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Werner and Van Parijis


I was working my way through wome writings by author and controversial former Governor of Nagano, Yasuo Tanaka of the The New Party Nippon. His inspiration for proposing a Basic Income Guarantee for Japan comes from Götz W. Werner. He sees the basic income as ‘correct Hayek,  new Keynesianism’ (Ja article) that will contribute to an escape from welfare-cuts and bloated government in addition tothe dissolution of unions (‘in a good way’ as they are mere shells with only 18% of workers unionized). He’s making me nervous about the whole idea and wonder what the cepr.net guys think about the proposals. Another of Tanaka’s writings (Ja ) touts Basic Income as getting 3 birds with one stone ‘safety net, economic stimulu and small government.’  He starts out the article saying how using an average of 6 million dollars on each of Japan’s 34,000 or so schools to withstand earthquakes would a good local employment and domestic demand program. Much better than the 200 dollar payments that are about to go out to every citizen here in Japan.

I couldn’t find any English Material on Götz W. Werner but another European name that came up a lot was Philippe Van Parijs. He thinks the main economic effects would be on the labor market. Would these make it easier for people to organize themselves to work in a more democratic, even ‘pareconish’ fashion?

And what do you think would be the economic effects of bringing such a measure in?

The main economic effect would be on the labour market. Its an essential part of the proposal that it would make a number of jobs possible for example part-time jobs which are currently not viable because the net income from undertaking them is less than people currently get from benefits. However, because basic income would not initially be at a level that would altogether replace means-tested benefits, the possibilities of these low-paid jobs would still be restricted by the existence of those benefits. Nevertheless, a number of paid occupations that are presently unviable would become possible. What is very important and something substantial in the proposal is the differential effect on pay levels. It does not follow from what I have just said that there will be a massive or significant decrease in the pay for the jobs that are currently being done. It is essential to understand that the impact on pay levels will not be unambiguously to lower pay. For one should bear in mind that basic income is given unconditionally, so that it wont work simply as an employment subsidy to lower labour for the employer. It can be used that way by the beneficiaries of basic income, who are enabled to accept jobs which pay less than those that are currently available; but they will do so only on condition that these jobs are sufficiently attractive to them, compared to the alternatives on offer. They may be more attractive because of some intrinsic feature, or because of the training they provide. For other jobs that are unattractive and provide little training, the long-term impact will be to raise the amount of money that employers need to pay.

Below I’ll paste in how Philippe Van Parijs first came upon the idea. I’m not as excited about Basic Income Ideas after reading Yasuo Tanaka and Philippe Van Parijs on it. Anti-G8 organizer and neo-liberlsim basher, Yoshiharu Shiraishi’s hope for the proposal were much more energizing.

What was it that led you to start thinking along these lines in the first place?

Two things of a very different kind that happened in the early 1980s. The first point of departure, and the most concrete one, is that it was becoming clear that we in Europe were beginning to experience a kind of mass unemployment which could not be interpreted as conjunctural or cyclical in nature but which rather resulted from central features of our socio-economic system. The preferred remedy for unemployment at that time (and a number of years afterwards) was growth. But, along with a number of other more or less Green-oriented people on the left, I felt that this could not be the right solution. So the pro-growth consensus or grand coalition of the left and right had to be broken by providing a solution to the unemployment problem that would not rely on a mad dash for growth. One approach was to try to attack the poverty trap into which many people fell by permitting them to keep benefits if they started working. At the same time, this pro-employment policy would place a soft brake on growth because some of the benefits of growth would be distributed equally among all, irrespective of peoples contributions to growth. This concern came together with another source of inspiration: starting with a left critique of capitalism and thinking about what the alternatives to capitalism could be. Having realised a number of defects of socialism as an instrument for achieving the ultimate of a liberated communist society, I began asking (along with other people, including Robert van der Veen): why not skip socialism? After all, in classical Marxism, socialism is just an instrument for achieving the society in which people can work freely according to their abilities but still get enough according to their needs. If we now see a number of problems with socialism threats to freedom, problems of dynamic efficiency etc. then why not harness capitalism to achieve the very same objectives? Why not go for a capitalist road to communism?

And so somehow these two very different sources of inspiration came together: one of them was rooted in what I was witnessing around me in Belgium; and the other one in a grand reflection about the fate of mankind and the way mankind should be heading. They led me to this idea, which struck me as bizarre initially because I hadn’t seen it anywhere else, but at the same time it was very simple and very attractive in many ways. And so I started, together with a number of other people, to think about it more systematically. Later, we gradually discovered that many others had independently come to the same idea.

Philippe Van Parijs talks about the Marxist definition of ‘real freedom’ and John Rawls conception of Justice too. John Rawls came up in the introduction to the Ethics book on Basic Income too. These kind of things require some time to understand – either a lot of time or a good Monbiot article, like his exuberant commentary on local currency.

Then there’s always a quick search for Noam Chomsky on any kind of academic jargon which usually helps.

BOLENDER: In December 2002, Rumsfeld called religious leaders to the Pentagon to discuss "the religious and philosophical principles" of a "just war” (10)…

One reason why I ask this of you is that your political and moral commentaries are virtually always heavily data-driven, nothing but facts. You virtually never insert a comment such as "The government is here violating Rawls’ difference principle" or anything like that (11). It’s as though you expect the moral judgments to flow from unconscious principles and don’t dare cloud the water with moral theory (12). ("Language and Freedom" might be an exception. It’s also not very recent, though.)(13). Is your point that what divides people on moral issues is not different moral principles but unequal access to relevant information? And are philosophical discussions of ethics just new clothes for the Emperor?

CHOMSKY: Rawls’s "difference principle" is reasonable, but hardly a theory. Other moral principles are reasonable too: e.g., the principle of universality that underlies all of "just war theory":….

(11) John Rawls’ difference principle, as explained in his book A Theory of Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), is a method for deciding among possible social arrangements. The point is to make the worst off group in society as well off as can be. What is striking, however, is that this does not guarantee that all groups will be equally well off. If the only way to maximize the well being for the worst off is an unequal distribution of shares, then that unequal distribution is the fairest alternative. Precise equality is entailed only if that is the condition which makes the worst off as well off as can be.

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