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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Guy Standing: ‘We let the right take over liberty’

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Guy Standing (British, 74) is part of a new trend among economists that is forcing left formations to abandon laziness and seek new answers. Standing, creator of a concept that is already common currency, the “precariat”, and staunch supporter of the need for an unconditional basic income for all citizens, has advised the Generalitat of Catalonia and will contribute to the political project that the vice-president of the Yolanda government is preparing diaz. Tomorrow he will be at the Es Baluard Museu in Palma de Mallorca to talk about it The Precariat: The dangerous (and promising) new class.

Questions. What is the precariat?

answer. We can define it in three dimensions or spaces. It consists of millions of people who have unstable and insecure jobs. Most of them have a much higher level of education than the work they do. And they have a lot of work to do that doesn’t count as work, that doesn’t get recognized. You cannot give your life a professional narrative. They don’t really know what they are. One month they work in a bar, the next they clean floors or even work as journalists. The second dimension: Your real wages are falling. And they don’t have pensions, sick leave or paid holidays like the old proletariat. And the third dimension, which is most important to me: anyone who is part of the precariat loses citizenship rights. Civil, cultural, values ​​of belonging to a particular community.

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P. And social rights.

R. And social rights, right. For social rights are universal subsidies that governments tie to specific goals, specific behaviors and specific social conditions. If you give these benefits only to poor people, you lose them as soon as you try to get out of poverty. And it happens to be the poverty trap. People work more, lose those benefits and get little more in return.

P. He has been heavily critical of governments’ response to the economic challenge of the pandemic.

R Most of the policies of European governments have been deeply wrong. The ERTES, for example, were basically a subsidy for big companies. They were regressive in the sense that they were primarily aimed at those with higher incomes and only later at the precariat. The latter, for the most part, received nothing because he did not have a permanent job. They were thrown out into the street, period. I think the ERTES system has increased inequality. And there was a high level of fraud. Companies pretended that their employees were not working but at home. And the employees with their computers continued to work.

P. Have we learned the lesson?

R. I am very pleased with the idea that the vice-president of the Spanish government, Yolanda Díaz, created a commission of inquiry into the precariat. I’ve been asked to contribute and I think it’s a great opportunity. Today the level of insecurity of a growing section of the precariat, of anger, is unsustainable. They are young, well educated, many women. And they reiterate after the pandemic that they don’t want to go back to what was before. They want a new kind of progressive politics. You will know better. There was a time in Spain when the traditional political form was being broken up. But what came after that were bad politicians and bad policies. I don’t think this is the end of this story. There are new environmental and social movements, a growing and more angry precariat. All of this will pressure governments to think differently. In theory the current coalition government is on the left, but I don’t think it is in practice. You have to be more open to new ideas.

P But that anger can also translate into support for populist forces, left or right.

R I divide the precariat into three groups. The first are the outcasts of the working class. They don’t have a high level of education. They are basically men. And they listen to the populist voices of the extreme right like Trump, Johnson or, in Spain, VOX. This group was the largest after the 2008 crisis. It isn’t anymore. You’re getting older. In the middle you have what I call the nostalgics. You feel like you have no home. Immigrants, refugees, the disabled, minorities… This group keeps a low profile. They don’t vote for populists because they just don’t vote. The third group are the boys who were promised a future by their parents. They went to college, passed their exams and everything that goes with it. And they have no future. And they know it. You are in debt, angry. But they don’t want to vote for populism, neither on the left nor on the right. First because it seems stupid. The second because it scares them. They are the group that has grown the most in all countries, including Spain. We have come to a point where politicians are being forced to think differently. Some will turn to populism, others will stir up prejudice… but the youngest, especially women, are beginning to forge a new vocabulary. So I’m quite optimistic.

P. What is this universal basic income that you defend?

R. I never speak of universal basic income. I’m talking about basic income. Because in the case of recently arrived immigrants, for example, they should wait a while before acquiring this right. But that doesn’t mean they don’t get other help. It is a right for which each individual, male or female, receives a modest amount each month. Unconditionally. It is not tied to an economic level, nor does it require a specific behavior. In cash or otherwise. Everyone uses it as they want. The amount will depend on each government’s ability to increase funds dedicated to this goal. It’s an economic right. An example of shared justice. The justification for the basic income is above all ethical. This does not imply the abolition of other types of aid or subsidies.

P. Why ethics?

R. Helps increase your freedom. Especially those of the ladies. It allows them to say no to an abusive relationship, an exploitative boss, or an overwhelming bureaucracy. It allows you to make choices, and that’s what freedom is. And finally, a basic income, no matter how small, gives people the indispensable feeling of security. Because, as psychologists have told us, insecurity lowers our IQ. It is unfair for the government to subject a person suffering from chronic insecurity to the same criteria as you or me.

P. What is this rent supposed to guarantee?

R. It is designed to provide food, shelter and a basic standard of living. And up from there. In countries that depend on a globalized economy, such as Spain or the UK, where salaries will continue to decrease in the near future due to this globalization and the automation of jobs. We need to find a new way to provide basic security to citizens. The results of pilot programs conducted in several countries and cities, including one in Barcelona, ​​show that people who achieve this basic security work more, not less. Usually, the bourgeois critics of the proposal claim that people are stopping trying. Is not true. You have more confidence, more energy. They try to acquire new skills.

P And even dare to change jobs.

R They even change jobs because they are no longer afraid. Create a new type of entrepreneur. I was very impressed by the results of a survey in Spain. I asked people what they would do if they had basic income. Many said they would increase their level of education. Or they would volunteer more. Or more independence. This stress reduction is a vital necessity today, because stress itself has become a pandemic.

P. But isn’t it ultimately an uncontrolled subsidy, as you criticize?

R. No, because it’s not the same. A basic income is a modest weekly payment that you must learn to use. And what we found in the pilots is that people don’t put that money to good use initially. But little by little they learn. You save. They change their behavior. If it were a payment, we’d probably all waste it. That’s called weakness of will. With basic income, it’s a better approximation because you generate modest reform and economic law.

P. They advocate a rethinking of taxes. It is possible?

R. Not only is it possible, it is essential. For example, think of the tax on high CO2 emissions. We need to tax these emissions to reduce fossil fuel consumption. But the problem with such a tax is that it takes a high percentage of a poor person’s income. It needs to be popularized politically, and for that it should be noted that all of these collections are the dividends of commons destined for a growing fund that feeds basic income. The larger this fund, the higher the income.

P. And you will get this message back from the commons.

R. Citizens can understand this concept, that of the commons. They can be water, air or land, but not only. Also the benefit of patents or intellectual property rights obtained thanks to a significant contribution of public aid. It is a way for progressive politicians to reformulate their agenda and stop using old and Marxist language that no longer connects with the new generations.

P. Is there a problem in the message on the left?

R. Talk of state ownership or state intervention makes people think of authoritarian governments like Putin’s. They associate it with a centralized and rigid control of the economy. One of the problems we had on the left was allowing the right to appropriate the discourse of liberty. It was the way of presenting ourselves as defenders of a paternalistic state. The message of the commons and the need to redistribute their dividends is understood by all.

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