Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Gorz: "The Right to an Income and the Right to Work," part two

From "Orientations and Proposals -- The Reduction of Working Time: Issues and Policies" of Andre Gorz's Critique of Economic Reason (1989) translated by Gillian Handyside and Chris Turner. I am posting the section on "The Right to an Income and the Right to Work" in two parts (go to part one). This is part two:

The right to work, the duty to work and one's rights as a citizen are inextricably linked. 

In a Left conception, the point is therefore not to guarantee an income independent of any work; what must be guaranteed is both the income and the quantity of social labour corresponding to it. In other words, the point is to guarantee an income which does not diminish as socially necessary labour time is reduced. Income should not become independent of work itself, but of working time.
In this way, however intermittent work may become and however short the time spent on it, the income guaranteed to each person throughout their lives in exchange for a corresponding quantum of work will always be an earned income to which she or he has acquired a right by her or his labour.
I shall attempt to give a more precise account of this proposition in order to distinguish it from the forms of guaranteed minimum and universal grants.

(a) Guaranteed Income. Rightist Version 

The guaranteed minimum is an income granted by the state, financed by direct taxation. It starts out from the idea that there are people who work and earn a good living and others who do not work because there is no room for them on the job market or because they are (considered) incapable of working. Between these two groups, no lived relation of solidarity emerges. This absence of solidarity (this society deficit) is corrected by a fiscal transfer. The state takes from the one group and gives to the other.

The legitimacy of this transfer will always be more or less openly contested, since through it those who do not work appear to be making the others work in their stead. The state will therefore always be suspected of promoting parasitic behaviour and idleness. It will always tend to disarm that suspicion by spicing the right to a social income with more or less humiliating and harassing checks and controls. The recipients of these benefits will remain at the mercy of a taxpayers' revolt or a political change. And this will be the case even if the income guarantee takes the form of the universal, unconditional payment of a basic allowance, as the Charles Fourier collective and the German eco-libertarians have suggested. This basic income runs the risk, moreover, of serving as a pretext for the unchecked growth of low-grade and badly paid casual jobs, regarded by employers as a top-up income. It also runs the risk of serving as a justification for increased discrimination against women. There will be a tendency to confuse the guaranteed minimum with a 'wage for housework' or a maternal wage, justifying the confinement of women to the domestic sphere and (to borrow a formula used by Jacques Chirac in 1987) the official recognition of the 'profession of housewife and mother'.

The guaranteed minimum or universal grant thus form part of a palliative policy which promises to protect individuals from the decomposition of wage-based society without developing a social dynamic that would open up emancipatory perspectives for them for the future.

(b) Guaranteed income. Left version 

From a Left perspective, the guarantee of an adequate income to those whom society marginalizes must neither be the final goal nor the starting point of the political project. The starting point must be the diminution of the quantity of economically necessary labour; the objective must be to eliminate not only poverty and involuntary unemployment, but also the lack of time, harassing working conditions and the obligation to work full time throughout one's entire working life. The point is not to ensure that there are welfare benefits for those who are excluded from the production process, though these may have to be provided as a temporary measure. The point is to do away with the conditions which have led to the exclusion of those people.

This objective demands, as we have seen, a policy of redistribution of the economically necessary quantity of work. This will gradually, by stages, reduce the full-time norm from the current 1,600 hours per year to an average of 1,400, 1,200 and, finally, 1,000 in the space of some 15 to 20 years. These annual 1,000 hours will be considered the normal extent of full-time working and will entitle you to a normal wage which corresponds to your level of skills or qualifications, just as the current 1,600-hour year is considered the full-time norm and gives you the right to draw a full wage (which is four or five times greater in purchasing power than that received by a worker putting in some 3,200 hours per year at the beginning of the century).

I have demonstrated above that, as the length of annual working time decreases, work tends to become more and more intermittent. A thousand hours in a year may be done as two days' work a week, ten days a month, two fortnights every three months, one week in two, one month in two or sixth months a year, and so on, entitling you to a full wage (in the form of two cheques) throughout the year, just as you do today for 1,600 hours spread over two hundred days a year.

The idea of determining the number of working hours that entitles a person to receive a full income not over a year but over a five or ten year period follows logically from this new organization of time. This idea is not as 'utopian' (in the pejorative sense) as is commonly thought in France. The Swedish economist, Gosta Rehn, was the first to propose it on the occasion of the 1960 reform of the Swedish old-age-pension system: he proposed that everyone should be free to take an extended period of leave at any age which would be counted as an instalment of their retirement, the beginning of which would be correspondingly delayed. This "drawing right," he explained to me, "means the right to exchange one form of life for another during selected periods ... For me this means freeing man [woman] from the obligation to be 'economically productive' all the time."

It is precisely such a liberation which the determination of working hours on a yearly or five-yearly or career scale at last allows, when the norm for full-time working has greatly diminished. Just as 1,000 hours a year will be a normal full-time quota and will entitle you to a full income throughout the year, 3,000 hours over three years or 5,000 hours over five years will be a normal full-time quota entitling you to a full income for three or five years, even if the work concerned has been performed in a discontinuous fashion with breaks of six months of even two years. Your income during these breaks will be your normal income, sometimes paid in advance, sometimes in arrears, the income to which normal work entitles you, in no way different in principle from the income you are entitled to today during paid holidays for example, though the mode of financing it will be different. This possibility of periodically interrupting your working life for six months or two years at any age will enable anyone to study or resume their studies, to learn a new occupation, to set up a band, a theatre group, a neighbourhood cooperative, an enterprise or a work of art, to build a house, to make inventions, to raise your children, to campaign politically, to go to a Third World country as a voluntary worker, to look after a dying relative or friend, and so on. And the same reasoning which applies over the three-year or five-year period holds good over the period of one's entire life with its twenty or thirty years of work (20,000 to 30,000 hours): there is no reason not to envisage these being spread out over forty or fifty years of one's life or concentrated into ten or fifteen years. There is also no reason not to let people plan their lives or a second (or third) start in life.

One could elaborate endlessly upon this type of system, refine it and make provision for bonuses or penalties and for fiscal incentives or disincentives to work either uninterruptedly or intermittently. One could stipulate whether there would or would not be a ceiling to the amount of the second cheque, whether it would or would not be reduced if your break from work lasted beyond a certain time, and so forth. And one might also raise a whole host of objections: some may fear that this will require excessively cumbersome bureaucracy (quite wrongly, since the management of a work-time account is no different from the management of a pension fund, family allowances or a current bank account); or others might be concerned about 'those who just don't want to work at all' fearing that a guaranteed income linked to the right (and obligation) to work, however intermittently, will bring about 'compulsory labour', as if the right to be paid for doing nothing were a well-established constitutional right which I had somehow had the bad taste to violate. This last objection ('what will you do about those who don't want to work at all') could be raised in respect of any type of obligation (paying your restaurant bill, stopping at a red light, taking a shower before entering a swimming-pool). It is a particularly specious objection in this case since the compulsion in question is merely alleviated; it is not something new that would require new forms of surveillance or repression. If someone got particularly into arrears with his working hours, he would receive a first and possibly a second warning letter informing him that his right to receive his second cheque would expire on such and such a date. The letter would be sent by the computer managing the social account of the person concerned, which regularly sends him a statement just as one receives a monthly or bi-monthly statement for a bank account. Everyone knows the rules: you can't have an unlimited overdraft at your bank, nor could you at the social fund paying the second cheque. The openness and fairness of this rule mean that it cannot be considered oppressive and authoritarian. It is the rule for everybody. It seems to me greatly preferable to the blind constraints of anarcho-liberal non-society and to the social-statism which grants a 'civic income' to everyone and then leaves them to 'slug it out'.

The essential aspect of an obligation to work in exchange for a guaranteed full income is that this obligation provides the basis for a corresponding right: by obliging individuals to produce by working the income which is guaranteed to them, society obliges itself to guarantee them the opportunity to work and gives them the right to demand this. The obligation it imposes on them is the basis for the right they have over it, the right to be full citizens, individuals like any other, assuming their -- increasingly light -- share of the burden of necessities and free, by that very token, to be unique persons who, during the rest of their time, may develop their multiple capacities, if such is their desire. I do not claim here to have responded to all the questions and objections that may be raised. I do not know if there is a need to set an age limit for entry into active life; or whether the person who at 35 has already done all the work that is due must be discouraged from continuing at the same rate nor whether one should continue to advocate, as Gunnar Adler Karlsson does, a division into two economic sectors, a socialized sector ensuring that all necessities are provided in the most economical conditions for workers and users, and a free sector providing the optional goods and services and so on, but I know that the vision of a society where each person may earn their living by working, but by working less and less and increasingly intermittently, in which each person is entitled to the full citizenship which work confers and to a 'second life', whether private, micro-social or public, enables workers and the unemployed, the new social movements and the labour movement to join together in a common struggle.

Unlike the 'universal grant' or social assistance to non-workers, which depend entirely on central government, a project for a society in which everyone may work, but work less and less while having a better life, may be carried through by a strategy of collective action and popular initiatives. Unlike the formulas of the 'guaranteed minimum' or 'universal grant', this project does not break with the traditional logic of trade-union struggle, since full payment during occasional and annual holidays and during maternity or paternity leave and training periods or sabbaticals, and so on is prefigured in a number of collective agreements. And lastly, I know that a policy of a staged reduction in working hours, accompanied by a guaranteed income, cannot fail to enliven thinking, debate, experimentation, initiative and the self-organization of the workers on all the different levels of the economy and therefore to be more generative of society and democracy than any social-statist formula. This is the essential point: that control over the economy should be exercised by a revitalized society.
Here then is the reasoning behind my proposals. They are not the only possible proposals. You could make other ones based on other reasoning, but you could not avoid, in the name of realism, all debate about the future society which will no longer be a work-based society. Evading the issue and. the need for radical innovations and change implies that you simply accept the fact that society, as it decomposes, will go on engendering increasing poverty, frustration, irrationality and violence. 'If you don't want Gorz's model or mine', said Gunnar Adler Karlsson at a recent trade-union seminar, 'then build your own models. But please suggest something new. If you gave me one hundredth of the staff and the economists who are working on conventional employment theories to work out my theories and Gorz's, we would find solutions to a whole host of problems.'

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