Here, we publish the complete interview with the philosopher and economist, Philippe van Parijs, for the documentary UBI our right to live by director Álvaro Orús. This documentary has been supported by Humanistas por la Renta Básica Universal and our agency, Pressenza.

According to van Parijs, the biggest objection to the RBUI is not economic, but moral, and comes from both the right and the left. “We need a strong moral argument that supports the need for a UBI… The value behind basic income is therefore justice, not charity or solidarity.”

Video: Álvaro Orús

Here is a summary of the interview. The possibility of society granting an income to people who make no effort to receive it is considered morally reprehensible by large sections of both the right and the left. But if we look at the UBI in a little more detail, we can see that it corresponds to a third generation of social subsidies: the first one appeared in certain Flemish and German cities during the 17th century and was exclusively an assistance for the poor; the second one was set up by Bismarck in Germany and had the character of solidarity among workers; and the third generation of social income, to which the UBI belongs, considers these as a dividend for the social wealth accumulated over generations and which, therefore, should be distributed to the whole of society. The value behind UBI is therefore justice, not charity or solidarity.

As for the economic viability of the UBI, at a national level, this is only possible if the tax system is reformed and made more progressive, with more taxes paid by those who earn more income and the abolition of all tax exemptions enjoyed by corporations. And at a European level, the way to finance it would be through VAT, but this tax would have to be standardised throughout the European Union, because trying to harmonise income tax on natural persons is practically impossible due to the enormous differences between countries. But other forms of financing for UBI should not be excluded, such as taxing the profits of large corporations (whose tax rates are still much lower than those of VAT, for example), or financial transactions, or carbon emissions, although these complementary forms of financing, as things stand now, would contribute little money compared to VAT or personal income tax.

The UBI is now supported by both the left and the right, which causes other people on both sides to take a stand against it, only because the idea is defended by its “enemies”. However, its ability to build consensus in all sectors of society, as was the case with social security (which was supported by employers, who saw it as a way to make their workers perform better and better), makes UBI a valid idea for the 21st century. UBI gives freedom to those who receive it, because it allows them to choose jobs and ways of occupying their time, without anyone telling them what to do; that is why the liberals can support it, since the interference of the state is less, and also left-wing progressives can support it, because it gives opportunities to everyone to choose, not just the rich.

“I came to this idea of the UBI at the beginning of the 1980s -says van Parijs- when unemployment began to become massive and it was intended to be combated through the incessant increase in production, an ecologically unsustainable proposal, or with the old recipe of state ownership of the means of production, which, in real socialism, ended freedom and did not achieve the end of inequality. The UBI offered an alternative to neoliberalism and state socialism, because it allowed people to free themselves from both market subjection and state submission, it was environmentally friendly and very radical and inspiring, it promised a utopia for the future that people were passionate about”.