Basic Income’s Role in a Traditional Society

The idea of basic income is that work is not the centre of one’s life. While laziness is not meant to be encouraged, there is a tacit recognition that under an unconditional system it may well be, leading to a potential system where the productive are subsidising those who choose to be unproductive. While problematic under most understandings of political philosophy, this precedent is particularly problematic in the concept of a traditional society (that shaped by Burke’s little platoons of local and parochial institutions). Without a work obligation, one is receiving a right without reciprocating with duties. They’re receiving something for nothing.

A system of dependency is created whereby the lazy and idle, instead of improving their lot due to necessity, can rely on the productive of society to fund their lifestyles. Massive disincentives begin to develop as those who are productive have no reason to be, as they cannot reap the fruits of their labour. There is an artificial equalising of society, where those who are successful are brought down by those who have chosen not to work. Such is posed as the end-product of a basic income. However, this is an argument developed from a utopian world. Large tranches of wealth are earned through forms of economic rent, which in no way derives from hard work but from a position of power developed in bourgeois capitalism. The traditional relations of market exchange, tenancy and feudal obligations are already redundant. Hierarchy, as the structuration of mutuality between the upper and lower classes, has been liquidised.

A traditional society, as that consisting of local communities and economies constituting the larger nation, has nothing to fear from a basic income. Under traditionalism, land is one of the fundamental units of value, with tenancy flowing from the aristocratic class of lords and common land being owned by working communities for their own production and exchange. Under capitalism, such relations have been monetised and hierarchies turned liquid. The merchant classes have gained power in a new hierarchy of monetary relations, where constant growth and accumulation are the main axioms of society. Parochial communities and the empowerment of social relations over economic ones have gone.

A basic income, far from continuing the liquidation of traditionalist relations, can maintain parochialism and an integrated, homogeneous community. Such a system of redistribution can occur within the community (as many of the examples have), allowing for a restrictive covenant that nationalised welfare systems have consistently failed to provide. Basic income (with loose obligations as recommended by Van Parijs) allows for the demonetisation of relations, the limitation of useless work (much of it engaged in by women whose childcare and home-based work are thus limited) and the destruction of economic rent[1]. The last is particularly important, as relations of knowledge and land can be demonetised and used for productive work, creating new forms of innovation and recreating land-based feudal hierarchies where the production of food and profit is shared and regulated through the aristocratic lords and the moral economy of the crowd. Further, by creating loose obligations, a communal sense of reciprocity can be developed and a homogeneity of members (as based on birthright and nationality) can be maintained.

Examples of basic income show that traditional social relations and hierarchies can be maintained while the income is provided. Taking the example of Indian women receiving a basic income through SEWA, the feudal relations of lord and tenant, where tenant pays the landlord back through agricultural labour, have not been destroyed but simply reconfigured to limit exploitation and allow for independence in one’s life. Alongside agricultural work, these women now engage in forms of self-employment. The feudal relations still exist, with the mutuality between the lower and higher orders expanded, and the exploitative relations contracted.

Far from rewarding the lazy, it opens up new avenues of work and productive activity for those, who due to the circumstances of a capitalist world that enforces the artificial scarcity of land, information and employment, have never had such opportunities. It helps inculcate a genuine equality of opportunity, neither recreating the rentierism of capitalism nor the more brutal, anti-meritocratic elements of feudalism. Hierarchies are mutualised, and a sense of ingrained identity maintained.

Traditionalists who reject basic income as either utopian or disadvantageous confuse the existing world as one where traditional social relations still prosper. Capitalism has deified the merchant class and the useless accumulation of money and capital for the simple purpose of its growth and accumulation. It has liquefied traditional relations which regulated our socio-economic relations and systems of production and consumption. While basic income is by no means perfect, its power to allow for relations of mutuality and common ownership while maintaining communal parochialism and social hierarchy should not be ignored when thinking about how to turn back the clock.


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