Guy Standing: In a book that I wrote in 2011, on page one I said that unless the inse­cu­ri­ties, and the fears, and the aspi­ra­tions of the pre­cari­at were addressed as a mat­ter of urgency, we would see the emer­gence of a polit­i­cal monster. 

You will not be sur­prised that in November 2016 I received a lot of emails from around the world from peo­ple who said, The mon­ster has arrived.” Today, iron­i­cal­ly, he is in Germany inspect­ing his troops. Maybe a lot of Americans would like him to stay in Germany. But I would not. 

What I’m going to talk about today is some­thing that has involved me in some­thing I nev­er expect­ed in my life—an adven­ture. Because since that book was pub­lished it’s been trans­lat­ed into twenty-four lan­guages and tak­en me around the world to speak in over 500 places in about forty coun­tries. And the rea­son for that is not the book but the fact is that the glob­al pre­cari­at is grow­ing in every part of the world. 

And I want to talk about some of the back­ground of this dis­rup­tive class that is tak­ing shape. Because I think it has a res­o­nance with this con­fer­ence and sim­i­lar events tak­ing place. Because as some­one like myself—I’m an econ­o­mist; as I was walk­ing around here this morn­ing I thought, This is the future.” You are the future if, if, we are to have a future. It’s up to you to define that future. And I mean it very seriously. 

We are in the midst of a glob­al trans­for­ma­tion. Those of you who are polit­i­cal sci­en­tists or know polit­i­cal sci­ence will under­stand that Karl Polanyi wrote a great book in 1944 called The Great Transformation. And his book was fun­da­men­tal­ly about what took place in the 19th cen­tu­ry and the ear­ly part of the 20th cen­tu­ry. He describes the mid-19th cen­tu­ry until the Second World War as the dis­em­bed­ded phase of the Great Transformation. It was dom­i­nat­ed ini­tial­ly by finan­cial cap­i­tal. By laissez-faire eco­nom­ics. And by a tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion that was tak­ing place at the time. It took place in which the dom­i­nant groups were around finance and monop­o­lies and imperialism. 

But what hap­pened in that dis­em­bed­ded phase was that inse­cu­ri­ties mul­ti­plied. Inequalities wors­ened. Wealth inequal­i­ty grew more than income inequal­i­ty. And in the process we had the emer­gence of a new class struc­ture in which the bour­geoisie was con­front­ed by a solid­i­fied pro­le­tari­at. The pro­le­tari­at were the losers in the process of two world wars and the Great Depression. And we had what Polanyi said with the threat of the anni­hi­la­tion of civ­i­liza­tion.” We all know what happened. 

But after the Second World War, a new embed­ded phase of his Great Transformation took place, in which finance was tamed. In which social democ­ra­cy became the dom­i­nant force. Labor-based inse­cu­ri­ties were reduced. Inequalities were reduced. And we had a peri­od in which glob­al trade grew in com­pet­i­tive goods, but with sim­i­lar stan­dards in the indus­tri­al­ized cap­i­tal­ist countries. 

But there were inher­ent con­tra­dic­tions in that embed­ded phase of the Great Transformation. It became infla­tion­ary, it became slug­gish. It was no gold­en age. It was no gold­en age that prompt­ed 1968. The riots. The revolt against the sys­tem. It was a peri­od of drab­ness in many ways. When full-time, sta­ble jobs were meant to be the nir­vana. But it stul­ti­fied the human cre­ativ­i­ties. It stul­ti­fied sub­ver­sive think­ing. It was a peri­od in which there were many improve­ments, but it had its lim­i­ta­tions. As we all know, that Great Transformation col­lapsed in the 1970s and 1980s, ush­ered in the disembed­ded phase of the Global Transformation. 

The dis­em­bed­ded phase was dom­i­nat­ed by neolib­er­al­ism in eco­nom­ics. By the emer­gence of politi­cians like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, to put those neolib­er­al ideas into prac­tice. It was dom­i­nat­ed by the emer­gence of US-dominated finan­cial insti­tu­tions like Goldman Sachs that became great umbrel­las around the world. And it ush­ered in, too, a new tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion that you’re all deal­ing with today.

For my sto­ry, the most impor­tant aspect of the ear­ly phase of that tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion was that it made the relo­ca­tion of pro­duc­tion and employ­ment much eas­i­er. So that the relo­ca­tion depend­ed on rel­a­tive costs. And it strength­ened the pow­er of cap­i­tal over labor. So we see around the world, in every coun­try, a shift in which more and more of the income goes to cap­i­tal and less and less goes to labor. It’s a phe­nom­e­non that spread around the world. 

And the tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion also meant that cap­i­tal mobil­i­ty increased dra­mat­i­cal­ly. And, we have some oth­er inter­est­ing devel­op­ments which I’ll come to in a moment. But inequal­i­ties have increased. Insecurities have become vast­ly greater in every part of the world. We have a new Gilded Age, at the top, and at the bot­tom. And that Gilded Age has gone with a new Kondratiev long wave of tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion which has helped in the relo­ca­tion again of the geopo­lit­i­cal pow­er that is so impor­tant today. 

We have, now, moved away from the neolib­er­al era of the 1980s and 1990s. And a piv­otal event came in 1994 with the pas­sage of TRIPS by the World Trade Organization. Trips: Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property. What this did is glob­al­ize the American sys­tem of intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty rights. With patents, with copy­right, with brands, with all of the adages that go with that sys­tem. So now, we have a sys­tem in which about a quar­ter of the world’s GDP—national income—is attrib­ut­able to intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty rights. 

Some of you ben­e­fit from patents and oth­er copy­rights and so on, but it’s a sys­tem that has entrenched pow­er­ful, big cor­po­ra­tions. So we have Big Pharma. We have Big Finance. And above all we have Big Tech. The Big Tech are ren­tiers, tak­ing more and more from the world’s income pile. And in effect we have ren­tier cap­i­tal­ism today, not a free mar­ket. This is the most un-free mar­ket sys­tem ever cre­at­ed in his­to­ry, where more and more of the income is going to the own­ers of prop­er­ty. Physical prop­er­ty, finan­cial prop­er­ty, and intel­lec­tu­al property. 

We’ve had a break down of the income dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem of the 20th cen­tu­ry. It’s bro­ken. Wages have been stag­nat­ing in all indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries for three decades. Three decades. They are low­er in the United States in real-wage terms than they were in the 1980s. The impli­ca­tions are dra­mat­ic. And above all we’ve got a new glob­al class struc­ture that has tak­en shape. The class struc­ture has a plu­toc­ra­cy at the top. It is not the top 1%, it’s the top 0.1%, of multi-billionaires strid­ing the globe as glob­al cit­i­zens, tak­ing more and more rental income. Take some­one like Jeff Bezos. His income has grown by $400 mil­lion per week this year. This is obscen­i­ty multiplied. 

This plu­toc­ra­cy of course now have a rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the White House as their spokesper­son. We have oth­er plu­to­crats manip­u­lat­ing our pol­i­tics, manip­u­lat­ing our tech­nol­o­gy, manip­u­lat­ing our com­mons. These are the realities.

Beneath the plu­toc­ra­cy is an elite who are the ser­vants of the plu­to­crats. Who are mak­ing many mil­lions of dol­lars euros pounds or what­ev­er, and are ser­vants. We don’t have to feel sor­ry for them, either. 

Below them is the cele­ri­at. With sta­ble, salaried employ­ment. With pen­sion to look for­ward to. Paid hol­i­days, paid med­ical leave, paid this, paid that, paid the rest. 

The only prob­lem is that the cele­ri­at has been shrink­ing every­where in the world. It won’t dis­ap­pear, but today, many in the cele­ri­at wor­ry about their daugh­ters and their sons. Because they’re not going into the celeriat. 

Below the cele­ri­at, just, is a group I call in the books the pro­fi­cians, a com­bi­na­tion of pro­fes­sion­als” and tech­ni­cians” Many in this hall this morn­ing are part of the pro­fi­cians. But be care­ful. These peo­ple don’t want full-time sta­ble jobs. They don’t want to be say­ing yes/no to a boss. They’re mak­ing good mon­ey. They’re rush­ing around with their lap­tops or what­ev­er over their shoul­ders. They’re mak­ing a lot of mon­ey. They’re mak­ing a lot of mon­ey and they are tend­ing to be com­pla­cent. But they should wor­ry about burnout. They should wor­ry about men­tal ill­ness at age twenty-eight-and-a-half, or thereabouts. 

The pro­fi­cians are help­ing in iden­ti­fy­ing the tech­no­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal options for the future—they have a respon­si­bil­i­ty. But they must not lose that respon­si­bil­i­ty in an ego­tis­tic, nar­cis­sis­tic pur­suit of pri­vate gain. It’s a dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act. But they have a respon­si­bil­i­ty because they have the skills, they have the knowl­edge, and they know what’s going on. 

Beneath these groups are the old pro­le­tari­at. Disappearing every­where. They were the ones that estab­lished social democ­ra­cy, the trade unions, col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, tri­par­tism. All the insti­tu­tions of the International Labour Organization. But today they are shrink­ing every­where. And along with them their polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives are effec­tive­ly dead men walk­ing. They are not the future. They did many good things in the 20th cen­tu­ry. I do not mean to dis­par­age them in any way. But they’re not the future. 

Beneath the pro­le­tari­at in terms of income is the pre­cari­at. The pre­cari­at can be defined in three dimen­sions. The first dimen­sion is that if you’re in the pre­cari­at, you are being told, and you are being habit­u­at­ed, to accept a life of unsta­ble labor and inse­cure work. You don’t have an occu­pa­tion­al nar­ra­tive to give to your life. An occu­pa­tion­al iden­ti­ty. I am some­thing.” You wor­ry that tomor­row morn­ing you’ll have to be some­thing else. You also have to do a lot of work for labor. Work that is not rec­og­nized, not remu­ner­at­ed, not in our sta­tis­tics, but you know you have to do it oth­er­wise you will pay a price. 

And in being in the pre­cari­at, you don’t know the opti­mum use of your time. Should I spend a lit­tle more time net­work­ing? Doing this. Retraining. Going to a con­fer­ence. Doing this, doing that. Looking after my baby. Paying the rent.” And there­fore you suf­fer from what I’ve called the pre­cari­a­tized mind. The pre­cari­a­tized mind when you’re stressed. You’re anx­ious all the time. You put a good face on it, but every now and then you see your friends col­laps­ing in one way or the oth­er. That’s how it feels for many peo­ple. Every day, I receive emails from var­i­ous peo­ple from var­i­ous places who don’t know me who want to explain their expe­ri­ence. Sometimes I get very angry. Sometimes I…feel like cry­ing. But the pain out there is part of the process of lib­er­a­tion as well. It’s not just a vic­tim­hood, it’s about peo­ple try­ing to make sense of a life of insecurity. 

And anoth­er fea­ture is that peo­ple in the pre­cari­at tend to have a lev­el of edu­ca­tion that is above the lev­el of labor they can expect to obtain. 

The sec­ond dimen­sion of the pre­cari­at is that peo­ple in it have dis­tinc­tive rela­tions of dis­tri­b­u­tion. What that means is they have to rely very large­ly on mon­ey wages, mon­ey pay­ments. They don’t get access to the prospect of pen­sions, or paid hol­i­days, or paid med­ical leave. Or sub­si­dized this or sub­si­dized that. They have to live on wages. The only prob­lem is that the val­ue of those wages are tend­ing to go down and the volatil­i­ty of their income is growing. 

So basi­cal­ly the sec­ond aspect of this dis­tri­b­u­tion­al ques­tion is that most peo­ple in the pre­cari­at are liv­ing on the lev­el of unsus­tain­able debt. One mis­take, one ill­ness, one bad deci­sion, and you could be tipped out into the lumpen pre­cari­at. Outside soci­ety, with­out a voice. 

And of course at the same time the state has been chang­ing its social secu­ri­ty and social pro­tec­tion sys­tem towards more tar­get­ing on the poor. So it’s reduced the social sol­i­dar­i­ty of the social pro­tec­tion sys­tem, and this hits the pre­cari­at in a very big way. Because state ben­e­fits, wel­fare ben­e­fits, have been shrink­ing. And have been means-tested and behavior-tested, drift­ing to Hartz IV or the equiv­a­lent in oth­er coun­tries, where you’re expect­ed to behave as the state tells you to behave. 

Not enough peo­ple real­ize what is hap­pen­ing down at that end of the labor mar­ket. The indig­ni­ties that go with it. The shame. The stig­ma. The pover­ty traps, where­by if you do get a ben­e­fit and you then have the offer of a low-wage job, you’re los­ing as much in ben­e­fits as you get from the low-wage job. You’re fac­ing a mar­gin­al tax rate of 80% in Germany, 86% in Denmark, 80% in Britain. If the mid­dle class­es had to accept such mar­gin­al tax rates there would be riots in the street. But that is what soci­ety expects of the pre­cari­at. It’s not funny. 

And in addi­tion, and what I think is most impor­tant­ly about the pre­cari­at, it has dis­tinc­tive rela­tions to the state. The insti­tu­tions of soci­ety and gov­er­nance. The pre­cari­at is los­ing the rights of cit­i­zen­ship. Often with­out real­iz­ing it they’re los­ing cul­tur­al rights because they can­not belong to orga­ni­za­tions that rep­re­sent their cul­ture or iden­ti­ty or aspi­ra­tions. They’re los­ing civ­il rights because they can­not get access to due process and legal jus­tice. They’re los­ing social rights because they don’t have access to rights-based ben­e­fits and ser­vices. They’re los­ing eco­nom­ic rights because they can­not prac­tice what they are per­fect­ly qual­i­fied to do. And above all they’re los­ing polit­i­cal rights. Because they don’t see out there politi­cians or polit­i­cal par­ties that rep­re­sent what they are. And what they want to be. 

Now in that con­text, I described the pre­cari­at today in an old Marxian term. It’s a class in the mak­ing, not yet a class for itself. And what I mean by that is that while mil­lions of peo­ple share the objec­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of being in the pre­cari­at, they have dif­fer­ent con­scious­ness of what it is. And you can divide the pre­car­i­ous into three groups. 

The first I call the atavists. These are those who do not have a lot of edu­ca­tion, but their par­ents and their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties used to be in the pro­le­tari­at, used to have working-class back­grounds of being dock­ers or steel work­ers or car work­ers or what­ev­er. This group is relat­ing their depri­va­tion of today to a lost yes­ter­day, real or imag­ined. That lost yes­ter­day they want back. It’s this group that sup­ports the Donald Trumps. It’s this group that sup­port­ed Brexit in Britain. It’s this group that sup­ports the Marine Le Pen, the Orbans, and the equiv­a­lent in Germany and else­where. This group sup­port­ed the Lega in Italy. You can name right-wing pop­ulist groups. 

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news here is that they are prov­ing to be pro­found­ly strong. We risk today that that group could lead us into a new dark polit­i­cal future char­ac­ter­ized by demo­niz­ing migrants and minori­ties, author­i­tar­i­an ten­den­cies, destruc­tive, vile out­comes. But there’s good news. In my view they have reached their peak in terms of size. Many are get­ting old­er of that type. And they will not lead the oth­er two groups in the same direction. 

The sec­ond group in the pre­cari­at are what I call the nos­tal­gics. These are made up with the migrants, the minori­ties, the dis­abled. People who feel they have no sense of home. They don’t have a home there, they don’t have a home here, but they dream of a home. This group knows it’s los­ing rights. It’s being demo­nized. It’s being vic­tim­ized. But they will not sup­port a neo­fas­cist pop­ulism. They keep their heads down because they have to sur­vive. Every now and then there are days of rage when every­thing gets too much. But this group is look­ing for a home. It’s look­ing for a future. Its rel­a­tive depri­va­tion is its got a lost now. The first group a lost past, the sec­ond group a lost now.

The third group in the pre­cari­at are what I call the pro­gres­sives. These are the mil­lions of peo­ple who went to col­lege, went to uni­ver­si­ty, and were told by their par­ents and by their teach­es, Go to uni­ver­si­ty and you will get a future!” A future. A career, sta­tus. Influence. Dignity. And they come out of uni­ver­si­ty and col­lege know­ing they don’t have that future. All they have are debts, dis­il­lu­sions, and dif­fi­cul­ties. This group is enter­ing the pre­cari­at. It will not sup­port neo­fas­cist pop­ulism. It is look­ing for a future. It is look­ing for a new pol­i­tics of par­adise. There are many peo­ple at this con­fer­ence I believe are in this third part. 

The bad news is they’ve been dis­miss­ing pol­i­tics because they know, very wise­ly, that it’s been cyn­i­cal­ly manip­u­lat­ed by the plu­to­crats and by oth­ers, and there­fore they have detached them­selves from pol­i­tics. The trou­ble with that is that it sur­ren­ders the ground to the oth­ers with a regres­sive, anti-democratic, anti-Enlightenment perspective. 

But the good news is this: Since the cri­sis in 2008, and par­tic­u­lar­ly since the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring in 2011, and the Indignado move­ment, more of this third part of the pre­cari­at are reen­gag­ing with pol­i­tics. They’re reen­gag­ing in dif­fer­ent ways, begin­ning to forge an agen­da for that future. And I believe that if you take a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive then I only wish I were 21. I would love to be 21. Because if you are 21, you have a vac­u­um. You have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to forge a fun­da­men­tal­ly Enlightenment-led future. 

Let me give you by way of con­clu­sion a few thoughts on what that might be. The thoughts are these: Today, our income dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem is bro­ken. We can’t put yes­ter­day back. Therefore we have to build a new income dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem. We will not get any­where by try­ing to raise wages, but we will get some­where if we decide that what soci­ety has to do is recy­cle the rent from the tech­nocrats, the financiers, and the prop­er­ty own­ers to the com­mons. To the com­moners. We must build that dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem by return­ing to the val­ues of the Enlightenment. Of égal­ité, lib­erté, fra­ter­nité, or sol­i­dar­ité. And to do that I strong­ly believe that one part of this new income dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem should be a basic income that every­body has, as a right. [applause]

I have had the priv­i­lege of work­ing for this for thir­ty years, since we formed BIEN. Anybody can join BIEN, we have many Germans who are part of it. We have thou­sands and thou­sands of peo­ple who are members. 

For many years we were regard­ed as crazy. Mad, bad, and dan­ger­ous. But sud­den­ly in the last few years we’ve sud­den­ly become respectable. At least…tolerated. I’ve had the priv­i­lege of design­ing and con­duct­ing basic income pilots in four con­ti­nents, the biggest being in India. Anybody who’s inter­est­ed, I’ve writ­ten a book, Basic Income: And How We Can Make It Happen.

But let me just tell you what hap­pened in India. A coun­try that’s poor. A coun­try that pover­ty is ter­ri­fy­ing. And when we decid­ed we would do it and we mobi­lized mon­ey, we pro­vid­ed 6,000 people—men, women, and children—with basic income, Sonia Gandhi told us her­self. She said, You’re wast­ing the mon­ey! They’ll waste it on drink and drugs.” 

Two years lat­er after we had done the pilot and seen what had hap­pened, she called us back to her house and she said she wished she had known. What hap­pened was that when they start­ed receiv­ing the basic income they did what all of us in this room would do. They start­ed giv­ing their chil­dren bet­ter food. So nutri­tion improved. Health of the chil­dren improved. Schooling improved. Health and nutri­tion of oth­er adults improve. People with dis­abil­i­ties sud­den­ly had a basic income with which they could be cit­i­zens. Women’s sta­tus improved. Sanitation in the vil­lages improved. Work increased. Production increased. If you go to those vil­lages today, you would have seen a transformation. 

Now, that hap­pened in a poor place. We also did it in Africa, where very sim­i­lar results were shown. We’ve now got pilots in Canada and some hope­ful­ly launch­ing soon in Scotland. And the Opposition lead­er­ship in Britain has asked me to pre­pare a plan for doing it in Britain. If you had told me ten years ago that any of those things would’ve hap­pened, I would have said I must have had some­thing to smoke or drink because I must be hal­lu­ci­nat­ing. But change can come quick­er than we think. It is up to us. 

I want to tell you one sto­ry. I still have a few min­utes, I hope. Is that…? What fig­ure, I don’t know. But I’m going to tell the story. 

When we were launch­ing the pilot in India, we went to one vil­lage and all the young women had veils. And we had to have their pho­to tak­en for the card so that they could get their month­ly basic income. And we had to per­suade them to go into a hut with oth­er women to have their pho­tos taken. 

Nine or ten months lat­er I went back to that par­tic­u­lar vil­lage and I said to one of my Indian col­leagues, I said, Have you noticed a dif­fer­ence here?”

And he said, No. No.” I said what dif­fer­ence? He said, Nothing. There’s better…sanitation.”

No,” I said. None of the women are wear­ing veils.”

He said, Yeah.”

So we called some of the women across and we said, Look excuse us, but…you wore veils, you’re not wear­ing veils now… Why?” 

They were shy, they did­n’t want to speak to a for­eign­er and so on. But after a while one of the young women spoke up and she said, You know, before, we had to do what the elders told us to do. Now we have a basic income, we can do what we want to do.” [applause]

And there is an even more poignant sto­ry in our Namibian pilot. At the end of that one I went to one of the vil­lages and I asked some young women, I said, What was the best thing about hav­ing a basic income? What was the best thing.” 

And they talked to each oth­er, and gig­gled, you. Again, talk­ing to a for­eign­er and so on. And then one of the young women said, You know, before, when the men came down from the fields at the end of the month, with their wages in their pock­ets, we had to say yes. Now we have our basic income, we say no.” That’s emancipation. 

And if you can put an anal­o­gy in Germany or Britain, any­where else, you will find that this abil­i­ty to say no to exploita­tion and oppres­sion is a fun­da­men­tal part about a pro­gres­sive agen­da for the 21st cen­tu­ry. We have to find a way of lib­er­at­ing peo­ple to say no, and also to say yes. To say yes to the abil­i­ty to help peo­ple, to do things, to care. To par­tic­i­pate in the eco­log­i­cal aspects of life. And I think it will help in both respects. 

In that con­text, let me con­clude by say­ing a basic income is not a panacea. It must be part of a new sys­tem. We need new forms of voice. We need new forms of work. We need to real­ize today that new tech­nolo­gies are poten­tial­ly lib­er­at­ing us to escape from labor so that we can do more work. Most lan­guages dis­tin­guish the dif­fer­ence, but only in the 20th cen­tu­ry were we stu­pid enough to think only labor counts as work. I have nev­er worked hard­er than since I stopped doing labor. Since I stopped hav­ing a job. [applause] And what we have to do is con­vince the politi­cians and the social sci­en­tists that they should change their think­ing about what is work and what is not work. Every fem­i­nist, and we should all be fem­i­nists, every fem­i­nist should be demand­ing that they change their con­cepts. Because it means that most of the work women do does­n’t count as work. It’s ridicu­lous. It’s sex­ist, it’s arbitrary. 

For me, this is giv­en a new dimen­sion because of the growth of the pre­cari­at. Because if you’re in the pre­cari­at you know you have to do a lot of work. A lot of work. And you’re treat­ed as if you’re being lazy. 

But there’s anoth­er won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty here. We all know or should know that we are threat­ened by extinc­tion. Extinction that comes from the green­house gas emis­sions, the pol­lu­tion, the ero­sion of the com­mons, the pri­va­ti­za­tion of our spaces. Our loss of nature. Our loss of an eco­log­i­cal land­scape. We know that. It’s the num­ber one cri­sis charg­ing towards us. We did­n’t need the pan­el of cli­mate change to tell us that, but we know it. And what are we doing? We’ve just seen in Poland, hard­ly any­thing. We need big car­bon tax­es. Big car­bon tax­es. [applause]

But there are two prob­lems. There are two prob­lems. First, tax­es are unpop­u­lar. And sec­ond, if you just put a car­bon tax, it would wors­en inequal­i­ty. Because the poor per­son pays pro­por­tion­ate­ly more than the rich per­son. Therefore, we need to com­bine car­bon tax­es with car­bon div­i­dends. So that the pro­ceeds of car­bon tax­es are recycled…I think most of you can work it out where I’m end­ing this discussion…recycled as basic incomes. The car­bon tax can pay for a large part of a basic income future. And there­fore this per­spec­tive leads to you think­ing we can advance the cause of eco­log­i­cal sur­vival, advance the cause of secu­ri­ty, advance the cause of eman­ci­pa­tion, and do what every trans­for­ma­tive class should do. The pre­cari­at is a trans­for­ma­tive class because it wants intu­itive­ly to abol­ish the con­di­tions that define its exis­tence, and there­fore abol­ish itself. We can do it. Thank you very much.

Moderator: Thanks very much. They say on Congress every time every year we have a sys­tem that we don’t want to use any­more. I think it’s cap­i­tal­ism. [applause]

We’re going to a Q&A, includ­ing your ques­tions from the Internet. There are six micro­phones scat­tered around the room. So if any­body wants to ask a ques­tion in pub­lic we’ll start this now. And we’ll start with mic 6 over there. 

Audience 1: Brilliant. Hi. So I was won­der­ing, you men­tioned basic income and you con­nect­ed it car­bon tax­es. I was won­der­ing what oth­er strate­gies you’re think­ing towards tack­ling oth­er sys­temic issues we have, espe­cial­ly in regards to land, which to me…you men­tioned dif­fer­ent type of prop­er­ty. But I think that land today is the proxy to access to all the oth­er value. 

Guy Standing: Thank you very much. I’ve got a new book com­ing out, to make me even more bor­ing. It’s called Plunder of the Commons. And basi­cal­ly what you’ve touched on is the theme of this book. If you think of the commons—the nat­ur­al com­mons, the social com­mons, the civ­il com­mons, all our com­mons; includ­ing land, water, the air, our ameni­ties and so on; we’ve allowed the pri­va­ti­za­tion and col­o­niza­tion of the com­mons to take prof­it from our com­mons. And there­fore we need a sys­tem of levies to say, Hey, we want the rental income back for the com­mon­ers. And that includes land. That’s why I strong­ly favor a land val­ue tax. A land val­ue tax is a very effi­cient tax, and it has to be part of build­ing this com­mons fund along the Alaska Permanent Fund prin­ci­ples, for those of you who are famil­iar with that. 

We also need it for water, for air, for dig­i­tal infor­ma­tion. I don’t believe tax­ing robots, as Bill Gates pro­posed, is the answers. What I do believe is we should put a levy on all the infor­ma­tion that Amazon and Facebook and the oth­ers are tak­ing from us, free, and mak­ing bil­lions. We should have a levy on that. [applause] And th levy should go to every­body equal­ly, because you can­not attribute the prof­its they’re mak­ing to any indi­vid­ual. We have to give it to every­body. And if we do that we are all the time build­ing the fund that can help pay out towards a decent basic income. So that’s my answer to your question. 

Audience 2: Hi. Thank you for being here. Great plea­sure. Just recent­ly Sahra Wagenknecht was invit­ed in a talk show about about basic income and the future of work. She’s the leader of a German par­ty, the left, Die Linke. She said that she does­n’t like the idea of basic income. Her two argu­ments are she you does­n’t like it regard­ing [?] neolib­er­al pow­ers, they also like the idea of basic income, for exam­ple the CEO of Volkswagen and oth­er big play­ers. And sec­ond she said if you move to a basic income we as a soci­ety will lose a lot of pro­tec­tion and social ben­e­fits. What would be your reac­tion on her opinion? 

Standing: I address this ques­tion in my basic income book in the fol­low­ing way: Every new idea in his­to­ry, in social pol­i­cy in par­tic­u­lar, has been greet­ed at the time by peo­ple say­ing it will threat­en some­thing else and that it will lead to unin­tend­ed neg­a­tive con­se­quences. They said this about unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, they said it about fam­i­ly ben­e­fits. And then when it’s intro­duced, sud­den­ly the objec­tions go away. 

To me, I asked myself the fol­low­ing ques­tion: Do I want that per­son, or that per­son, or the per­son I meet in the street, do I want that per­son to have the basic secu­ri­ty of being able to pay for food, to pay for their rent, and to buy decent clothes? Do I want that? And I say very eas­i­ly to myself yes, I want that. Don’t tell me that it’s going to be a threat to some­thing else if that per­son has basic secu­ri­ty. Why is it that so many social democ­rats make this argu­ment. I’ve con­front­ed many. Including one major trade union leader. I said, Why are you so hos­tile to hav­ing peo­ple have a basic income? Why?

And the man who was chair­ing the ses­sion when I was talk­ing, he said, I think we’ll have a cof­fee break now,” before any­body could answer. And when we came back, he said, Well now we’ll move on to the next session.” 

And the trade union leader at the back stood up and he said, No. I think we should answer the ques­tion.” And he said, You know, I think the answer is that if peo­ple had basic secu­ri­ty they would­n’t be depen­dent on us. They would­n’t join trade unions.” 

And I looked at him and I said, Just imag­ine the moral­i­ty of what you’ve just said. The moral­i­ty if you want peo­ple to be fear­ful and inse­cure, because you want to gain.” I said, But you’re also wrong. Because you’re wrong in the fol­low­ing respect: People who are inse­cure and fright­ened don’t engage in pol­i­tics, they don’t engage in soci­ety. They’ve got too many things to wor­ry about. If they have basic secu­ri­ty they’re more like­ly to stand up and fight for rights. More like­ly to stand up and fight for the ecol­o­gy. More like­ly to be good cit­i­zens. Why don’t you trust peo­ple more? Why are you so bureau­crat­ic and dis­trust­ful? Believe it. We need a new dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem. And don’t tell me neolib­er­al­ism is going to destroy it. They’re destroy­ing what we’ve got any­how. We can do bet­ter than that and if you deny,” you, peo­ple who say this not you but peo­ple who say that, you’re deny­ing the Enlightenment free­doms that we should be fight­ing for.” So I say stop being so neg­a­tive to those people. 

Sorry. I was bit angry but I apologize. 

Moderator: You’ve got all rea­son to. A ques­tion from the Internet. 

Audience 3 (via read­er): There was a pop­u­lar vote in Switzerland on basic income and it was mas­sive­ly reject­ed. How do you ana­lyze that? What should be the way for­ward? And how can we gain lever­age against the pop­u­lace that oppose basic income? 

Standing: I again address that par­tic­u­lar ref­er­en­dum. I par­tic­i­pat­ed in the ref­er­en­dum. We had no mon­ey. We mobi­lized 125,000 sig­na­tures, lit­er­al­ly going in the streets. All the banks were putting up mon­ey. The main polit­i­cal par­ties were opposed, etc. But we were doing fan­tas­ti­cal­ly well. We got up to about 40% opin­ion poll sup­port. [applause] And then one of our lead­ers with­out per­mis­sion from any of us went on tele­vi­sion and an inter­view­er asked him, he said, Well how much do you think the basic income should be?”

And the man instead of say­ing it’s up to Parliament and every­thing, which is what the ref­er­en­dum said, he said it should be 2,500 Swiss francs per month. Which for your infor­ma­tion is con­sid­er­ably high­er than all the rur­al areas, the rur­al can­tons, in Switzerland. At that moment, we lost the ref­er­en­dum. We lost. 

I’m proud of the fact that in Geneva we got 38%, and that was where I was cam­paign­ing. It had noth­ing to do with me but the fact was that they had more meet­ings and more peo­ple could under­stand what the pol­i­tics were. But the great­est thing about that ref­er­en­dum is that today, peo­ple in Switzerland in the Auberge, in the cafés, they’re talk­ing about basic income—they know what it means.

I gave a talk recent­ly in a big the­ater in Geneva—there were hun­dreds and hun­dreds of peo­ple. Many of those had not par­tic­i­pat­ed. If there is anoth­er ref­er­en­dum, I think it will suc­ceed. Switzerland has a his­to­ry of even very mild ideas los­ing in the first ref­er­en­dum, and then a few years lat­er a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum they pass. So I’m actu­al­ly opti­mistic that it will come in Switzerland. 

But not 2,500.

Audience 4: I think a lot of the ideas you pre­sent­ed here are like, respect­ed in the com­mu­ni­ty and here on Congress, but how can we change the soci­ety? How can we change the mind of all the oth­er peo­ple to also con­sid­er these ideas to trans­form to a new society?

Standing: I think this is the biggest ques­tion you could ask. I strong­ly believe that it’s up to us. It real­ly is up to us. Politicians have spaghet­ti in back­bones. Our job is to strength­en the spaghet­ti. Our job is to dis­play why dream­ing of the impos­si­ble leads to becom­ing pos­si­ble, and then hap­pen­ing. I believe that we have to be tak­ing part in any small way we can. 

I will tell you a secret. Yesterday a very good friend of mine, an econ­o­mist, very well-known econ­o­mist, he con­tact­ed me and we were talk­ing and he said, Guy. Why are you wast­ing your time going to Leipzig on December the 27th when you should be hav­ing relax­ation with Christmas?”

And I said, John, that’s not it. I hope the just one per­son, just one, will leave this room with more ener­gy and with more thought than when I start­ed. Just one.” That would be worth com­ing to Leipzig. I feel ener­gized, I hope some­body here feels ener­gized. We have to real­ize that it is up to us—we have no excuse for cyn­i­cism. We have to chal­lenge the Trumps. We can­not let them win. For our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, we can’t let them win. 

Moderator: Thank you very much. I think you’ll be around for more ques­tions. We’re out of time—

Standing: I will of course be available.

Moderator: But, you can ask those ques­tions direct­ly and I think they will be answered in great length. 

Standing: Okay. Thank you.