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Many advocates of a basic income – an amount of money paid to all members of society, rich and poor – claim that their idea is neither left nor right. It is not always clear how we have to understand this. Today, there are political movements who do not want to call themselves left or right – the Spanish Podemos for example – though their proposals are clearly leftwing.

And for sure, there is a difference between the right and the left. The idea of a basic income is indeed being promoted by leftwing as well as rightwing forces, though it remains problematic.

In this article I want to argue that in fact, a basic income cannot be a leftwing idea.

(Valdai Paper :

We live in a paradoxical time. While international organisations are currently promoting ‘social protection’ in third world countries, these same organisations, helped by the European Union and all national governments, are trying to dismantle the existing social protection mechanisms in Europe. What does it mean? What are the alternatives the left has on offer?

In this contribution, I want to propose a conceptual shift towards ‘social commons’ in order to focus on participatory and democratic decision-making, as well as on the collective dimension and the necessary protection of society itself. Social commons also allow for extending social and economic rights and for linking up with climate justice. They are transformative and contribute to systemic change: at the conceptual level through using feminist economic theory and an emphasis on ‘care’; at the practical level by changing power relations. Social commons are meant to preserve the sustainability of life.

In 2012, 24.8 % of the European Union population was at risk of poverty. 40.2 % of the population said it would be hard to be faced with unexpected financial expenditures. In Belgium, 21.6 % of the population is at risk of poverty, but without social allowances, this would rise to 27.8 %.[1] In other words, social protection is needed and is useful.

In all European countries political declarations on welfare states show the same pattern. Welfare states have to be come ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’, people have to take on more responsibility and have to ‘participate’, unemployment benefits are being curtailed, pensions are privatized, costs have to be reduced in health care. In many countries the focus is now on ‘child poverty’, as if children did not live in poor households …

Of course there are differences, between countries and between political parties. Right wing parties will be more willing to accept the austerity policies imposed by the European Union, while social-democratic parties will try to soften their consequences. But all in all, the philosophy of their policies is the same. And the only conclusion this leads to is that welfare states are in decline.

Social protection has been put high on the international political agenda by the international development organisations. The ILO (International Labour Organization) has adopted at its International Labour Conference of 2012 a recommendation on ‘social protection floors’. UNDESA (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs), UNRISD (UN Research Institute for Social Development), UNICEF (UN Childrens’ Fund) and the World Bank have made their proposals for social protection programmes. The European Commission plans to introduce social protection in its development cooperation programmes.[1] Many speak of ‘transformative’ social protection, though the meaning of this concept is different from one document to another.

The reason why social protection is now suddenly on the agenda – after having been abandoned with the emergence of the ‘poverty reduction policies’ of the 1990s – probably is linked to the relative failure of these poverty policies and the ‘millennium development goals’. It may also be linked to a growing awareness that the current social situation in the world is becoming unsustainable. While more than one billion people still live in extreme poverty – a poverty that kills, according to former UN secretary general Kofi Annan – global inequality of incomes and wealth reaches levels that cannot morally be justified in any way.


(Text presented at the internation conference on the Common Good of Humanity, Rome, 2012

Thinking about the common good of humanity involves a reflection on human relationships, human rights and social justice. I want to argue that social protection is an essential and constitutive element of it. Social protection is at the heart of social justice and can be conceptualized in such a way that its main objective becomes the preservation of social life which is threatened by neoliberal capitalism. This contribution is but a first attempt to re-define social protection as a ‘commons’ and as part of the Common Good of Humanity. I therefore look forward to comments that will make it possible to develop this reasoning further.

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