Last Wednesday (November 22, 2023), the Tory government in Britain released their fiscal update known…
I have long disagreed with Guy Standing about the solutions to unemployment. 20 years ago we crossed paths on panels and in the literature where he would argue that UBI was the way forward and I would argue that it was a neoliberal plot and that, instead, we needed to push for job creation. My view has always been that to surrender to the neoliberals on their claim that governments cannot generate sufficient jobs to satisfy the desires for work of the unemployed was a slippery slope. Standing continues to publish his fiction. In his latest Social Europe article (January 15, 2020) – Building a progressive alliance in Britain – he seeks to integrate UBI proposals with a recovery plan for British Labour. My view is that would not help Labour recover from the shots they fired into their own feet in the period before the December election by listening to the likes of Standing and those who advocated the Fiscal Credibility Rule and the reneging on the Brexit commitment. Standing’s aversion to job creation is in contradistinction with a recommendation from the Wetenschappelijke Raad Voor Het Regeringsbeleid (WRR or in English, The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy) to the Dutch government to deal with the challenges of achieving “good work”, in part, by introducing a ‘basic job’ which in my parlance means by introducing a Job Guarantee. They are motivated by a deep vein of social science and medical research that extols the virtues of work beyond its obvious income generation qualities. Pushing a UBI in the light of that research is just a pitiful bailout.
The WRR is “an independent advisory body for government policy … [and] … The task of the WRR is to advise the Dutch government and Parliament on strategic issues that are likely to have important political and societal consequences.”
It brings together research and sorts through “opposing views” in order to come up with “properly thought-out opinions”.
On January 15, 2020, it released its – Het betere werk. De nieuwe maatschappelijke opdracht – (Better Work: Societies new mission) Report, which outlined three essential conditions that emerge from the scientific literature for what they call “good work”.
They say these elements accord with the “wishes and expectations of people in society”.
The full report in Dutch is – WRR-rapport nr.102: Het betere werk. De nieuwe maatschappelijke opdracht.
Essentially, without analysing the whole report, which I have now been able to read, the Report notes there are three developments that will impact on the future of work:
1. New technology (robots, etc) which results in loss of jobs also presents new opportunities for work. They conclude that policy has to focus on “complementarity” between people and machines to ensure the technological age promotes human welfare and doesn’t erode it.
2. The increasing flexibility of work has increased the likelihood of a precariat developing.
3. The changing intensity of work is also important which an increasing proportion of workers reporting they “often or always have to work quickly to get the job done” and the “work pressure is too high”.
The Report says that “Greater autonomy at work – that is, more freedom to perform tasks as one sees fit – is one buffer against such intensification.”
An important contribution of the work, that draws on many social science disciplines (including sociology, psychology etc) is that:
Being in work is good, both for the income and the self-respect it affords individuals and for its benefits to society. But this applies above all when that work is good work.
In other words, they recognise that while “good work is work that provides sufficient financial security” (that is, secure income and real wages growth), it also is important for our social standing, our sense of worth and self-esteem, our sense that we are contributing to something in a collective way using our own skills and efforts.
The provided the following diagram which traces the benefits of governments ensuring there is good work available to the individual sense of welfare through to benefits for the “economy and society”, in the aggregate.
They say that:
Good work improves people’s health and well-being … as well as their engagement … all of which contribute towards greater productivity and well-functioning, innovative work organizations. Good work also helps ensure that people can continue working longer and limits the cost of healthcare. Finally, good work for all is better for social cohesion … since it makes people better able to enter into human relationships and to connect with society as a whole. For optimum social cohesion, it is therefore best if everyone has good work.
The WRR report also argue that a policy program that promotes the goal of financial security must recognise that there are many people in our societies who want to work but cannot find work or who are underemployed.
In the Netherlands, this number reaches “about one million”.
A further 1.6 million are “receiving benefits”, while there is a rising proportion of people, for example, with disabilities, that are “outside the labour market” because they cannot find work but are willing and able to do work.
They report that:
At the same time, the Netherlands has all but stopped investing in active labour-market policy … People without a job receive hardly any training or personal guidance, even though being in work is so important for personal health and well-being and for national social cohesion. Given that work is so important psychologically and socially, we should not simply be ‘fobbing people off’ with benefits. A basic job, rather than benefits should be the final piece of the social security structure.
This is the role of a Job Guarantee – to ensure that any worker can gain productive employment at a socially-inclusive wage at all times at their choosing – including sufficient hours of work to satisfy their preferences.
The Job Guarantee would provide work that was inclusive for all types of workers and can be flexibly organised to accomodate those with special needs (disabilities, etc).
I have written about the benefits of work over the entire course of my career (several decades now), which is why I argue that the responsibility of government is to pursue full employment, not bail out of that mission and opt for fairly inferior options such as UBI.
The WRR make an excellent point on page 182 of the full Report:
De basisbaan is ook deels een antwoord op het idee van een basisinkomen. Als werk psychologisch en sociaal zo belangrijk is voor mensen, waarom zouden we degenen die willen en kunnen werken dan ‘afschepen’ met een inkomen in plaats van te zorgen voor goed werk?
Which means that the WRR see the provision of a basic job that is inclusive to all and provides psychological and social benefits to people, as being a superior solution to the provision of a basic income.
They ask “why would we ‘deprive’ those who want to and can work with an income instead of ensuring good work?”
Juxtapose that positive narrative, which is informed by the extensive research evidence from the social sciences as to the value of work, with the sort of stuff that Guy Standing pumps out, which many progressives think is the answer.
He claims that:
1. The British election disaster for Labour is the “endgame of ‘labourism’ founded on appeal to the industrial proletariat.”
2. The Tories are the “populist party” – using that term is a typical progressive putdown although it is meaningless – the very art of politics is to be the popular option.
3. “the old working class … labourism has failed them.”
4. Redistribution of income is not possible because it “would require dismantling the rentier capitalism on which the plutocracy thrives.”
Among the other daft proposals he ventures to solve all this are:
… tackling inequality and precarity by moving towards a basic income … creating a national capital fund with revenues from the commercial exploitation of our commons-natural and societal-which could be used to pay a basic income as ‘common dividends’
Apparently, this would “appeal to the precariat … and the salariat … wanting action on climate change and the environment”.
So a “precariat-salariat alliance” is formed which would require the Labour Party becoming the “Progressive Party”.
And pigs might fly!
There is also a tax the rich proposal – which is now a standard urban progressive delusion – that all will be well and all essential services will be able to be funded if only we use the money from the rich.
The dissonance between those two visions of humanity (WRR and Standing) are extreme.
Standing seems to think that the provision of a basic income:
1. Will satisfy all the unmet human desires for work.
2. Will require governments to tax in order to gain the funds to pay the UBI.
3. Will unite the beneficiaries of globalism with the losers.
He has been peddling this nonsense for years.
What the Labour Party needs to do is:
1. Dispense with all the neoliberal macroeconomics myths about taxing the rich, needing to have unworkable Fiscal Credibility Rules, and treating people as if they are just consumption units (that a UBI will satisfy needs).
2. Outline a bold employment plan to ensure the British government creates sufficient work of a reasonable standard that drives out all the providers of precarious work or forces them to restructure their workplaces to provide for the components of good work that the WRR Report articulates.
3. Spent this period in electoral ignomy to educate the public that the British government is only constrained in its spending by real resource availability and has options available to it to redirect resources currently being used into more socially-productive purposes, should that be deemed necessary and desirable.
4. Not listen to advice from those that pushed them into its current unwinnable position including the likes of Guy Standing.
A currency-issuing government can always provide enough work for those who want it, should the non-government sector come up short.
That should be the starting point for a safety-net social policy.
The proposals for a UBI represent a rather wan surrender to the neoliberal lie that the government cannot do that.
It is not a progressive position but continues the unemployment regime that suits capital – they get wage suppression from the slack and maintain sales via the UBI.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2020 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.