In the last ten years, inside the French Degrowth movement*, a social and economic tools able to initiate and support a democratic transition towards sustainable and desirable societies based on Degrowth have been explored, debated and developed. This discussions and thinking were made around the idea of unconditional basic income, resource caps, open relocalisation, free access of a “good” use of resources, etc. and also a radical reform of the economic and financial system.
Hence, a redistribution of resources through the creation of the Unconditional Autonomy Allowance (Dotation Inconditionnelle d’Autonomie) necessarily coupled with a fixed maximum income has is proposed. The allowance is designed to relocalise the economy whilst preserving national and international solidarities, to gain emancipation from the central value of “work”, to get rid of the religion of economics, in order to achieve self-management, food and energy self-sufficiencies by getting out of the dependency onto non-renewable resources, mainly oil and to re-engage citizens’ participation in politics.
This allowance would be unconditionally applied from birth to death; it covers free use of energy, water and food, free access to goods and public services (food, education, health, transport) and the creation of local non speculative currencies.
It would also be an economic tool to get rid of the debts crises and the speculation trap in creating new local, social, participative and non-speculative economic systems.
Promoting a democratic and serene transition towards sustainable and above all desirable societies.
“The first of all Degrowth*** must be degrowth of inequalities”. Thus, one of the propositions often mentioned and debated by the Objectors to Growth (OG)1 is the implementation of an Unconditional Autonomy Allowance (UAA) 2 coupled with a Maximum Authorised Income (MAI)3. The UAA would be granted to all on an equal basis from birth to death, in order to guarantee a descent way of life not tied up with holding a job4. This allowance would be individual, inalienable and accruable with any other income: as a way to acknowledge each community member’s contribution to society, throughout all his/her activities, mainly the non-mercantile ones.
Without being an end in itself, the UAA could be a formidable economic and social tool to initiate a democratic and serene transition5 towards an exit from the enslavement of work, from capitalism, an open relocalisation of the economy, a re-politicisation of society through the reappropriation of our life choices, which will allow everyone to take part in the building of sustainable, desirable and convivial Degrowth societies.
I- Why an Allowance?
1- An allowance for a degrowth in inequalities
Once implemented, the Unconditional Autonomy Allowance would allow each person to enjoy decent and dignified living conditions by giving primacy to each individual’s autonomy and by freeing him/her from the dependency on paid work. At the same time, it would provide an exit from the damaging cycle of exclusion and humiliation associated with rising unemployment, particularly among the youngest people. Because of its automatic attribution to all, there is no exception in practice or by right. The UAA strengthens the social protection system as a whole because it guarantees a range of essential goods and services. It creates a secure climate and it becomes an essential tool for a new social model, since neither a job nor traditional social subsidies can guarantee the right to a dignified existence. The UAA would create this essential social solidarity between all the society members.
Besides, this allowance would necessarily be coupled with the instauration of a Maximum Authorised Income (MAI), the amount of which would be agreed upon in a democratic manner, so that it can reduce the income gaps, since the aim of political Degrowth is to truly reduce inequalities.
Since it is allocated to everyone and any extra earnings are subjected to an incremental taxation rate, the UAA would reduce inequalities.
Some people argue that the instauration of the UAA would render the MAI obsolete because, with the UAA, inequalities would be less chocking because everyone would enjoy material conditions sufficient to lead a decent and dignified way of life. We argue that the MAI is also a way to reduce the ecological footprint of the better offs, to prevent scandalous waste and outrageous practices and, above all, to free our imaginary from the influence of the lifestyle of the rich6.
Finally, in view of the economic and social crisis, which affects more and more citizens and, most importantly, in view of the incoming crises7, it is necessary to re-create a sense of serenity and security. In fact, the fear of the future and suffering lead to identity crises, hatred, violence, frustrations8; hardly the conditions for a democratic transition. We must revive hope and serenity and provide protection for the blossoming of positive and creative endeavors. We must create new solidarities for the transition to be participative.
2- An allowance to get rid of the enslavement to work
The UAA is mainly a tool for the realisation of fundamental rights. It frees each and everyone from the “work” paradigm9 by turning it into a voluntary and fulfilling activity10. This allowance is part of the reflection whereby the emancipation of men and women is not tied up to work. Erecting work as a fundamental value resulted from a productivist and consumerist ideology, which is not compatible with the fulfilment of the person. Furthermore, the work environment has turned into a world of competition with unemployment looming, together with the stress of new management methods, destroying conviviality, due to the incessant search for productivity and the loss of meaning of the repetitive tasks, or when this work has harmful impacts on society11.
A tool to decolonise our social imaginary, the UAA aims at making work no longer our sole reference point, the only foundation of the social link and the only way of leading a dignified life. With this allowance, we would cease to depend on the status linked with paid employment for our economic and social integration. It allows for the expansion of our means of expression, eitherindividual or collective. It is about leaning towards a society where activities are chosen and freely negotiated, instead of enforced work, whilst favouring the emergence of a “third sector” (associative, familial, political and cultural activities, so “non-commercial” activities).
Furthermore, with the UAA, unemployment ceases to be a social and economic problem and it favours a distribution of difficult tasks. It represents a plus in that direction and it could then trigger a real sharing of heavy-duty jobs. The UAA will affect remuneration levels and would make for a better evaluation of wages for each job, so that these activities can be voluntary, whilst re-evaluating remuneration for the hard jobs could be re-organised within a “community service” for all to participate in.
Without meaning a desertion from the labour market, the UAA would trigger the reduction of the economic activity. But, is this really a problem since we already produce too much and live beyond our means and needs12? It will be up to each individual to get organised and adjust to degrowth of everyday waste and superfluous creation. That is: not spending one’s life producing useless goods to sell them to people who don’t need them.
3- An allowance to get out of capitalism and economicism (religion of economics)
The UAA is a device to get out of a society based on growth, productivism and consumerism which influences our lives, needs and hopes. It is a necessary condition to start the turnaround towards Degrowth societies. But, the UAA will only be efficient if this allowance opens up the way for another type of society, one not based upon living to consume. To propose the UAA is to fundamentally question the capitalist logic in search of another type of social organisation, designed to go beyond helping out the most disadvantaged or to modify the system at the margins, but to get rid of it altogether since it has reached a dead end.
Capitalism is about turning every action into a commercial one. A soft exit out of capitalism is the opposite. This is why this allowance must be inscribed within the sphere of free use since every free resource, the ownership of which is collective and its use is shared, becomes automatically part of the UAA. It provides an escape away from the market forces. This free use is justified by an appropriate use and is balanced by incremental taxes imposed for the misuse of services and resources. A collective negotiation is necessary about the needs and the fields of public interventions designed to deliver essential goods and services and about the role and place of the economy but also about the limits that must be imposed. This free use must be socially and democratically organised and endorsed.
Thus, the UAA is synonymous with free access to goods and services collectively owned and managed, on par with the right of shared usage. A few pathways are mentioned further on. In fact the UAA would allow everyone to enjoy a small but sufficient share of the collective wealth.
The UAA is not a quantitative income in a national currency. This is a major difference with the concept of basic income. Our reflections on the concept of allowance are based on traditional basic income proposals but not exclusively. They are also based on the fields of extension of free use (free access, quasi-free access for good use and incremental cost increase for misuse). They also entail reflections on local currencies and a serene and democratic transition towards Degrowth societies, and the exit from capitalism and productivism. This is our critic of the basic income, even though we recognise that it represents a social and cultural step forward. We fear that it is not going far enough and that it is a palliative measure for a sick society, since it could reinforce the capitalist system, not by sharing goods but money around, without questioning its meaning and use.
The UAA disturbs the Growth imaginary and is centred on the basic and essential needs required to support the individual and collective blossoming framed in values different from the capitalist ones.
Financing the UAA: a real false problem: towards an exit from economicism.
The financing of the UAA is often invoked to show that it is impossible to achieve thus relegating it into the category of dreams. But, the reality is quite different. Many studies13 have shown that the UAA is feasible. It is a political and societal choice we must assume and, above all, it is a matter of imagining a new paradigm. For this new society to eventuate is not simply an electoral affair; a majority of the citizens must be mentally ready for a lifestyle change: to stop working to consume, but to be autonomous and live together in harmony.
Many opponents of the UAA use the affordability argument to reject it outright rather than engaging in a deeper reflection about its sense and ambitions. This argument is shallow and reeks of deceit, since in the past our society has overcome many more complicated and costly situations. We only need to recall the ambition of the French National Council for Resistance (Conseil National de la Resistance) and the measures implemented after WWII. Closer form us, the bailout of the banks (and of the financial system) has shown that the States can swiftly access monetary resources. The affordability argument is a fallacious one, as fallacious as the imposture of monetary creation14 or private and public debts, which will never be paid back15, whatever the level of growth. The UAA is a societal challenge and a pathway that can work if we sincerely desire to do away with capitalism. It is a matter of being audacious and politically courageous, but above all, it requires a strong commitment and participation to this desire for change.
The UAA implies that we need to design a different distribution system for a new solidarity. We need to do away with social welfare provisions and benefits together with the aggressive work related policies, since they are no longer required. A wide-ranging financial reform must be undertaken to reinstate a progressive income taxation regime; whereby incomes over a democratically-defined threshold would incur 100% tax which would establish the benchmark for the (MAI). It could also entail a consumption tax designed to penalise not-locally-produced and environmentally damaging goods (advertising, armament16, planned obsolescence17, disposable goods, etc.). Some welfare benefits would disappear since they would be mobilised to insure the longevity of the UAA: they are included in the UAA.
Once again, nothing is impossible; everything has to be reconceived since the instauration of the UAA is feasible and financially affordable18. It is even more relevant as far as energy and economic resources are concerned, since the UAA aims at rationalising our lifestyles and make them sustainable.
The scope of the UAA goes beyond monetary considerations; it encompasses the mobilisation of goods and services for wellbeing as a whole. This means that the localities must re-appropriate the responsibility for certain services such as water, gas, energy and transports in order to expand the sphere of free use.
4- An allowance for an open relocalisation
Thus giving priority to the degrowth of non-renewable resources: towards a local food and energy sovereignty.
Today many concrete collective and local initiatives are taking shape. These projects contribute to an open19, desirable and necessary re-localisation of our productions, trade, and economic transactions. The UAA could support these existing initiatives as well as encouraging future ones. For example, the UAA could be paid in soft local currencies20, which can only be used to purchase locally-produced goods. It could support the creation of community gardens, self-managed repair, maintenance, and craft workshops, local exchange systems (LETS), shared use of machinery, shared housing, reflections on resilience21, the development of local energies and crafts with the aim to reach food and energy self-sufficiency in order to stop relying on non-renewable energy, mainly oil.
5- An allowance to serve democracy
Towards a reappropriation of our life choices. The UAA gives to each citizen the full enjoyment of his/her democratic rights by giving each person his/her autonomy and reflection back to take part in society, since they are no longer enslaved to work. The UAA is a tool for social change and the re-appropriation of our life choices.
By solving unemployment and by creating the conditions for job-sharing, the UAA revalorises non-commercial activities, and, above all, it challenges the notion that “employment” is the only parameter of social integration and valorisation.
The individual is re-positioned at the centre of society, not through his/her occupation, but by opening fulfilling perspectives conducive to a personal and collective emancipation at the service of a real democracy; open, participative, and independent from economic factors.
Freed from the constraints of work, each citizen would have not only the time to but also the possibility to take part in the life of the city. The UAA can thereof contribute to the re-politicisation of society and the re-socialisation of politics22 by engaging citizens. So, the way the UAA will be allocated must be decided in a democratic manner: at least in part at the local level: what water, food and energy allowance must be considered as a right and at what quota does it become a taxable consumer item? The same applies to the repartition, organisation and realisation of the heavy-duty tasks, which must be discussed and decided upon collectively.
This is part of the process of reappropriation of choices vis a vis production, its modalities and use.
6- An allowance to initiate a transition towards sustainable, desirable and convivial societies.
A tool for social justice, to fight against the alienation of work, whilst respecting everyone’s basic needs, the UAA could be effective to engage society on the paths to new societies based on Degrowth. An emancipation factor, it favours financial and social autonomy and reduces inequalities at the same time through the MAI and by offering equal access to fundamental services.
Therefore, the UAA would initiate a transition to independency from the traditional currency as a tool of accumulation or speculation, and create new economic tools for evaluation and exchange. Conceived in this manner, the UAA offers a practical way out from the actual monetary and financial system. It could also be used in specific and restricted commercial functions within defined usages or territories.We can suggest two implementation ways:
1) From grass-rooted movements:
This scenario has already started with all the local concrete initiatives going on where new alternative local economic system are implemented and experienced everywhere (like community gardens, LETS, alternative non-speculative currencies, transition towns initiatives, eco-villages, self-manage bike shops, fab-lab, etc.). The implementation of an UAA would happen, through a transition process, in developing these participatory initiatives, in extending them and in creating a network between them. In the meantime we can imagine radical reforms like in a national level free access to education and health or in a municipal level free access to a certain amount of water, gaz and, in the meantime, a political reappropriation and transformation of the monetary, bank and financial system.
Step by step, local initiative joining global reforms, a UAA would be provided to every citizen, in a transition manner transforming, step by step, psychologically, culturally, economically, politically and institutionally the society.
It proves that there is no need to wait for a radical political victory, neither through an election nor a revolution, to start to initiate this transition which is already going on!
2) From a basic income to UAA:
Without waiting we can imagine a radical political reform of the society through a MAI, the reappropriation of the money creation, bank and financial system and the implementation of a basic income as a transition tool. Step by step, through concrete alternatives already going on, this basic income would be substituted by rights to access to public services and goods and the development of local currencies. From national currency to alternative economic systems, we would have a transition starting from a radical political victory and courage. The advantage with that second scenario is that everybody would be protected from the beginning and we would avoid the catastrophic social consequences of the austerity plans and the upcoming crises.
II- An allowance for all, unconditional from birth to death, for a frugal but decent way of life, comprising:
In order to better grasp what the UAA represents, we are going to offer a brief summary of a series of possible paths and proposals worth exploring, reflecting upon, critiquing, putting into perspective, fine tuning, but also to invent and figure out in a tangible manner what the UAA would be.
1- Right to housing and access to real estate
Housing is a fundamental right that is an integral part of the UAA. The question of ownership is a difficult one, since each person must be able to live in a decent and energetically-sound lodging. For example each person could be entitled to a certain amount of m2 and pay the surplus area at market price (a market, which functions democratically with appropriate checks and balances in place).
This is why the requisition law would have to be applied to do away with speculation and to refuse this injustice and absurdity of our so-called “developed” societies, with their increasing number of homeless, inadequate housing and empty lodgings belonging either to companies or individuals engaged in real estate speculation.
This right to housing must be integrated within the logic of relocalisation to reduce daily travels whilst rethinking urbanism.
This also applies to access to land or a local club: this allowance must give access to a determined surface for the local fruit and vegetable production. It could also be a community room/centre used to conduct local practical activities (bicycle, repair workshops, services, crafts, culture…) used to start, facilitate, promote and support practical transition initiatives (community gardens, LETS, AMAP 23, transition towns or transition territories…).
2- Local organic Food
The UAA includes an access to sufficient food for everybody. The best would be to give this right through a local currency usable only for local organic food. The production of that food and the implementation of these new local non-speculative currencies should be participatory. The main goals are first to implement a transition to local food sovereignty, in questioning the type of production (organic, permaculture, adapted to the region, etc.), the share of the tasks and also a repoliticization of the society through a participative process.
3- Renewable energy resources
A basic right of access to free renewable energy (water, gas and electricity) is integrated in the UAA. It is based upon the free use for appropriate use and a higher cost for misuse. Thus the first kWh or m3 would be free of charge, then, the cost would rise incrementally to penalise abusive consumption. It is no longer possible to tolerate that the water used to fill up swimming pools or wash cars be charged at the same rate as the water used to wash vegetables, washing up or shower.
Hence, it is possible to imagine that at the beginning of every month, water, gas or electricity meters could start with credits.
The health system is an integral part of the UAA; it is obvious that access to health services is an essential universal right and a fundamental social vector in the local life. This will require a reshaping of the medical system (from a geographical standpoint to allow for a health of proximity, to health insurances schemes in order to re-appropriate our solidarities). But each abusive use or for feel-good medications would be paid for by the patient. The design, manufacturing and distribution of medicines ought to become a public service or be placed under supervision, to keep the field free from the pressure groups and to reduce waste; medicines could be distributed per unit rather than per box.
Education is also an integral feature of the UAA. The education system would have to be completely free and should not generate excessive outlays for the families. Education must be entirely free so that this essential part of our children’ life remains a non-discriminatory space where money does not belong. This would have to be applied to life-long adult education, not to find a job but to lead a fulfilled life at the individual and community level, according to one’s desires and expectations. It also concerns civic awareness rising: reappropriation of politics, listening, debates, decision-making, non violent communication, civil service…..
With regard to transports, communities must consider free local public transports and facilitate the use of soft modes of transport, by offering free bicycles for example or by gifting each person a bicycle coupled with a maintenance voucher. We can imagine a system with a free kilometre allowance on public transports and the user would pay for every kilometre above the set limit.
This last option would contribute to the relocalisation of activities. Thus, free transport would be limited to distance to and from work, so that the cost of transport would not incur to the society or employers alone, since it might not be to the employee’s interest to relocalise. Proximity has its limits; it is up to us to organise space so that each person can reduce its mileage and relocalise its life if he/she so wishes, but if a citizen decides to live far away from his work, then it is up to the person to assume his/her choice.
7- Culture and right to information
Culture is integrated in the UAA. Access to cultural premises must not be limited by financial criterion, but, on the contrary, it must be promoted through free access and/or packages. Since culture is the prerequisite for any political thinking, it must occupy a central place in the new paradigm of Degrowth societies.
Culture and art shape us, transform us throughout our lifespan, it nourish us, keep us in touch with our body, our language, our humanity, but also our past, our collective memory. Language allows us to grasp the world, to attempt to make sense of it and to imagine a different one, it is the link that binds us together so that we can live “in society”, to affect the world, to trade between each other and it nourishes an appetite for life for the new generations by preparing some spaces of resistance. To support culture does not mean to support a cultural policy, it is about fighting against the collapse of politics. Culture, as a condition for expression, of transmission of ideas and opinions, is the source of change, creativity, and imagination. It is primordial for exercising our citizenship, freedom and equality.
The right to multi-sources and free information is essential to social life. Advertising in the medias would automatically be heavily taxed to finance independent medias and quality investigative journalism.
Therefore, it is obvious that this allowance will unfold at the local level; it will occur through democratic choice, according to the local constraints and needs but also according to the cultures and traditions. We can imagine that the UAA can be implemented at different levels: neighbourhood, city, regions, country, European Union, planet, in an incremental manner. For example, it could be implemented at the local level with the creation of a soft local currency for the purchase of locally grown fruits and vegetables, or with the instauration of free water use. At the national level it could start first with the instauration of a basic income or with free access to health.
The transition has already started. The main point is to avoid as much as possible the barbarism imposed by the forced recession, the austerity plans and the upcoming crises. We should also restore, as soon as possible, the feeling of economic security and serenity to the people and provide proper conditions able to let them participate to a transition towards sustainable and desirable new models of society based on Degrowth.
An Unconditional Autonomy Allowance would be inscribed in the historical continuum of human emancipation by extending fundamental rights and by giving us a real opportunity to reappropriate our life choices by initiating a turn, a transition towards post-development and the exit from the impasse the capitalist, productivist and consumerist Growth society has led us to.