In March 2010 I wrote a post titled, The world badly needs a radical idea. Well, last Thursday I heard an interview with Guy Standing, Professor of Economic Security at the University of Bath, UK, who does have at least one radical idea as well as a perspective that coincides with mine.
In particular, he challenges the pervasive definition we give to ‘work’. Essentially, that ‘work’ must contribute to the economy. In other words, in the West, we have a distorted view that work only counts if we earn money from it. He gives the example: if a man hires a housekeeper, whom he pays, she is part of the economy, but if he marries her she effectively disappears, economically. I’ve long argued that the most important job you will ever do, you will never be paid for, which is raising children.
To give another very personal example, I make no money from writing fiction, therefore any time I spend writing fiction is a self-indulgence. On the other hand, if I did make money from writing fiction, then any time I didn’t spend writing fiction would be considered a waste of time. By the way, I don’t consider writing as work, because, if I did, I probably wouldn’t do it or I wouldn’t be motivated to do it. Writing fiction is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and treating it as work would only make it harder.
Standing’s radical idea is that there should be a ‘minimum income’ as opposed to a minimum wage. Apparently, this has been introduced in some parts of Brasil and there is a programme to introduce it in India. In Brasil it was championed by a woman mayor who supported the programme if it was given to women. Standing claims that the most significant and measurable outcome is in the nutrition of babies and young children.
Now, many people will say that this is communism, but it’s not about overthrowing capitalism, it’s about redistribution of wealth, which has to be addressed if we are ever going to get through the 21st Century without more devastating wars than we witnessed in the last century.
The core of the interview is about a new class, which he calls the ‘precariat’, who are the new disenfranchised in the modern world, partly a result of the concentration of wealth, created by those who still believe in the ‘trickledown fantasy’.