Thomas Piketty: What Unequal Societies Need is Not a ‘Basic Income’ But a Fair Wage

The celebrated economist says a progressive property and income tax, greater say for workers in companies and an education system that is less biased against the poor will do more to reduce inequality than the fashionable proposal of a ‘basic income’ for all.

Thomas Piketty in The Wire:

ScreenHunter_2445 Dec. 15 19.44The debate on basic income has at least one virtue, namely that of reminding us that there is a degree of consensus in France on the fact that everyone should have a minimum income. Disagreements exist over the amount. At the moment, the Revenu de Solidarité Active or RSA (the French unemployment benefit scheme) currently grants to single unemployed individuals with no dependent children 530 Euros per month, a sum which some people find sufficient, and others would like to increase to 800 Euros. But on both the Right and the Left, everyone seems to agree on the existence of a minimum income around this level in France, as is the case in other European countries. In the United States, the childless poor have to make do with ‘food stamps’ and the social state often assumes the guise of guardian or even prison. Thus, the French consensus is to be commended but at the same time we cannot consider it satisfactory.

The problem with the discussion about basic income is that in most instances it leaves the real issues unexplored and in reality expresses a concept of social justice on the cheap. The question of justice is not simply a matter of 530 Euros or 800 Euros a month. If we wish to live in a fair and just society, we have to formulate more ambitious objectives which cover the distribution of income and wealth in its entirety and, consequently, the distribution of access to power and opportunities. Our ambition must be that of a society based on a fair return to labour, in other words, a fair wage and not simply a basic income.

To move in the direction of a fair wage, we have to re-think a whole set of institutions and policies which interact with each other: these include public services, and in particular, education, labour law and organisations and the tax system.

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