Susan Milner, From Foucault to Valls: experiments with basic income in France. IPR blog, University of Bath, 25th November 2016
Dr Susan Milner is Reader in European Politics at the University of Bath.
In line with changes discussed in the British context, it is startling to observe how much has shifted in French policy debates since the last presidential and legislative elections in 2012. For over two decades now, as in other OECD countries, the twin discourses of welfare dependency and ‘making work pay’ have dominated public debates. In the US presidential elections, the rhetoric of ‘decent jobs for decent pay’ was powerfully articulated across the political spectrum. It has not (yet?) made its way across the Atlantic. Instead, amidst the tumult of primaries as the political parties gear up for next year’s executive elections, the idea of a universal basic income has been making its way across the political landscape in France.
The idea has a long pedigree in France where it is associated with radical thinkers such as Michel Foucault who argued that an unconditional basic income would free citizens from the intrusion of state power and the stigmatisation of means testing and conditionality. Philosopher André Gorz also advocated a ‘revenue of autonomy’ back in 1983, first linking it to the need for recipients to engage in work as a precondition for active citizenship, then later – in 2002 – abandoning this link to employment in the face of mass unemployment, and as a reaction against the spread of ‘workfare’ conditionality. Gorz’s ‘farewell to the proletariat’ (physically productive paid work as opposed to brain work) was in line with this new left utopia, and it chimes with the current mood of political debates which have been sparked by concerns and hopes about the consequences for human employment of developments in artificial intelligence.