Basic Income: Progressive Cloak and Neoliberal Dagger

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1580 ... April 4, 2018

Basic Income: Progressive Cloak and Neoliberal Dagger

John Clarke

For almost three decades, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has been fighting against neoliberal austerity, especially that aspect of it that has involved systematically degrading systems of income support. The underlying motive in this attack has been to render benefit provision as inadequate and precarious as possible so as to create the desperation that can drive people into the expanding low wage sector.

In this situation, the notion has taken hold that the solution is a clean start, with income support restructured along the lines of a system of basic income. Given our bitter experiences, we might have been expected to respond favourably to this development. However, as we looked at the idea of... basic income, alarm bells began to ring. Two things, particularly, seemed ominous and concerning.

First of all, we were struck by how elastic the concept is. The political range of those who support basic income is quite remarkable. You can find horribly right wing proponents, such as the notorious U.S. political scientist, Charles Murray, and work your way across the political spectrum to the notion of a "capitalist road to communism" advanced by Robert van der Veen and Philippe Van Parijs. An ‘aspirational’ policy concept that changes shape according to the values and objectives of whoever is proposing it, seemed to offer scant protection in the context of the dominant neoliberal agenda.

Our second major concern emerged as we came to understand that a form of basic income could be implemented that would actually facilitate, rather than reverse or impede, the goals of increased exploitation and the expansion of low wage precarious work. As we looked at the pilot projects that had been put in place in Finland and here in Ontario, our conviction grew that basic income, progressive hopes to the contrary, is fundamentally a neoliberal trap.

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