An Unconditional Autonomy Allowance for all

“A man does not ‘by nature’ wish to earn more and more money, but simply to live as he is accustomed to live and to earn as much as is necessary for that purpose.”
Max Weber

One of the core propositions of the ‘Growth Objectors’ approach is the creation of the Unconditional Autonomy Allowance (UAA) – in French Dotation Inconditionnelle d’Autonomie (DIA). This allowance would be allocated equally to all from birth to death and would be sufficient to ensure a frugal but decent/reasonable quality of life. It is not tied to any consideration of work or employment (1).

This allowance would be: individual, inalienable, and cumulative with any other revenue. It represents acknowledgement of each individual’s contribution throughout a whole spectrum of his/her activities, including those of a non-mercantile nature.

 A right to life instead of a right to work

 

Above all the UAA is a tool for the emancipation of all men and women with a view to implementing all fundamental human rights outside of the “employment” paradigm. This notion of “employment” as a fundamental value stems from productivist and consumerist ideological perspectives which impede individual self-fulfillment. The UAA is a step towards an exit from capitalism.

UAA will ensure that fundamental rights become real instead of being an endless search under the constraints of stress and alienation, which are part-and parcel of the current capitalist society.

As a tool designed to decolonise our social realm, the UAA intends to dislodge ”employment” from its current role as the only basis of all social relations and the only way to achieve a meaningful and dignified life.

With this allowance an individual’s economic and social integration would no longer depend upon their participation in paid work. Other activities of choice, on the individual or collective levels, would emerge – paving the way for a society which allows free choice of occupation rather than enforced labor whilst facilitating the development of a “third”, non-mercantile sector engaged in associative, familial, political, and cultural activities.

In addition, the UAA does away with unemployment as a social and economic problem and it might well reduce working hours. It can act as a bonus towards a reduction of working time, thus contributing to a real sharing of work. It will influence wages and would allow for a re-evaluation of each type of work (i.e.: easy versus arduous tasks) in order to transform them into voluntary activities. In this instance, arduous tasks could be re-classified as being of “public interest” and be shared among all citizens.

It does not mean ignoring the labor market completely: the UAA might well cause a reduction in economic activity – but is that really a problem considering that we overproduce already and we live beyond our means? It is up to us to organize and accommodate our everyday lives according to new circumstances.

An Allowance to fight inequalities

Once implemented, the UAA would provide each individual with a decent, frugal and dignified lifestyle by providing a certain autonomy, thus putting a stop to the dependence, exclusion and humiliation endured by many. The unconditional and universal character of the UAA makes it inclusive in law and in practice. It reinforces the welfare system as a whole by providing for basic needs and social services. The allowance creates security and stability in living conditions and thus becomes the foundation stone of a new social model since neither employment nor traditional social measures can guarantee a right to a dignified existence. The UAA would become the social glue, the tool of solidarity par excellence for all citizens.

Moreover, the UAA cannot be conceived without the creation of a Maximum Income (MI): the amount of this would have to be arrived at through a democratic process. Degrowth is a political project designed to achieve degrowth in inequality. It can achieve this objective because everyone receives the same basic allowance and any extra earnings are subjected to an incremental rate of tax. To the people who argue that the use of the UAA would render the minimum wage (Revenu Mininum d’Activité in France) obsolete, we reply that the minimum wage has a two-fold purpose: on the one hand it reduces the ecological footprint of those who are better off and, on the other hand it prevents outrageous and wasteful practices. The RMA would contribute to expanding the sphere of free usage and prevent the better off from misusing resources and services.

An allowance for real democracy

The UAA gives to each and everyone the enjoyment of their full democratic rights. When no more enslaved to work, each individual can enjoy a new-found autonomy and free time and become an active citizen. The UAA is a tool for social change.
By solving the problem of unemployment and by creating the conditions needed for job-sharing, the UAA revalorises non-commercial activities and, above all, it challenges the notion of “employment” as the only benchmark of social integration and valorisation.
The individual is re-positioned at the centre of society, not through an occupation but because he/she is emancipated and can pursue personal and social engagements. Freed from the constraints of production and growth, real democracy can be effected.
An allowance, at the core of a politic of Degrowth to expend the sphere of free usage

The UAA offers a way out of a growth society based on productivism and consumerism: the guiding principles of our lives, needs and hopes. It is a pre-requisite to a society of Degrowth. Using a UAA is only feasible if we decide to turn away from consumerism. The UAA directly challenges the capitalist society and is conceived within a search for a new model of social organisation: with the aim, not only to reduce inequalities or amend the system, but to overthrow it since it has reached a dead end.
The UAA is therefore an essential part of the principle of the sphere of free usage. All that is free, is collectively owned and shared falls under its scope, thus it allows us to do away with the concept of market forces. Free usage is applicable to all goods and services under conditions of “sensible use” (“bon usage”), but misuse should be highly penalised. The nature and scope of essential needs and public services must be collectively framed, together with the role of the economy and natural limits and restrictions. This free usage is socially and democratically organised and implemented.

A UAA means that selected services constitute common property; they are accessed free of charge and managed and distributed along democratic principles. This allowance enables every individual to receive a reasonable and sufficient share of common wealth.
It is not a monetary income in Euros, equal to an inflated Minimum Income of integration (Revenu Minimum d’Insertion in France). Such an allowance would undermine the growth paradigm and provide an alternative ethos to capitalism by refocussing on the basic needs necessary for personal and collective fulfilment.

Financing the UAA: a false problem

The cost of this measure has often been used to classify the UAA as being impossible to implement and utopian. But this is not the case: in fact many studies have shown that it is feasible (2). It is a matter of political and social choice, and, above all, it is a matter of imagining another model. Changing this new society is not simply an electoral affair; a majority of citizens must be mentally ready to embrace this new model and not be satisfied by consumption but they must participate by taking responsibility for creating a harmonious, collective lifestyle.

Many objectors to the UAA use the financial argument to reject it outright instead of trying to grasp its scope and purpose. This attitude is shallow and misleading, since in the past our society has successfully implemented many and more complicated and costly situations. We only need to recall the ambition of the Conseil National de la Resistance (French National Council for Resistance) and the measures implemented after World War II. Closer to us in time, the bailout of the banks (and of the financial system) has shown that the State can swiftly access monetary resources. The financial argument is a fallacious one. The UAA is a societal challenge and a pathway that can work if we sincerely desire to do away with capitalism. It is a matter of being audacious and politically courageous.
The UAA implies that we need to design a different distribution system for a new solidarity. We need to do away with social welfare provisions and allocations together with aggressive work related policies, since they are no longer required. A wide-ranging financial reform must be undertaken. It needs to include a progressive income taxation regime, inclusive of a 100% tax beyond a certain threshold, which would serve as the benchmark for the minimum wage (Revenu Minimum d’Activité). It could also include a consumption tax designed to penalise non-locally-produced and environmentally-damaging goods. Some welfare payments would disappear since they would be re-allocated to the implementation of the UAA.
One again, nothing is impossible or unimaginable; the implementation of the UAA is financially affordable as Baptiste Mylondo’s recent studies have demonstrated (3).
The scope of the UAA goes beyond monetary considerations as it encompasses the mobilisation of goods and services for well-being as a whole. This means that certain services such as water, gas, energy, and transport must return under the control of localities in order to expand the sphere of free usage.

A tool of social justice, a weapon against the alienating nature of work whilst providing for basic needs, the UAA is a must if we want to engage society on the pathway to Degrowth. As an emancipatory measure it promotes social and financial autonomy through the provision and access to free basic services and, together with the RMA, it reduces inequalities.

Here are a few propositions and suggestions for further consideration, construction, elaboration, amendment and extrapolation so that the UAA can be enacted.

‘Uto-paths’ for the UAA:

  • A percentage of the UAA can be a monetary amount issued in a local currency. Thus the UAA is independent of the traditional currency; it is not subjected to the processes of accumulation or speculation but is rather a tool for evaluation and exchange. Conceived in this manner, the UAA offers a way out from the monetary and financial system in practice. It could also be used in specific and restricted commercial functions within defined territories…
  • Water, gas and energy rights: free of charge when used responsibly but incurring a surcharge in the case of wasteful use: a free allowance up to a certain consumption level, then a progressive surcharge up to a fixed threshold above which the consumption is penalised. It is no longer acceptable that the water used for a swimming pool be charged at the same rate as water used to wash vegetables. A similar system can be applied to communications (phone and internet) or to the distribution of produce based on a basic market grower’s basket.
  • Transport. It will be up to the local entities to organise and deliver free public transport: provision of free bicycles for public use or by gifting a bicycle and a maintenance package to each person. Another option could be a kilometre allowance for public transport and a charge for any distance above. The later proposition would facilitate a re-localisation of work/other activities since the transport cost to and for would no longer fall entirely to the employers’ or the community – and it might not be in the worker/volunteer/citizen‘s benefit to change residence. Proximity has its boundaries and it is up to each of us to design our space so that we limit the distances travelled. But if one decides to live away from his place of occupation, it is up to him/her to assume the cost.
  • Housing is part of the UAA. It might be costly but each person is entitled to a decent lodging, including the cost of provision of power. For example, each person could be allocated the same amount of square meters free of charge (20 m² for one person, 40 m² for 2 persons, 60 m² for 3, etc.) and he/she would have to pay the remaining balance reflecting the market price. Rents could also be subjected to a maximum price.
  • Health also falls automatically and unquestionably within the scope of the UAA since access to health services is a fundamental right for all. It would require a total reorganisation of the entire heath system (location and availability of services). But all excessive use of prescription medicines and all ‘comfort medicines’ should be the responsibility of patients.
  • Education is a part of the UAA, naturally. Education would have to be truly free. No more requiring expensive contributions from families: school stationery, courses materials, excursions and travels, meals, etc. Primary, secondary, and adult professional education must be free of charge since discrimination due to financial means cannot be tolerated. Continuous education paves the way for personal autonomy not limited to the pursuit of financial rewards.
  • Culture, together with an independent media is an element of the UAA. Free access to cultural places and events is a must to guarantee wide-ranging attendance and enjoyment.

(1) This condition could be debated and such an allowance conditional on the performance of certain civic participation activities or provision of services.
(2) See writings from Yoland Bresson,  Baptiste Mylondo, Jean Vassilev, P. Van Parijs, Y. Moulier Boutang, Carlo Vercellone, from Jean-Marie Monnier, from B. Van Der Lynden and also Alain Caillé.
(3) Baptiste Mylondo, Un Revenu pour tous ! Précis d’utopie réaliste, Les éditions Utopia, 2010.

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