In a recent interview with ‘The Economist’, Yanis Varoufakis says basic income is an ‘absolutely essential’ approach for the future of social democracy.
This is a major endorsement from a rising star of the European left. Varoufakis is a Greek economist who served as Finance Minister of Greece under the first Syriza government installed in January 2015. He recently launched ‘Democracy in Europe Movement 2025’ (DiEM25), with the aim of transforming the European Union from an elitist technocracy into a transparent and democratic institution that serves people’s interests.
In the interview, Varoufakis links the case for a basic income to the future of social democracy:
Today we are facing a serious danger of large masses of people who have low economic value. This is a powder keg in the foundations of society. Making sure that the great wealth-creation which capital is capable of does not light this dynamite — the basic income approach— is absolutely essential, but it is not part of the social democratic tradition. Think about it. The post-war consensus was all about national insurance, it was not about basic income. Now, either we are going to have a basic income that regulates this new society of ours, or we are going to have very substantial social conflicts that get far worse with xenophobia and refugees and migration and so forth.
Further on, he adds:
So what do we need to do to capture hope? That is the issue. In the 50s and 60s the dream of shared prosperity was that which gave hope. (…) So I think the basic income approach is capable of doing this as long as (…) you can explain to them where the money will come from, that it will not be simply debt, that we are going to generate a lot more income and a chunk of it is going to fund this. But we, the Left, must not be fearful.
Surfers should be fed
Varoufakis also mentions the famous controversy initiated by Philippe van Parijs and John Rawls about whether ‘surfers should be fed’. Varoufakis stands with van Parijs:
I gave a talk some time ago in the United States and said: yes, surfers in California must be fed by the rest of us. We may not like that, we may feel they are bums, but they deserve a basic income too.
OK, they don’t “deserve”, but they should have a basic income, because this is the way to stabilise society. But you need politicians that are capable of going out there and saying: You see that lazy bum over there that you hate? We should feed him. And we should make sure he has a house. Because if he does not have a house and he gets sick and so on, he is a greater burden for all of us.
It is the first time Varoufakis has explicitly endorsed basic income, but he has made allusions to it in in the past.
Back in 2010, he co-authored with Stuart Holland a report called ‘The Modest Proposal’ in which he elaborated four proposals to fix the structural crisis of the European monetary union. Under his 4th proposal, the Emergency Social Solidarity Programme (ESSP), Varoufakis developed the idea of implementing an EU-wide food stamp-style scheme as an emergency measure to reduce poverty, to unify Europe and to redistribute across all European states the trade surplus accumulated by countries like Germany. Such a scheme could even be financed by the European Central Bank: