Maciej Szlinder – Problemy z argumentacją zwolenników Nowoczesnej Teorii Pieniężnej przeciw dochodowi podstawowemu: komentarz do tłumaczenia

Debaty między zwolennikami bezwarunkowego dochodu podstawowego (BDP) i gwarancji zatrudnienia (GZ) zbyt często przypominają dialog głuchych. W bezpośrednich dyskusjach jedni mówią o kwestiach etycznych i problemach systemów zabezpieczenia społecznego, a drudzy o skutkach makroekonomicznych[1]. Obie strony zbyt często wybierają sobie również przeciwników, z którymi łatwiej im polemizować. Guy Standing (2017) w przetłumaczonym w tym numerze rozdziale swojej książki odwołuje się do wysuwanego przez Nową Partię Pracy (z czasów Gordona Browna) programu nominalnie nazywającego się gwarancją zatrudnienia. Program ten jest jednak daleki od tego, co za GZ uznaliby kluczowi zwolennicy tej koncepcji. Z drugiej strony Pavlina Tcherneva w wygodny dla siebie sposób zakłada, że „rdzeniem propozycji dochodu podstawowego jest to, że ma on być neutralny dla budżetu” (Tcherneva 2017, 133), choć jest to element zupełnie przygodny i niekonieczny. Zbyt często też przedstawiciele obu stron dowolnie dobierają wyłącznie słabsze elementy różnych, niespójnych teorii, nie skupiając się na jednej konkretnej propozycji, którą uznają za najmocniejszą i stawiającą największe wyzwania.

W tym komentarzu chciałbym zatem skupić się na konkretnej propozycji GZ ściśle powiązanej z założeniami Nowoczesnej Teorii Pieniężnej (NTP), a także wynikającej w niej krytyki BDP. Stanowisko to w syntetyczny i klarowny sposób przedstawia tłumaczony w tym numerze artykuł Pavliny Tchernevy. Przyznaję, że bliska jest mi perspektywa ekonomii heterodoksyjnej i podzielam znaczną część uwag krytycznych wyrażanych przez NTP względem założeń ekonomii neoklasycznej, jak np. krytykę wątpliwej koncepcji „stopy bezrobocia nie zwiększającej inflacji” (Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment, NAIRU), na którą powołuje się np. Guy Standing (2017). Jednak szczegółowe założenia i elementy tej teorii budzą szereg wątpliwości natury zarówno empirycznej, jak i politycznej.

Zanim przejdę do omówienia tych ostatnich, pozwolę sobie jeszcze zaznaczyć, że w tym krótkim tekście nie podejmuję kwestii ekologicznych opisywanych przez Tchernevą, co nie znaczy, że nie zasługują one na uwagę. Wręcz przeciwnie – niektóre wątpliwości wskazywane przez nią są również elementem refleksji i dyskusji w gronie zwolenników BDP[2].

Podaż pracy i inflacja

Głównym zarzutem Tchernevy względem BDP jest to, że jej zdaniem prowadzi on „do destabilizujących skutków względem cyklu koniunkturalnego, z uwagi na swoją proinflacyjność i negatywny wpływ na poziom partycypacji i produkcji” (137). Mamy tu więc do czynienia z połączeniem dwóch argumentów: 1) BDP spowoduje wyraźny spadek podaży pracy oraz 2) BDP wywoła spiralę inflacyjną (a prawdopodobnie hiperinflację). Rozpatrzmy te zarzuty po kolei.

Pierwszy argument wymaga oczywiście empirycznej weryfikacji, jednak dostępne dane i analizy wydają się czynić go pozbawionym podstaw. W istniejących systemach zabezpieczenia społecznego, szczególnie tych opartych na kryterium dochodowym, powszechnie występuje tzw. pułapka bezrobocia, czyli sytuacja, w której osoba nie pracująca podejmując zatrudnienie traci świadczenia, co czyni podjęcie pracy działaniem nieopłacalnym. Między innymi z uwagi na ten element wiele rządów europejskich interesuje się koncepcją BDP, który tej pułapki nie zawiera, ponieważ nie jest zależny ani od dochodu danej osoby, ani od jej statusu na rynku pracy. Ponadto ani programy pilotażowe BDP w krajach peryferyjnych (Davala 2015), ani eksperymenty innych rozwiązań usuwających pułapkę bezrobocia (jak negatywny podatek dochodowy) w krajach centrum (Widerquist i Sheahan 2012, 20) nie wykazały tendencji do wycofywania się w kierunku bierności zawodowej czy znaczącego spadku podaży pracy.

Oczywiście należy się spodziewać, że część osób zatrudnionych na najgorzej płatnych, pozbawionych zabezpieczeń i uciążliwych miejscach pracy zdecyduje się je porzucić, co wymusi poprawę jakości zatrudnienia pod względem płac i warunków pracy (lub w niektórych przypadkach w razie możliwości technologicznych i opłacalności – automatyzację). Nie znaczy to jednak, że całkowita podaż pracy się zmniejszy, te same osoby (a także część osób do tej pory nieaktywnych zawodowo lub bezrobotnych) będą mogły znaleźć zatrudnienie w nowych miejscach pracy, powstałych w wyniku zwiększonej siły nabywczej społeczeństwa (wynikającej z redystrybucji od osób lepiej uposażonych, skłonnych w większym stopniu do oszczędzania, do osób gorzej sytuowanych bardziej skłonnych do konsumpcji). Dla niektórych osób BDP może stanowić też szansę na rozpoczęcie własnej działalności gospodarczej czy to indywidualnie czy też w ramach kooperatyw[3].

Wskazany wyżej skutek w postaci podwyżki płac leży u źródła drugiego kluczowego argumentu Tchernevy, zgodnie z którym BDP jest ze swej natury rozwiązaniem inflacjogennym. Ekonomistka pisze:

W celu nakłonienia osób otrzymujących BDP do powrotu na rynek pracy niektórzy pracodawcy będą musieli zaproponować wyższe płace (co na pierwszy rzut oka wydaje się pożądanym efektem). Jednak wkrótce potem ci sami przedsiębiorcy podniosą ceny, aby zrekompensować sobie wzrost kosztów płacowych (135).

 Aby utrzymać BDP na poziomie zapewniającym zaspokojenie podstawowych potrzeb konieczne będzie jego podwyższenie, co z kolei znów wymusi kolejną podwyżkę płac i cen, a w efekcie spiralę inflacyjną (lub wręcz hiperinflację)[4].

Podstawowym problemem w tym rozumowaniu jest założenie, że każda podwyżka płac przekłada się bezpośrednio na proporcjonalną podwyżkę cen. Oznacza to, że za stałą i niezmienną uznaje się relację między płacami a zyskami. Relacja ta jednak nie jest stała i ulega nieustannym zmianom w wyniku walk klasowych, prowadzonych zarówno bezpośrednio przez organizacje pracownicze, jak i pośrednio poprzez wpływanie na kształt instytucjonalny państw opiekuńczych[5]. Co więcej, założenie to jest nie tylko błędne empirycznie, ale także bardzo niepokojące pod względem politycznym. Zgodnie z nim nie jest bowiem możliwe zmniejszenie poziomu wyzysku, a każda walka o podwyżkę płac jest de facto daremna[6]. Takie stanowisko uderza choćby w sens działań wielu związków zawodowych i organizacji lewicowych.

BDP bez wątpienia wzmocni pozycję przetargową pracowników i w związku z tym przełoży się nie tylko na wzrost płac nominalnych i realnych, ale również płac względnych, tzn. wzrost udziału płac i spadek udziału zysków w PKB (zob. Szlinder 2013, Manjarin i Szlinder 2016). Tym samym wzrost cen będzie wyraźnie niższy niż wzrost płac, a tym samym „spirala” inflacyjna będzie miała charakter wygaszający.

Co ciekawe, początkowy skok inflacyjny Tcherneva przewiduje również w odniesieniu do efektów programu GZ. Przyczyną, dla której nie uważa, że byłby to problem, jest brak indeksacji płac w ramach tego programu (Tcherneva 2013, 73). Oznacza to jednak, że jeśli płaca w programie GZ zostanie ustalona na poziomie płacy minimalnej, to po wzroście cen, nie będąc dostosowywana do inflacji, jej realna wartość spadnie poniżej tego poziomu.

Kotwica dla cen?

Tcherneva podaje jeszcze drugi powód dlaczego BDP będzie prowadził do inflacji. Jak pisze:

Jeśli wprowadza się program, przez który populacja może swobodnie otrzymywać jednostkę, która realizuje zobowiązanie podatkowe, wartość waluty drastycznie spadnie. Chociaż nie musi się to zdarzyć od razu, z czasem wartość bezwarunkowo zapewnianej waluty ostatecznie będzie dążyć do zera. Należy podkreślić, że dochód podstawowy nie wywołuje inflacji, ponieważ jest finansowany z „fiducjarnego” pieniądza, ale ponieważ waluta jest z istoty „darmowa” (…) i jest dostarczana wszystkim na życzenie. Tym samym efektywnie unieważnia cel podatków – stworzenie popytu na rządową walutę. (133)

Jednak mamy tutaj do czynienia z pewnym nieporozumieniem, ponieważ w wypadku BDP waluta nie jest wcale dostarczana „na życzenie”. W ramach tego rozwiązania postuluje się regularne otrzymywanie jedynie pewnej określonej ilości pieniędzy. Nie można zatem mieć tyle waluty, ile się chce bez wysiłku (wówczas faktycznie jej wartość dążyłaby do zera).

Zgodnie z NPT „[s]iłę nabywczą mierzy się za pomocą jednostek pracy, które może kupić waluta” (137) a rolę kotwicy antyinflacyjnej pełni program gwarancji zatrudnienia. Problem w tym, że te jednostki pracy są zupełnie niemiarodajne. W przeciwieństwie np. do społecznie niezbędnego czasu pracy stanowiącego wartość towarów w Marksowskiej teorii wartości opartej na pracy, nie mamy tutaj do czynienia z żadnym mechanizmem pozwalającym porównać godzinę czasu pracy w ramach jednego gwarantowanego miejsca pracy z drugą godziną w ramach tego programu. Jest tak, ponieważ w promowanej przez zwolenników NTP wersji GZ prace mają być co prawda użyteczne, ale ich efekty nie mogą być sprzedawane i nie mogą konkurować z sektorem prywatnym ani tradycyjnym sektorem publicznym (Tcherneva 2003, 4; Mitchell i Watts 2005, 75; Kaboub 2013, 62; Murray 2013, 112, 117; Wray 2013 170, 174)[7]. Skoro, jak pisze Tcherneva, wartość waluty jest przy GZ „zakotwiczona przez wysiłek wydatkowany, aby zarobić ten dochód”, to musi istnieć jakiś mechanizm mierzenia i standaryzowania tego „wysiłku”. Jeżeli efekty pracy nie mogą być sprawdzane za pomocą porównania ich na rynku, to konieczny wydaje się jakiś niezwykle efektywny aparat dyscyplinarny pozwalający uzyskiwać równe dawki „wysiłku” w godzinie pracy gwarantowanej. Bez niego waluta nie może być w żaden sposób „zakotwiczona”, ponieważ ten sam dochód, tę samą ilość waluty, można uzyskać skrajnie różnym „wysiłkiem”.

W tym miejscu warto zadać jeszcze jedno ważne pytanie: jaka jest różnica w odniesieniu do stabilizowania waluty między wykonywaniem jakiejś pracy (uczeniem dzieci angielskiego, opieką nad starszym sąsiadem czy dbaniem o społeczny ogród) w ramach stworzonego w programie GZ miejsca pracy a wykonywaniem tej samej pracy, dzięki czasowi i bezpieczeństwu zapewnianemu przez BDP?  Ponieważ trudno utrzymywać, że istnieje jakaś sensowna próba wskazania takiej różnicy, należy uznać, że zwolennicy NTP nie wierzą po prostu, że ludzie sami z siebie będą angażować się w społecznie pożyteczną aktywność, jeśli nie będzie to warunkiem uzyskania przez nich środków utrzymania. Przyjmują zatem pewne antropologiczne założenie o dość konserwatywnym charakterze, głoszące, że bez bezpośredniej korzyści materialnej lub przymusu ekonomicznego ludzie nie są skłonni do prospołecznej aktywności.

Przykłady empiryczne i próby połączenia

Ani BDP ani GZ nie zostały tak naprawdę sprawdzone w praktyce przez żadne państwo[8]. Tcherneva odwołuje się jednak do ograniczonego programu GZ – argentyńskiego programu bezpośredniego tworzenia miejsc pracy dla głów rodzin (Programa de Jefes y Jefas de Hogar Desocupados, PJJHD). Niezwykle pozytywny opis przebiegu i wyników tego programu wydaje się jednak dość jednostronny. Argentyńscy badacze w licznych publikacjach wskazywali na problemy związane z tym programem: od znikomego wpływu na obniżenie bardzo wysokiego poziomu ubóstwa (Barbeito et al. 2007; Lo Vuolo 2004), przez tworzenie pułapek zniechęcających do poszukiwania zatrudnienia poza programem (Gasparini, Haimovich i Oliveri 2009), po sztuczne dzielenie gospodarstw domowych w celu zakwalifikowania się do programu (Lo Vuolo 2004). Rubén Lo Vuolo zwrócił również uwagę na to, że program w mniejszym stopniu objął rodziny żyjące w skrajnej biedzie w porównaniu z mniej ubogimi, co było prawdopodobnie efektem wykluczenia osób, które nie mogły podjąć pracy (np. części samotnych matek) oraz osób, które nie miały dzieci na swoim utrzymaniu (Lo Vuolo 2004, 7–8). Trzeba zaznaczyć, że w ramach tej ostatniej grupy znajdowały się osoby, które napotykają największe problemy w znalezieniu płatnego zatrudnienia, tj. ludzie młodzi oraz osoby starsze, których dzieci nie należą już do ich gospodarstw domowych. Dla części badaczy PJJHD był przykładem polityki workfare (Lo Vuolo 2004, 7; Barbeito et al. 2007, 13), a zdaniem Barbeito et al. (2007, 13) głównym jego skutkiem było raczej zwiększenie kontroli społecznej niż poprawa dobrobytu ludzi.

Pod koniec artykułu Tcherneva sugeruje rozwiązanie „kompromisowe” między BDP a GZ, za które uważa koncepcję dochodu partycypacyjnego zaproponowaną przez angielskiego ekonomistę Anthony’ego Atkinsona (Atkinson 1995, 1996). Niestety jest to kompromis pozorny, na co wskazuje dokładniejsze przyjrzenie się tej koncepcji. Dokonali tego w swojej analizie aspektów administracyjnych dochodu partycypacyjnego Jurgen De Wispelaere i Lindsay Stirton, pokazując, że w zależności od sposobu zdefiniowania „partycypacji” mamy do czynienia z diametralnie różnymi rozwiązaniami (De Wispelaere i Stirton 2007). Jeśli zostanie ona zdefiniowana szeroko (co rzeczywiście odpowiadałoby postulatom poszerzenia zakresu pojęcia pracy przez zwolenników BDP), aby objąć wszelką użyteczną społecznie aktywność również sprawowaną we własnym domu czy sąsiedztwie, to powstaje pytanie o zakres kontroli takiej aktywności. Gdyby kontrola ta była traktowana poważnie, to generowałaby ogromne koszty administracyjne, a także wiązałaby się ze znaczącą ingerencją państwowego aparatu kontroli w życie codzienne obywateli (stała obserwacja wraz z liczeniem czasu poświęconego deklarowanym aktywnościom). Jeśli zaś opierano by się wyłącznie na nie weryfikowanych deklaracjach, to mielibyśmy do czynienia z rozwiązaniem zbliżonym do BDP z wyłączeniem części osób najbardziej wykluczonych (nie wiedzących, jak składać deklaracje będące warunkiem otrzymania świadczenia) lub najbardziej uczciwych (nie chcących deklarować czegoś, czego nie wykonują). Rozwiązaniem trzecim jest ścisłe ograniczenie aktywności kwalifikujących się jako „partycypacja” do tych aktywności, które łatwo i bez nadmiernych kosztów mogą zostać zweryfikowane, czyli np. rejestrowana praca zarobkowa, studia na wyższej uczelni czy oficjalny wolontariat w uznanej organizacji pozarządowej. W ten sposób wykluczono by jednak znaczną ilość rzeczywiście użytecznych społecznie aktywności, które są trudne do nadzorowania, szczególnie tych związanych z pracą domową i nieformalną na rzecz wspólnoty. De Wispelaere i Stirton nazywają tę strategię mianem „miękkiego workfare” (De Wispelaere i Stirton 2007, 540, 542, 543)[9]. Dochód partycypacyjny jest więc immanentnie niestabilny i musi osunąć się w jedną z trzech wersji: ułomnego BDP, koszmaru biurokratycznego nadzoru lub słabej wersji workfare. Żadna z tych wersji nie stanowi kompromisu między zwolennikami GZ i BDP (ci pierwsi na pewno nie zaakceptują pierwszej z tych wersji, a drudzy dwóch ostatnich).

Podsumowanie

Koncepcja Gwarancji Zatrudnienia, szeroko opisywana i promowana przez środowiska związane z Nowoczesną Teorią Pieniężną, wydaje się najbardziej kompleksową i interesującą wersją tego projektu. Niestety przedstawiana przez jej przedstawicielki i przedstawicieli krytyka Bezwarunkowego Dochodu Podstawowego odwołująca się do drastycznie zmniejszonej podaży pracy i inherentnej inflacyjności tego rozwiązania wydaje się być pozbawiona podstaw. Co więcej, założenia ekonomiczne i antropologiczne leżące u podłoża NPT i tworzonej w jej ramach koncepcji GZ (stałość stopy wyzysku; niezwiększane niskie płace w ramach GZ; założenie, że ludzie nie będą robić nic użytecznego bez bezpośrednich korzyści lub przymusu), a także wybiórcze przytaczanie danych nt. przykładów empirycznych skłaniają do spoglądania na nią z dużą dozą ostrożności i krytycyzmu, szczególnie z punktu widzenia środowisk lewicowych i postępowych.

 

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Tcherneva, Pavlina R. 2006. „Universal assurances in the public interest: Evaluating the economic viability of basic income and job guarantees”. International Journal of Environment, Workplace, and Employment 2(1): 69–88.

Tcherneva, Pavlina R. 2013. „The Job Guarantee: Delivering the Benefits That Basic Income Only Promises – A Response to Guy Standing”. Basic Income Studies 7(2): 66–87.

Tcherneva, Pavlina R. 2017. „Jakie są względne zalety makroekonomiczne i wpływ na środowisko płynące z bezpośredniego tworzenia miejsc pracy oraz dochodu podstawowego?”. Praktyka Teoretyczna 2 (24): 125–154.

Torrens, Lluis. 2016. „Dochód podstawowy, wzrost gospodarczy i miasto”. Wywiad przeprowadzony przez Macieja Szlindera. Praktyka Teoretyczna. tłum. Maciej Szlinder. kwiecień. http://www.praktykateoretyczna.pl/dochod-podstawowywzrost-gospodarczy-i-miasto/.

Widerquist, Karl i Allan Sheahan. 2012. „The United States: The Basic Income Guarantee – Past Experience, Current Proposals”. W Basic Income Worldwide: Horizons of Reform, red. Matthew C. Murray i Carole Pateman. New York & Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wray, L. Randall L. 2013. „The Euro Crisis and the Job Guarantee: A Proposal for Ireland”. W The Job Guarantee: Toward True Full Employment, red. Michael J. Murray, Mathew Forstater. Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


Maciej Szlinder – doktor nauk humanistycznych w zakresie filozofii; socjolog, ekonomista. Redaktor „Praktyki Teoretycznej”.  Publikował m. in. w „Basic Income Studies”, „Nowej Krytyce”, „Filo-Sofiji” i „Przeglądzie Ekonomicznym”. Tłumacz. Prezes Polskiej Sieci Dochodu Podstawowego, członek sieci europejskiej (Unconditional Basic Income Europe) i hiszpańskiej (Red Renta Básica).

 

DANE ADRESOWE:

Redakcja „Praktyki Teoretycznej”

Instytut Filozofii

Uniwersytetu im. A. Mickiewicza

Szamarzewskiego 89c

60-780 Poznań

E-MAIL: mszlinder@gmail.com

 

CYTOWANIE: Szlinder, Maciej. 2017. „Problemy z argumentacją zwolenników Nowoczesnej Teorii Pieniężnej przeciw dochodowi podstawowemu: Komentarz do tłumaczenia”. Praktyka Teoretyczna 2(24).

DOI: 10.14746/prt.2017.2.6

 

AUTHOR: Maciej Szlinder

TITLE: Problems with Modern Monetary Theory Proponents’ Argumentation Against Basic Income: A Commentary to the Translation

Tłumacz i autor komentarza uzyskał środki finansowe na przygotowanie rozprawy doktorskiej z Narodowego Centrum Nauki w ramach finansowania stypendium doktorskiego na podstawie decyzji nr DEC-2015/16/T/HS1/00295

[1] Dobrym przykładem takiej „wymiany opinii” jest numer Basic Income Studies 7(2), w którym Guy Standing i Pavlina Tcherneva pozornie pisząc o tym samym (porównanie BDP z GZ w kontekście prawa do pracy), piszą „obok siebie”. Brytyjski ekonomista opisuje głównie problemy związane z opresyjnością systemów workfare (do których zalicza GZ), stosowaniem kryterium dochodowego i testów behawioralnych, a także kwestie administracyjne. Skupia się zatem na zarzutach etycznych i praktycznych. Tcherneva zaś odpowiada koncentrując się na konsekwencjach makroekonomicznych (Standing 2013, Tcherneva 2013).

[2] W tym kontekście warto szczególnie zwrócić uwagę na numer czasopisma Basic Income Studies 4(2)/2009 poświęcony tej tematyce (BIS 2009). Numer ten oraz zawarte w nim problemy zostały częściowo omówione i poddane analizie w pracach dostępnych również w języku polskim (Moll 2014, Szlinder 2016, Torrens 2016).

[3] Keynesowski ekonomista William A. Jackson zwraca uwagę na jeszcze jeden argument przekonujący do zwiększenia podaży pracy w wyniku wprowadzenia dochodu podstawowego – zmniejszenie godzin pracy. Jego zdaniem ludzie „nie postrzegaliby już pracy na pełny etat jako jedynego źródła dochodu i mieliby większą swobodę wyboru rodzaju i zakresu podejmowanej pracy”, a dochód podstawowy „mógłby zachęcić do pracowania mniejszej liczby godzin i, tym samym, zwolnić czas pracy na rzecz bezrobotnych” (Jackson 1999, 652).

[4] Argument o „pułapce inflacyjnej” powtarzają również Bartosz Mika i Mariusz Baranowski w artykule znajdującym się w tym numerze Praktyki Teoretycznej (Baranowski, Mika 2017). Zob. także Tcherneva 2006.

[5] Engelbert Stockhammer jako główne przyczyny spadku udziału płac w PKB od lat osiemdziesiątych XX wieku w krajach OECD wskazuje procesy finansjalizacji, globalizacji i demontaż państw dobrobytu (wraz z osłabieniem związków zawodowych) (Stockhammer 2012).

[6] Co ciekawe, w tę pułapkę wpadł również Eduardo Garzón, ekonomista związany ze Zjednoczoną Lewicą (Izquierda Unida) i czołowy hiszpański zwolennik GZ, który również użył tego argumentu w artykule dyskutującym z autorami hiszpańskiego modelu finansowania BDP Jordim Arcaronsem, Danielem Raventósem i Lluísem Torrensem (Garzón 2014).

[7] Co ma oczywiście sens, ponieważ gdyby efekty prac w ramach GZ konkurowały z miejscami pracy spoza tego programu, to przy stałej, niskiej i jednolitej płacy w ramach GZ efektem byłoby wypieranie lepiej płatnych miejsc pracy niż płaca w GZ przez miejsca pracy w ramach GZ i ogólna obniżkę płac.

[8] Oczywiście prowadzone były np. eksperymenty z BDP w Indiach, a obecnie trwa eksperyment w Finlandii. Ten drugi jednak nie spełnia wielu cech definicyjnych BDP i jest eksperymentem z bezwarunkowym niepowszechnym świadczeniem niepodstawowym. Co jednak ważniejsze, eksperymenty nie są w stanie przynieść nam wiedzy na temat efektów makroekonomicznych, gdyż ich skala jest zbyt mała. Prawdziwym „eksperymentem” dla któregokolwiek z tych rozwiązań będzie dopiero wprowadzenie tego rozwiązania na poziomie jakiegoś państwa narodowego.

[9] Na tę wersję zdaje się wskazywać Atkinson w swojej odpowiedzi De Wispelaere i Stirtonowi zawartej w jego ostatniej książce Nierówności: Co da się zrobić? (Atkinson 2017, 363–365).

Lluís Torrens – Basic income, economic growth and the city

do torrensaInterview with Lluís Torrens

Maciej Szlinder: What are the problems with economic growth in Spain?

Lluís Torrens: Spain has the same problems as other developed countries; the growth path has stopped after the crisis, and we are in a situation of stagnation. The mainstream economic thought tells us the only way to eliminate poverty is to create jobs by having economic growth. We have two big problems with growth: first, it does not reduce inequalities; second, it is ecologically unsustainable. The unlimited growth is based on the unlimited growth of debt, fostered by the financial sector. This is an infinite path of growth of the financial sector, asking for returns from the real sectors of the economy, but the planet is limited.

Basic income as a tool of redistribution of income from the rich to the poor, who relatively spend more and save less (have smaller marginal propensity to save), should lead to increase in consumption, better possibilities of making a profitable investment, and higher growth. Why then, is it sometimes presented as a part of the degrowth strategy?

Basic income is “basic.” It’s high enough only to satisfy people’s minimum vital needs: food, housing, some minimum leisure, etc. It’s not a factor that can expand consumption. The consumption of energy is bigger among the rich than among the poor. If we redistribute the income from the rich to the poor, we guarantee a minimum standard of living for everyone, so the economy doesn’t need to continuously grow. Second, we could force that the consumption of energy will be reduced in net terms. The number of flights, which consume a lot of energy, would be smaller.

Basic income gives workers an “exit option” – the possibility to live (temporarily or permanently) outside of the labour market and not be excluded from the society. That should strengthen the bargaining power of employees against employers, and increase their wages relatively to profits. As more money is spent on consumption from wages than from profits, basic income could lead to rise, not fall, of consumption. Don’t you think?

We conducted a poll last summer, asking 1600 people from Catalonia if they would leave their jobs or stop to search in case of receiving a Basic Income. The overall results showed that labour offer would increase slightly. But this was conditioned to the almost 20% unemployment rate in Catalonia. Had unemployment been lower, the rate of activity might have fallen slightly. Also, if wages of low-paid workers rise, their substitution for machines or computers is higher. But this is not bad, in the same sense that when slavery was abolished. If consumption is higher among poorest classes, this is not bad either. The important thing is what kind of new consumption is generated (relational goods as local leisure, for example) and which is reduced (transcontinental flights, for example). And you can influence this change through environmental taxes, consumption cap, or more awareness, among others.

Do you think that the degrowth strategy should be limited only to the Western, developed countries?

We need degrowth in some parts of the world, but growth in other parts, in developing economies, we need it among social classes. But they need to grow in different ways than they are growing now. It’s impossible for China to continue growing with the same pace and the same pattern – based on carbon, fossil fuels, etc. China is now the first issuer of carbon dioxide emissions.

Your model of financing basic income is based only on the income tax. Other proponents of basic income seem to prefer other sources, like taxing wealth, increasing ecological taxes, or creating sovereign wealth funds (based on the natural resources or, as Guy Standing proposes, rents obtained because of having patents). Do you think that PIT is a superior source of financing basic income?

No, I agree with all those alternative proposals. We made the calculations with the income tax, only because it was the clearest system to prove it can be implemented in Spain. It was also easy to show who would benefit and who would lose because of its implementation. But, I’m definitely in favour of environmental taxes as one of the sources of financing basic income. They would be easy to introduce in Spain, because our level of such a tax is the lowest in Europe. If we had the average level, we could pay for half of the net cost of basic income in Spain, around 10 billion Euros. We can combine PIT and other kinds of taxes, as the wealth tax that is strongly related to the income tax. I am also in favour of some type of Tobin tax, but as we can see now in Europe, it is very difficult to get a big amount of money that way. Adding the VAT, environmental taxes, PIT, and a property tax could be the best combination to finance basic income.

One problem with basing the funding of basic income partly or completely on environmental taxes is making basic income dependent on the scale of, e.g., excessive pollution. The same applies to funding through profits from extraction of natural resources or consumption. We want to limit bad activity, but we are making the level of granted financial security conditional on those bad activities.

Yes, you are right; it is not a sustainable tax. But still, in our current situation, increasing the environmental tax would be a good solution, because the price of oil has gone down, and we have a low rate of this tax in Spain.

None of the major parties in Spain stick to the proposal of basic income. Podemos, which had basic income in their program before European Parliament election in 2014, now proposes a guaranteed minimum income scheme. What do you think about it?

I think, after the elections Podemos had no good theoretical support to their proposals. So, despite proof of the affordability and feasibility of basic income in Spain, they turned away from it. It’s a part of the more general approach to reduce their radicalism. They resigned not only from basic income, but also from debt audit or reducing the retirement age. I think it has been a mistake, and now the Podemos’ proposal differs little from the proposals of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and others. It’s a pity.

One of the proponents of the guaranteed minimum income in the program of Podemos, José Noguera, argues that now basic income is politically not possible to implement, because among those 20-30% who would lose are also members of the lower middle-class, earning 18-20,000 Euros per year, who often vote for the leftist parties, including Podemos. How would you respond to this objection?

In Spain, the average tax burden is 8 percentage points (of GDP) below the European average. So, almost all people in Spain should pay more taxes to converge with Europe. And, for me, the 20-30% who would lose because of implementing basic income is definitely an acceptable quantity. Besides, who is the medium-class for Noguera? 70-80% of people would benefit from implementing our proposal. I have made calculations to finance basic income, by increasing VAT. Rich people in Spain pay small taxes, compared to other countries. We have a double tax system here that distinguishes labour income from capital income. The highest tax rate in the latter is less than 30%. It’s clear that we must change it. Few days ago, I was comparing the minimum wage in France and Spain. If a Spanish worker was paid the same minimum wage as in France, s/he would pay 7 points more income taxes and payments connected with social security than s/he pays now. The problem is also there are many people who are not paying taxes, a lot of fiscal fraud, a lot of tax evasion. So looking at the corrupted politicians, who often pay almost nothing, we could think that we pay a lot of taxes, but compared to other countries, it is just not true. Noguera thinks middle-classes in Spain are in a bad position relative to other countries, but it is false. We could pay basic income with only half of the gap between Spain and the European average-the average, not the level of Nordic countries. In this average, we have also the United Kingdom, Holland or Ireland, where the pension system is partly private. If we consider this, the real difference with Europe’s average could be around 10 points. And we can pay the basic income for up to 3,5% of GDP, less than half of the difference. So, I absolutely disagree with Noguera . Not only this, in our calculations, we show (and “show” is something that only our calculations can do in a transparent manner) that we could ensure only 10% of richest would be losers, compensating the poorer losers at additional cost of 0,6% of GDP.

Some of the leaders of a different leftist party, United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU), defend a different proposal to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty, which is a job guarantee. What do you think about job guarantee by itself and about this specific proposal?

The IU proposal of job guarantee is not a job guarantee. Daniel Raventós, Jordi Arcarons and I have made the calculations of the cost of a real job guarantee for real unemployed people in Spain, which is creating jobs for 10 Euros per hour for 5 million unemployed, plus 1,5 million involuntarily employed part-time, plus over 1 million not searching for a job anymore; the cost was around 200 billion Euros, which is almost 20% of GDP. When Eduardo Garzón, the member of IU and brother of the party’s leader, Alberto Garzón, read this, they reduced the number of jobs guaranteed in their proposal to just 1 million (i.e., 20% of the official unemployed in Spain), for only 6 Euros per hour with a total cost of 10 billion Euros. This is half of what is needed to implement a basic income for all households (not individuals) in Spain. The idea of job guarantee in countries where unemployment rate is around 6-8% (or smaller) could be a reasonable measure, but in a country with 20%, it is just simply impossible to afford, both economically and organizationally. The proposal of 1 million jobs in social service, health, education, environmental sector, social economy etc. is a big plan of creating jobs, but it is not a job guarantee. I can agree that a program of creating jobs is necessary, because we have a lack of jobs in those sectors. But it is not the solution for the problem of 8 million people, or 14% of working poor currently in Spain. And basic income is a solution.

Leaving basic income, I would like to concentrate on the local level. You are working now as a Director of Planning and Innovation in the area of Social Rights in Barcelona City Council. What are the ways to transform the city towards a greater sustainability?

The first objective is to ensure a minimum of income for the people in the city. We can estimate that 12-18% of households are under the level of poverty. We can’t implement a basic income, because it would need power over PIT or other taxes, which we don’t have, but we can implement a guaranteed minimum income for these people. We want to make pilots with different guaranteeing income, one of those, implemented for some smaller group, could test a basic income. That could help us check and counter the objection to basic income that suggests it creates a huge disincentive to labour. As I’ve mentioned above, last summer, we made a small survey about that, and according to its results, the active population (in labour terms) would grow, not decrease. Some people not searching for work now, with basic income, could become new, small entrepreneurs. Only 1-2% said they would withdraw from the labour market after getting basic income. So it would be a good idea to test those things, like in Utrecht. But, the first goal for us in the city council is to calculate the exact cost and implement a guaranteed minimum income scheme, which we call the municipal income. And the second is to create jobs. We have data for the last 2-3 years; we have created jobs and reduced unemployment in the city, but not for those unemployed for over 2 years in 80% aged above 45. The quantity of people in this group has doubled. This is a big problem, because if they find no job, their pensions would be low . So they would be the poor in our city up to death. So we have to take a strong action to give those people jobs.

What social innovations implemented in other cities do you find most interesting and possible to implement in Barcelona?

We are studying these things now. Barcelona is already participating in a pan-European project to detect and transfer successful social innovations with the cities of Lisbon, Athens, Stockholm, Rotterdam, and Birmingham. We are also a part of the EuroCities network, which is connected to the European Commission. One reason for its existence is looking for and replicating solutions implemented in other cities. We are working to develop the social economy through several actions as social clauses in public procurement, restricted bids, specialized grants, and incubators etc. But surely, we would examine also other solutions to strengthen and realize social rights of every Barcelona citizen.

LLuis Torrens

Lluís Torrens is an economist, Director of Planning and Innovation in the area of Social Rights in Barcelona City Council. He is a professor in International Business High School at Pompeu Fabra University and director of Public-Private Sector Research Center IESE. Collaborates with initiatives for degrowth, that promotes a new sustainable and steady economic model.

The Polish translation of this interview can be found here.

Former interviews about basic income:

José A. Noguera, Basic income as a political horizon

Jurgen De Wispelaere, Exciting Times Ahead: Experiments and the Politics of Basic Income

Erik Olin Wright, Sociology and Epistemology of Real Utopias

Daniel Raventós, Basic Income in the Spotlight in Spain

Guy Standing, The Strategy for Basic Income

The interviewer received funding for preparation of PhD thesis from Polish National Science Centre as part of PhD scholarship decision DEC-2015/16/T/HS1/00295.

José A. Noguera – Basic income as a political horizon

José A. Noguera – Basic income as a political horizon

horizonInterview with José A. Noguera

Maciej Szlinder: Let’s start with the normative analysis. In one of your best known papers you deal with one of the most popular objections to basic income which is the reciprocity objection. The reciprocity principle using the words of Stuart White, means: „Each citizen who willingly shares in the social product has an obligation to make a relevantly proportional productive contribution to the community in return,”1 but also everyone who contributes by his/her work has a right to receive some income or wealth in return. Basic income doesn’t fulfil this rule. Why in your opinion is this objection is not as strong as it seems to be?

José A. Noguera: I think that this is an extremely radical objection. I don’t think that the defenders of this objection would defend it to the end, because that would require the implementation of multiple social welfare reform that I am quite sure they are not ready to support. For example, would they forbid living from the proceeds of capital rent? From a reciprocity point of view everyone should be forbidden from doing this. If you inherit some assets and live off the rental payments generated by those assets you are not contributing productively to society, but you are obtaining an income from it. Surprisingly, the reciprocity theorists focus only on the other side; the most underprivileged people who must do something in return for receiving a minimum income. But what about the guys at the top of social pyramid? Marxist theories are more coherent in that regard – everyone should work. This is consistent with the reciprocity principle. But the contemporary left-wing reciprocity theorists (like Stuart White and many others) don’t think like that (neither do the right wing ones, of course). So there is an asymmetry in this objection, and some hypocrisy as well. You are demanding certain behaviour from the poor, which you are not demanding from the rich. A lot of rich people get tax reliefs and no one imposes any behavioural constraints on them. But in case of poor people there are multiple behavioural conditions. That’s not consistent at all from a normative point of view. That’s one of the reasons why I’m arguing against any behavioural conditions for receiving not just basic income, but also a minimum income.

Tax reliefs for the rich are an element currently used in most of the welfare states. But the defenders of the reciprocity principle also have their own proposals. In one of his works2 Stuart White proposes a package of four measures: participation income, means-tested benefits, time-limited but unconditional benefit and universal basic capital. To what extent are those consistent with this principle?

The temporal unconditional benefit is just basic income, but given for a set period of time. So, in the end, it is a basic income, but given on a lower level. So I don’t see the point in that from the reciprocity principle point of view. The problem with the participation income is its implementation. In a very good paper3 by Jurgen de Wispelaere and Lindsay Stirton they show the so-called, trilemma of participation income. If you want to give some content to participation income, you are trapped in this trilemma: either you make it a de facto basic income, or something like a workfare scheme, or a bureaucratic nightmare that invades private lives to see whether people are complying with the conditions. All of those possibilities are far from what the reciprocity principle defenders have in mind.

Talking about implementation: in other of your works4 , written with aforementioned Jurgen de Wispelaere, you have created a very useful matrix distinguishing four types of feasibility, that have to be taken into account when considering the implementation of basic income: strategic, institutional, psychological and behavioural. Can you briefly explain the kind of problems that are related to each of them? Let’s start with the strategic feasibility.

It has to do with the relations of power in a given political context to get support for basic income. I don’t think now in Spain we have the support of the majority of main parties. Probably only Podemos would be partly in favour of basic income, but only as a political horizon. Not even United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU) or the Socialist Party (PSOE) would support it.

What about the institutional feasibility?

It is connected with the question of how basic income fits within given welfare institutions in a given country. In Spain there are many difficulties connected to this type of feasibility, that many defenders of basic income don’t want to see. We have, for example, a strong contributory pension system, which would have to be made compatible with basic income. Would a basic income include all contributory pensions? If the answer is no, then we have a big budget problem. But if the answer is yes, then we have an institutional problem, how to implement it in a system that has granted pensions on the basis of previous contributions. You would be saying something like: “ok, you have this pension, because you have paid your individual contribution to the social security system, but now a part of it is not a contributory benefit any more, but simply a general benefit funded by general taxation. So part of your contributions have disappeared somehow.” I don’t think a lot of pensioners would be happy to hear that, neither would workers who are about to retire.

The second big problem with basic income from the point of view of its institutional feasibility is that the political authorities who are in charge of social protection, e.g. minimum income, are fragmented into 17 regional governments. This is a competence of the government of every autonomous community. The central government would not be able to introduce a basic income without a general agreement with all the regional governments and without integrating it somehow with all those fragmented and disparate programs of minimum income that we have in each region. That is a very difficult problem in practice. If you just include basic income in the general law, you could have 17 legal complaints before the constitutional court because you are invading the competences of regional governments. If you are serious about basic income you have to take all these problems into account.

The third type of feasibility is the psychological feasibility. To what extent is it an important problem in Spain?

This is about getting the political support from public opinion. We know that a lot of people think that work is the most important thing in life. In their opinion, all rights should be linked to employment and it is not ethical to get something in return for nothing. But I don’t think that this is the main problem with basic income in Spain right now. The work ethic has never been as strong here as it is in Germany or the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the work ethic in Spain is even weaker nowadays, because of the very high unemployment rate, which is a result of a very hard economic crisis. We have so many people in need currently, that you cannot think of it as a problem of individual responsibility or an issue of individual ability to find a job. The notion that you cannot blame the unemployed and the poor for what happened is growing. It is clearly a structural problem, created by the bankers and the rich, not the poor or the working people. The idea that you have to grant some kind of minimum existence for everyone is getting more and more popular. So now the context is favourable for concepts like basic income, guaranteed income etc.

The last type of feasibility is a behavioural one. What is that?

It refers to the problem that might occur after implementing basic income. People may start to behave in such a way that would make basic income unsustainable from a social or economic point of view, for example by withdrawing from the labour market. Honestly, I don’t think that this would be a very big problem. All available evidence says that this can occur in some specific groups (immigrants from some countries, some low-educated women), but it would not be a general trend. So I think the main problem would be with the institutional and strategic types of feasibility, not the psychological or behavioural ones. But this scheme would be different in each different country.

So let’s talk about those different countries. We have various welfare regimes in Europe, according to the classic typology of Esping-Andersen, we can identify liberal Anglo-Saxon, conservative-contintental and social-democratic systems. Some other researchers identify also the Mediterranean type, the post-communist central-European type or the post-productivist type. Which of them in your opinion is more suitable for implementing basic income and in which of them could it be most difficult?

From an institutional point of view it could be easier to implement it in one type of welfare regime but for political reasons it can be more difficult than elsewhere. For example, in the Nordic, social-democratic welfare regime the main obstacles would not be institutional, but psychological or political ones. Of course, the post-productivist welfare regime, identified by Robert Goodin, would be the most suitable for basic income. But I think that right now the post-productivist situation, which we had at the end of the nineties, has vanished from all European countries, and that was probably a lost opportunity in historical terms. In my opinion it would be difficult to return to that situation. I expect that we will see a lot of discussion on basic income, even parliamentary debates, a lot of people in various political parties giving their cheap political support to the proposal, but honestly, I think we will see little real progress in institutional terms towards basic income. I hope Spain will be an exception to that, but we will see.

To which of the regimes does Spain belong?

I think Spain has fitted quite well into the continental-conservative type until quite recently. The main components of the Spanish social budgets were contributory benefits, but now it is starting to change. The main reason is this huge number of people who are out of the contributory benefits and out of social security, because they are unemployed and they have never paid contributions. Another consideration is the reforms that are likely to be introduced to the contributory pension system. This system in Spain is probably not sustainable in the medium term, if we do not inject more money from general taxation. So we will probably see a shift from a more continental welfare regime to a more typical Mediterranean welfare regime where we have lower benefits paid in a non-contributory way. That is not what I would like to happen, nevertheless I think it is happening now.

Basic income defenders in many countries hope that one way to tackle feasibility obstacles (mainly the strategic and psychological ones) is through basic income experiments, like those realized in India, or planned in Holland and Finland. What is your opinion about the role of such experiments in the political process of pushing forward the basic income agenda?

I don’t know much about the Dutch case, but I’m not very enthusiastic about the Finnish one. They have agreed to fund a group of experts to do a comprehensive study, exploring how a pilot experiment could be conducted in order to see if basic income works. This group has to create a report by the end of 2016, and if it is approved (which is not guaranteed), some kind of pilot experiment will start in 2017. It would last two years and at the end the Finnish government would evaluate whether the experiment’s results indicated that basic income should be implemented. But by that time, the present government may be out of office, and no one can predict their future attitude towards the issue. I’m not keen on these kinds of experiments. I think that if you want to put basic income in place, you should start some initial measures now. You don’t need to wait two years for the results of the experiment, and in the end such an experiment will never be conclusive. Once again it will be a political issue whether the results of the experiment mean that it is advisable to implement basic income, so the experiment serves only to postpone the political discussion. I prefer to start to take some steps towards basic income, than to wait for the experiments. Some people think that with positive results everyone would agree that we should implement it in one move. I don’t think it is realistic. But I wish them luck, of course.

You have been one of the best known defenders of basic income, not only in Spain but also worldwide, and yet, when joining Podemos before the last elections, you chose to promote your version of guaranteed minimum income. What are your main reasons for that?

When they asked me to collaborate with them, I had already been supporting them, because I thought that our country needed a new political movement in order to get out of the political and social mess. When they started to talk about basic income I was really interested in the ways that it could be implemented immediately in Spain. Let’s assume that you are in office, what would you do to make basic income a reality? The first thing, of course, is the budget, which is the first question you will have to answer, not only with basic income, but with every social policy measure. Do we have the necessary money for basic income? This is an abstract question. In an abstract sense, of course, we have money for anything providing we can gather the tax in order to afford it. But, of course, not all tax reforms are feasible. I did the numbers, which should always be the first task, and realized that a full basic income at the poverty level right now in Spain means raising income taxes. There is no other way, even when you fight against fiscal fraud, include all benefits that are under the poverty level (which is now around 600 Euros per equivalent person per month) etc., and even if you raise the taxes only for the upper deciles it means that you have to gather more taxes from the people currently earning 18,000-20,000 Euros per year. These are the people that are in the low-to-middle class. This is not politically feasible, because these are the people that, in many cases, vote for the left, including Podemos. Of course, you can say that income tax is only paid by the workers, and that is true – 90% of income tax is paid from salaries. The problem is that there are no other taxes in place which we could use to raise the money required for basic income. We could start a tax reform and conduct it through the whole governing period, to create those resources in the future. But we cannot go to elections saying: “If you vote for us, in the next four years we will deliver basic income” – that would not be true. The leaders of Podemos were very clear and realistic about that, when they asked me for a detailed proposal. They explicitly told me: “Don’t propose anything that we cannot comply with during the next four years.” So we can say that basic income is a political horizon, that we want to make steps towards it, but we cannot promise it in four years. That is out of the question, because of money, the tax reform, as well as all the other institutional reforms we have to implement: issues about regional governments, contributory pensions etc. So instead, let’s go for something that is politically attractive and ambitious, and which would eradicate poverty in Spain – at least extreme poverty, and something that we can reasonably afford. That thing is a guaranteed income, that would cover everyone – or almost everyone – below the poverty level.

This is a means-tested benefit.

Of course, it is. We could implement means-testing in a way that is not humiliating, not stigmatising, not invasive in private lives – all those bad things connected with the means-testing in the Anglo-Saxon countries, for example. We, the defenders of basic income have always talked about means-testing as a devil, but it is a very wide group of completely differing elements. It is not the same as in case of non-contributory pensions where they only have to give a document to the bureaucrats (certifying that you have no income and you have paid no social security contributions). Anglo-Saxon style means-testing involves people going into your home and checking what you are doing, do you have television etc. So, of course, we can think of some more friendly types of means-testing, which would make a guaranteed income cheaper than basic income. Additionally, a guaranteed income would be a family or household benefit, not an individual one, because otherwise the costs would be too high.

But a guaranteed income scheme would still encounter institutional problems connected with fragmented power between 17 regional governments.

Yes, that’s true. What can we do about it? We discussed it with many experts, some of them connected with other parties on the left, such as Izquierda Unida and PSOE. We could start by telling all the regional governments: “Look, we want to have a countrywide minimum income floor. If you include your benefits within this central program, you can top-up the benefits as you see fit. We will provide the minimum income floor, and give you the resources to operate it as long as you use them for that purpose. If you want to, you can use your own resources to make the benefits higher.” We think that it could be an attractive way of negotiating this proposal with the regional governments. For example, the Basque regional government is already doing something like that. They top-up the non-contributory pensions or the non-contributory unemployment benefits to a very high level. So we thought that expanding the Basque system to the rest of the country would be a sensible option.

The Basque Country and Navarre are not inside the general Spanish tax system, are they?

The Basque country and Navarre have their own tax office and each year they have to reach an agreement with the central government about the amount of money they have to pay. It is the opposite system to the rest of the regional governments, where the central government gets the tax and gives some part of that to the regional governments. Of course that is why the minimum income program in the Basque country is the best one in Spain, because they have a lot more resources. But to be honest, it is not the only reason. The other is that they are much more efficient than both the central government and the regional ones in collecting taxes, they really make a good job of it.

If the regional governments do not accept your proposal, do you have any plan B?

Yes, another way to implement guaranteed minimum income would be to operate through social security. Most social security benefits are contributory, but there is nothing in the constitution or other laws that prevents social security from paying non-contributory benefits. So we could use this to provide a country-wide income floor and use part of the resources – which we currently pay the regional governments for minimum incomes – to fund that program. And the third way to do it would be through some kind of negative income tax, which you can operate from the central government. It would be more difficult to operate because we would need an income tax reform. We already have some small elements of negative income tax in the tax system, so we could expand those. Again it would imply getting money from the regional governments that is currently earmarked for funding minimum incomes.

What do you think about the proposal of Arcarons, Domènech, Raventós and Torrens to finance basic income in Spain? They show that 70-80 percent of the people would gain from their reform.

I know this study very well. I was the one of the guys that made the first study of this type with Dani Raventós and Jordi Arcarons in the case of Catalonia. But in that study we interpreted the results differently in political terms. They interpret it as proof that basic income is possible. From a mathematical point of view, of course, that is right. But this is not only about accounting, my interpretation is what I have already told you: The results show that the upper 30% in the income tax distribution who would pay for basic income starts at 18,000 Euros per year. Try saying to a person who earns 18,000 Euros per year that now s/he has to pay more in order to be a net contributor to the basic income scheme. I don’t think that any government would do that. I don’t think even the authors of this study would do it either if they were to find themselves in government one day. Furthermore I think that they know and understand this perfectly. Privately they admit they can’t fully achieve this, at least not right now. Nevertheless, the study is very useful, because it shows that basic income is not some crazy proposal. The only problem is that we don’t have the resources for that it now. But it is possible in the future, there are many ways to do it, it is not completely out of the question, and that is the point of the study. But you cannot go to a political party or social movement and say: “We have a way to implement basic income right now in Spain”. The income tax reform proposed by them is not possible right now. And Toni Domènech, who is a very intelligent guy, and from whom I have learnt a lot in terms of political philosophy and social theory and methodology, said in the interview in Sin Permiso, that of course it is not a political program.

Talking about social theory and your own methodological approach, you defend the necessity of developing the Analytical Sociological Theory. What do you mean by that?

That’s a good question, because probably the only thing that it has in common with all the people that consider themselves as analytical sociologists is some family resemblance, to use the term of Wittgenstein. By „family resemblance” I mean we all think that sociology should be a scientific endeavour, but it is not something that all sociologists would agree with currently. We are all committed to intellectual clarity and precision, clear analytical distinctions, clear concepts, testable and informative hypothesis. We are all committed to modelisation in social sciences, trying to find empirical support when you comment on the social phenomena. We don’t like social theory in the style of Zygmunt Bauman, for example, who writes a lot about society without a single piece of empirical data to support his words. That’s a strange way to conduct sociology, it is more like a bad kind of social philosophy. There are many examples of a good social philosophy connected with social ontology, like the works of John Searle, Francesco Guala and many others. Some of the analytical sociologists are also committed to the use of some methodological approaches and techniques, for example the social mechanism approach utilised with a strong sense of causality in the social realm. Some, like Peter Hedstrom and Gianluca Manzo, try to substantiate that through a method of creating agent-based models. But not all analytical sociologists have been so enthusiastic about it, some, for example Jon Elster, have distanced themselves from it.

What do agent-based models add to the standard neoclassic rational choice theory, the insufficiencies of which we all know? Could you explain the sense in which this approach helps us to understand some social phenomena better?

I think they add a lot. First because they allow us to have agents with any motivations, rational as well as irrational. Also they make it possible to test the effects of the complex interactions between various agents, which is something you cannot do using the standard, neoclassic rational choice models. The latter are formally very nice and clear but also linear and static. With agent-based models you can let various differing agents interact and you can get unexpected, emergent effects, which are so important in all complex systems, including obviously the social systems.

Do you think that agent-based models can be useful for basic income proponents?

I think so. They probably cannot be used to prove anything about basic income in a scientific sense, because there is no way we can calibrate such a model empirically, mainly because a basic income system doesn’t yet exist anywhere in the world. So we don’t have the values of the parameters required to calibrate the model correctly. But we can use the model theoretically, for example, to show that it is not obvious that a lot of people would stop working after starting to receive basic income. Some of the predicted effects on labour behaviour by some of the critics are merely possibilities among many others, and depend on the value of many parameters connected to characteristics of a concrete labour market, working conditions, type of jobs, motivations of the workers etc.

Do you think that the empirical data gathered from the basic income experiments could be used to calibrate such models?

That could be helpful. You can use the behavioural data from large field experiments in such a models.

So you don’t appreciate the experiments as a political tool, but you do from the scientific point of view?

Yes, because all the knowledge that we could learn is important. If you have the money I’m the last guy to say you shouldn’t spend it on conducting such experiments. I would like to do them myself, if I had funding. I’m just not convinced by the political strategy that is based on them, I don’t think they could be a political weapon that could make the position of the proponents of basic income stronger.

jose_antonio.nogueraJosé A. Noguera – Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and Director of the Analytical Sociology and Institutional Design Group (GSADI). Co-editor of Papers. Revista de Sociologia, an editorial board member of Basic Income Studies. Member of the International Network of Analytical Sociologists (INAS), and serves on the International Advisory Board of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN).

The Polish translation of this interview can be found here.

Former interviews about basic income:

Jurgen De Wispelaere, Exciting Times Ahead: Experiments and the Politics of Basic Income

Erik Olin Wright, Sociology and Epistemology of Real Utopias

Daniel Raventós, Basic Income in the Spotlight in Spain

Guy Standing, The Strategy for Basic Income

The interviewer received funding for preparation of PhD thesis from Polish National Science Centre as part of PhD scholarship decision DEC-2015/16/T/HS1/00295.

  1. Stuart White. The Civic Minimum: On the Rights and Obligations of Economic Citizenship, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 18. []
  2. Stuart White. The Civic Minimum…, 170-175 []
  3. Jurgen De Wispelaere and Lindsay Stirton. “The Public Administration Case against Participation Income”, Social Service Review 81, no. 3 (September 2007): 523–49. []
  4. Jurgen De Wispelaere, and José Antonio Noguera. 2012. “On the Political Feasibility of Universal Basic Income: An Analytic Framework,” in Basic Income Guarantee and Politics: International Experiences and Perspectives on the Viability of Income Guarantee, ed. Richard K. Caputo (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 17-38. []