

Translator: Michele Gianella Reviewer: Ivana Krivokuća

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