The REAL argument for Universal Basic Services

As a postscript to the previous piece on Universal Basic Income, (together with the interesting comment from Charles Adams on the same page) an American article makes a coherent case against a full Universal Basic Income:

Our current economic crisis goes beyond the problem of income inequality. While inequality garners the most attention, it’s a secondary feature of capitalism. One of capitalism’s most remarkable achievements … is that it made market exchange the nearly exclusive means to acquire the goods necessary for our own reproduction. In doing so, it turned money into almost the only valid medium of exchange and it made the majority of the population dependent on capital, enforcing a fundamentally asymmetric power relation between the boss and the worker. This profoundly unequal relationship not only subordinates people within the sphere of labour, but outside it as well, through the powerful influence economic power exerts on politics, ideology, and culture.

Whilst this (American) conclusion would seem to ignore (English) feudalism and the enclosures, it probably needs emphasising that this is just capitalism’s disadvantages writ large. Don’t conform or you don’t get a family.

I think they have a salient point.

They go on to suggest that British sociologist T. H. Marshall (professor at the LSE in the war period) has pointed out in ‘Citizenship and Social Class’, that far from capitalism giving you a choice enabling you to indulge your individuality, in effect it may restrict it.

After all, property ownership was used to restrict universal suffrage, now a democratic norm world-wide. So individuality definitely does not go with the original capitalist territory.

Marshall, he of the private school, so he should know, mentions that Britain was once ruled by an aristocracy, but now it thinks it is ruled by a meritocracy. This meritocracy, he suggests, shows very little consideration of how either unearned social advantages or disadvantages shape the life chances of most people.

After the Thatcher/Reagan ‘neoliberal’ coup that is even more the case.

So he suggests that real equality isn’t possible “without restricting the freedom of competitive markets.”

Perhaps we need to understand that proper freedom isn’t, after all, the ability to ‘access the market’, but rather the ability to reduce the area in which it operates.

That, certainly, is the case for Universal Basic Services rather than Universal Basic Income.

And it is certainly the case for restraining financial capitalism.


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