Is universal income a utopia?

INFOGRAPHIC – The question of the creation of a basic income was invited in the presidential election, on all sides of the chessboard. And this, with diametrically opposed arguments. The cost of its financing remains a problem.

It is a subject that we did not expect and: that of the advisability of establishing, or not, a basic universal income for all. This question, several politicians of all stripes ask it. The left sees it as an anti-poverty weapon, the right an instrument limiting state intervention. , Arnaud Montebourg and Benoît Hamon also referred to it. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet had registered a basic income for all in his program, as part of the primary of the right. As for Emmanuel Macron, the former Minister of the Economy believes that it is an idea to be explored.

An information mission on the interest and possible forms of a basic income in France was. Three main observations lead his supporters to propose it. First, that of the scars of the crisis at the beginning of the century. Then, the rapid emergence of new forms of work linked to digital technology. And finally, the evidence that the French “social model” is not effective: while the Hexagon is one of the countries which offer one of the highest levels of social protection in the world, through the tax or social contributions – 690 billion euros in various allocations and redistributions, or a third of its gross domestic product – poverty and unemployment continue to increase to reach respective rates of 14% and 10%.

A concept that goes back a long way

While it is emerging in the public debate today, the concept of a universal basic income is in fact far from new. It appears, from the 16th century, at. It was then taken up and deepened, notably in the 18th century by the author Thomas Paine, in the 19th century by utopian socialists, then more recently by American figures, such as the philosopher John Rawls, the pastor Martin Luther King Jr or the economists Milton Friedman and James Tobin.

The principle is very simple:, his professional status or his family situation. This premium replaces other social assistance. According to the French Movement for Basic Income (MFRB), an association created in 2013 to promote and inform about basic income, it is an “inalienable, unconditional right, cumulative with other income, distributed by a political community to all its members, from birth to death, on an individual basis, without control of resources or requirement of counterpart, the amount and funding of which are democratically adjusted ”.

The promoters of different models, such as Lionel Stoléru and Martin Hirsch, have long campaigned for a real safety net to be put in place in society. More recently, Gaspard Koenig, director of the liberal think-tank GénérationLibre, made his voice heard to defend this income which “ensures autonomy for individuals allowing them to freely make life choices”.

Advantages and disadvantages

The defenders of such a device do not all have the same arguments. Some have a liberal approach to the subject: the basic income would mainly aim to reduce the role of the welfare state and liberate the individual; it guarantees the minimum and the market takes over. The second vision testifies to an approach influenced by Marxism: the basic income frees the individual from work and makes him free to choose his activities (full-time or part-time salaried work, entrepreneurship, voluntary work, social commitment or Politics…). For others, “the basic income pursues a more pragmatic ambition: to improve the current system and make it more efficient in order to better adapt it to the upheavals of our society”,.

Thus, the National Digital Council (CNNum) recently estimated. “Public actors must anticipate the possibility of persistent structural unemployment and rising inequalities due to automation. So we need to look at a new way of thinking about the relationship between work and the distribution of wealth, ”he explained. In other words, a basic income could compensate for the weakening of salaried employment, due to the digital transformation of the economy and its “uberization”. The Senate insists on the tendency in our societies to “modify the nature of jobs”, which “often does not maintain a relationship not of complementarity but of substitutability with human work and to the evolution of the figures of wage labor as a model. work organization ”. The basic income, even would serve as a “substitute for income linked to employment for people who are no longer able to occupy one given the qualification requirements which exceed them”. Paid to everyone and cumulative with income from work, “it would make it possible to fight more effectively against inactivity traps,” he wrote. In addition, a single allowance for the State amounts to simplifying the system, and therefore to making structural savings.

Opponents of the system are not lacking in arguments either. Secours Catholique fears, for example, that a basic income will come at the expense of the most vulnerable populations. According to him, “it is a system that does not promote social inclusion; it is not a bulwark against poverty ”. In fact, the establishment of such a device will upset the balances established today. Which would inevitably make winners and losers. If the defined basic income is low, people in a situation of great poverty will suffer, because they will receive less than with the old system of allowances. If it is moderately high, roughly at the level of the RSA (535 euros for a single person without children) and while children are counted as beneficiaries, it favors single-parent families and the better-off. If it is high, by approaching 1000 euros, this will mean that social protection in its current form will have been completely abolished; and it will penalize those who cannot afford unemployment, retirement or health insurance.

In another register, some denounce. “It’s an old dream, a little Marxist, full of irrefutable good feelings, but without economic reflection”, declared the director of the International Center for Monetary and Banking Studies in Geneva, Charles Wyplosz, after the Swiss refusal. For him, if the link between pay and work was cut, “people in iron (have) less”. The supporters of the system, they assure that only a small number of workers (from 2% to 5%, according to studies) will no longer want to work.

A refusal and experiments

, chaired by Jean-Luc Gleyze (PS), in fact launched a study on the subject at the end of September. In partnership with the Jean-Jaurès Foundation and the Institute of Public Policies, it wants to test several hypotheses at the departmental level, by varying different parameters: amount of income, level of conditionality, categories of public, etc. The objective is in particular to assess “the human and territorial impacts”, the “financing conditions” and “the behavior of the beneficiaries”. Experiments are also already taking place in Canada and Alaska, but never at the national level.

In 2016, a popular initiative “for an unconditional basic income” (RBI). The proposal to pay a universal allowance every month to all Swiss and foreigners living in the country for at least five years, whether or not they have a job, was overwhelmingly rejected. The amount of this income remained to be determined, but the group behind the initiative suggested distributing 2,500 Swiss francs (2,260 euros) per adult and 650 Swiss francs for each minor. Such a measure would have required 188 billion euros. If the greater part would have been filled by the abolition of various social assistance, it would have missed more than 22 billion. Untenable, according to the government.

The question of funding

This is the real black spot. Whether we consider this system legitimate or questionable, in France at least. Depending on the amount of basic income envisaged – -, the gross cost of introducing a basic income would be between 300 and 700 billion euros per year. This total would be reduced if Basic Income replaced some existing social benefits.

Is it possible to finance such a measure “without too much unbalancing the socio-fiscal system?” Asks the Senate in its report. Because, in any case, “the universalist ambition which characterizes the basic income makes it impossible to put it in place at a constant cost”. In other words, it will be expensive! However, France cannot afford to finance it with additional debt, given the state of its finances. Additional savings in expenditure may not be sufficient given the amounts mentioned. So there remains the tax solution. But given the still longing fiscal fed up and the less and less attested consent of the French to tax, such a track seems unrealistic. All the more so since France would need to support it with a vast tax reform. Reform postponed for years …