While left-wing proponents believe a basic income will strengthen the hand of labour, right-wing proponents back it for exactly the opposite reason. Libertarian economics commentator Steve Randy Waldman argues: “Supplementary incomes are a cleaner way of increasing labour bargaining power than unionization. Unionization forces collective bargaining, which leads to one-size-fits-all work rules and inflexible hiring, firing, and promotion policies, in addition to higher wages.”
Here, basic income is not only a subsidy to employers; it is a union-buster.
After all, why would any contemporary government, as beholden to global capital as governments are today, introduce policy that would strengthen the hand of labour?
If labour had the strength to enforce the introduction of a good basic income, it would also have the strength to revive the project of full employment. And while even the best basic income policy only sets a floor below which poverty cannot fall, full employment strengthens labour’s hand to demand ever-greater wages.
The unemployment we see today is not primarily caused by technology but is a deliberate product of fiscal and monetary policies introduced in the 1970s and 1980s, intended to discipline labour after the abandonment of the full-employment strategies of the previous three decades that had produced stagflation, a declining share of national income going to the capitalist class, and – worst of all for the rich and powerful – militant unions.
Van der Veen and Van Parijs devised their capitalist road to communism in the mid-1980s as a shortcut to less poverty and more leisure time amid the defeat of organized labour and the political left. Thirty years later, do we still expect governments to offer up these policy outcomes in the absence of a robust and militant labour movement?