All posts by Liberal Words

A liberal case for the Eurodividend

In this article,  Jorge Tanarro develops an idea to beat the economic crisis and makes the case for the introduction of the Eurodividend, the liberal way.

Rutger Bregman, the author of ‘Utopia for Realists‘, tells us that 37% of British workers think their jobs are meaningless. As machines take over human labour, we are struggling to find the sense and purpose in the work we end up doing. Jeff Hammerbacher, a brilliant data scientist that used to lead the data team at Facebook, said “the best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” Machines are not taking the jobs we do not like or do not want to do. They are taking expensive jobs that are cheap to automate. However, in order to call it technological ‘progress’, shouldn’t they be taking the meaningless jobs, so we have the freedom to actually do something that we consider valuable in our limited and unique lives?

Coming back to Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg said that “we should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful. We should explore ideas like Universal Basic Income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.” The socio-economic system we have today in the European Union is not broken or defective; in fact, it is probably one of the greatest human achievements in history; but it is also one of the most fragile – so could the Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) make it much more resilient and fairer?

By covering the most basic of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the UBI would give citizens the freedom to refuse a job and to work for free in something they consider meaningful without risking their own survival. The labour market would be impacted because meaningless jobs would get far fewer candidates (becoming more expensive) but meaningful jobs would get far more candidates (becoming cheaper). Automation would continue trying to make expensive jobs cheaper so it would end up dealing mainly with meaningless jobs as soon as these become more expensive. We would be reshaping technological development and automation with no need of new specific regulations or ‘robot taxes’. So should we, liberals, be promoting Unconditional Basic Income?

Ways to justifying and implementing UBI

There are quite a few different ways of justifying and implementing the UBI, some even incompatible with each other. The left-wing parties GUE-NGL and PES will certainly come up with their own models and narratives and we should be ready to engage in that discussion and make the case for it with our liberal values and perspectives. If we don’t take ownership of a position in that dialogue, ALDE might end up taking the observer seat in one of the most interesting and promising political developments of our time.

The Universal Basic Income is not simple and it has two fundamental problems:

It should be universal, otherwise meaningless jobs get more expensive and get exported to other countries. It should be basic, and it is difficult to agree what ‘basic’ means.

At the ALDE Party Council of June this year, a plenary debate was organised on UBI and Employment Automation with Philippe van Parijs, Hanno Pevkur and Barbara Visser. Philippe van Parijs is a very well known UBI advocate that also came up with the idea of a ‘Eurodividend’. European is probably as universal as we can get, but it sounds just good enough.

Good enough would also be to get as broadly ‘basic’ as ‘feasible’. In Alaska, everyone receives an annual cash dividend that represents their share of the revenue derived from the oil reserves of the state, the so-called Alaska model. Scott Santens proposes to extend this model to intellectual property and big data calling it ‘netizen dividend’ or ‘data dividend’. The beauty of this model is that it is not about the right to receive an agreed amount of money from the state at the end of every month but about recognizing instead the citizens as stockholders that receive a dividend depending on the revenue derived from those common assets. This way, the rent is diverted directly to the citizen before any of it reaches the hands of governments or corporations.

Possible combinations and effects

A Eurodividend could be based on the revenue derived from a European Fund managed by the European Union that would be growing over time, getting progressively larger shares of European natural resources (the allowances of the emissions trading system, water, coal, gas, wildlife, etc.), European natural monopolies (electrical grids and other networks for energy, water supply networks, highway networks, railways, stock exchanges, lotteries, olympic sports federations, EU labels, etc.), European transport hubs (international harbours, airports, train stations, etc.) and the European Patent Office. It could also be combined with the idea of Quantitative Easing for People (QE for People) allowing the European Central Bank to distribute extra money directly to the citizens through the European Dividend to maintain inflation in the eurozone under control.

This way the European Fund would reflect the value of European cooperation by making the citizen the direct beneficiary of a dynamic European economy. The progressive nature of the dividend would allow society to digest the changes smoothly and adapt little by little to the impact of the new guaranteed income. The irregularity of its amount and risk component of its financial nature might help citizens understand that the Eurodividend is not free money but actually the product of a very complex and fragile socio-economic system. As the system thrives, the dividend raises, but if the system struggles, the dividend would diminish; and if the system collapses… well, at least one thing would be clear: we would all have something to lose.

Jorge Tanarro

Do you agree? disagree? Just come and join our conversation about the European Dividend in the #economy channel of the ALDE Party Individual Members Slack group!!!

ANALYSIS OF AN EMPTY EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

In this article, Antonio Martinez Gil discusses the case of an empty Parliament in an important debate and the need  to reinforce the idea that it defends and protect citizen’s interests.

July 4th, European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressed his deep when just 30 MEPs appeared at the chamber, than a 5% of the total 751. Juncker stated that the European Parliament is ridiculous and not serious. He also declared that if the Prime Minister of Malta, who was appearing at the chamber, had been Angela Merkel or Emmanuel Macron, the chamber would have been full. Immediate critiques have come from different European personalities, by adducing an excessive harshness and inappropriate manners.

It may not be worth to give too much importance to that situation. However, Juncker’s statement might revive the classic debate on the purpose of the European Parliament, that had been less of a priority during recent times because of Brexit and the general elections in Austria, the Netherlands, France or Germany.

Now that it seems that anti-European parties have lost a lot of their power, the European project, without the United Kingdom, is likely to go on, so what Juncker has identified as an important issue should be tackled when the current tumultuous period finishes. If the European States, parties and institutions intend to prevent our Union from being put at stake again, they must entrust citizens with the European Union’s destiny as they once did. It is precisely the lack of power of the European Parliament that should be corrected to recover people’s trust.

It is commonly said that, whereas the European Council defends the interests of the Member States and the European Commission defends the common one, the European Parliament is destined to protect the citizens’ interests. Nevertheless, as it might be well-known, the main functions assigned to the European Parliament are passing of the budget, the political control of all the institutions, the investiture of the President of the Commission and some legislative roles, but none of them allows the Parliament to take the legislative initiative, which means that the only body that is directly chosen by the citizens doesn’t have the tools to accomplish its task.

All the Member States, except France, Portugal and Romania, are organized under the form of parliamentary republics or monarchies, in which the citizens elect the parliament instead of an executive president. Despite this fact, almost everybody believes the political system of their countries is democratic. However, such a consideration does not extend to the Union according to a very high percentage of the European people.

It is easy to believe that there is an apparent contradiction on the collective previously mentioned, but there is an explanatory reason. Regimes with unelected executives have a strong legislative power that brings balance back.The European Parliament does not have this.

If the Parliament was given more power, critiques of the Commission would decrease, since its president would be invested by a more legitimized European Parliament and, as a result, people’s trust would increase in both the Parliament and the Commission.

On the other hand, we must not forget that the European Parliament has managed to consolidate a really efficient control of the Commission activity, as a result of the need to consult the Parliament before passing the most relevant pieces of Community legislation. It means that in case the reform suggested in this article was enforced once, the European Parliament could become as legitimized as the national parliaments.

In conclusion, I believe that Juncker’s indignation is understandable and fair, and pro-Europeans should consider criticism from within and not just from those who attempt to throw away such a common project. The European Union deserves to be improved, and considering that the support of citizens is crucial in order to make reforms succeed.

Antonio Martínez Gil 

IL POPULISMO, IL FASCISMO E IL MEZZOGIORNO IN UN’EUROPA CHE CAMBIA

In this blog post (in Italian) Massimo Ricciuti describes the situation in Italy, the return of ‘fascist’ ideas and possible liberal solutions. Furthermore, he explains the particular situation in Southern Italy

In queste settimane, immediatamente successive alla tornata delle elezioni amministrative in Italia,  alle presidenziali e successivamente alle legislative francesi (oltre quelle inglesi) sono emerse questioni drammaticamente importanti che ci toccano da vicino. C’è una crisi generalizzata delle istituzioni democratiche, è vero e tale crisi fa immediatamente affrontata. Ma il punto più preoccupante che è emerso in questi giorni è la sfacciata ricomposizione di gruppi e forze politiche dichiaratamente fasciste. Purtroppo la questione è generalizzata e coinvolge tutta l’Europa.  E’ quindi quanto mai urgente porsi il problema di “quale Europa” ci sia bisogno.

Cambiare per superare la ‘transizione permanente’

E’ ormai acclarato che siamo definitivamente entrati in quella che si chiama “fase di transizione permanente”. La qual cosa ci pone di fronte a rimetterci continuamente in discussione come cittadini di un’Europa che se vuol davvero essere all’altezza delle sfide della contemporaneità deve fare del “cambiamento” il suo elemento distintivo. Il cambiamento (o anche crisi) è parte fondamentale della vita dei singoli ma anche delle istituzioni. Ma il cambiamento spesso fa paura e non è un caso che il sentimento dominante oggi è la paura. Le società contemporanee sono afflitte da questa sensazione di incapacità di affrontare il nuovo e ecco che trovano terreno fertile forze politiche e gruppi che si reggono proprio sulla paura. Ma abbiamo il dovere della memoria. E deve essere sempre presente la cognizione che le peggiori dittature sono diretta espressione dell’incapacità dei singoli e delle istituzioni di reagire positivamente alle fasi di crisi (cambiamento). Dalla Brexit all’Ungheria, dal fenomeno Le Pen fino allo scampato pericolo populista in Olanda e continuando fino all’Italia si può dire che l’Europa si sia battuta con tenacia impedendo l’imporsi di una egemonia reazionaria e illiberale. Ma è vero che nel frattempo elementi di forte preoccupazione si sono palesati in tutti i Paesi membri della UE. Non nascondiamoci dietro allo scampato pericolo…perché qualcosa che brucia c’è, e solo un’ Europa rinnovata e più forte può far fronte a segnali spesso intollerabili e sfacciati. Un’Europa che spesso è proprio il bersaglio principale di sovranisti di ogni risma. Per esempio, non è casuale quello che sta accadendo in Italia oggi.

Il ritorno di nostalgie ‘fasciste’  e come superarle

Proprio in questi giorni si sta discutendo, in Parlamento, della possibilità di estendere il reato di apologia del fascismo anche su web e di inasprire le pene per chi commette tale reato. La reazione delle destre populiste (Salvini, Fratelli d’Italia e il Movimento Cinque Stelle di Grillo) sì è subito fatta sentire. Tra l’altro in questi partiti vi sono molti assessori, consiglieri comunali e regionali che non fanno mistero di inneggiare a Benito Mussolini e al nazifascismo.

Credo di non essere il solo a essere preoccupato per tutto questo.

Di sicuro si tratta dell’ennesimo fenomeno che segnala una debolezza di tenuta della forma della democrazia rappresentativa e dei suoi meccanismi di funzionamento ma anche di una sensazione di lontananza delle istituzioni che devono rispondere a nuove urgenze che la contemporaneità richiede.

Però risulta evidente che esiste una questione “fascista” , in Italia, mai metabolizzata e risolta. E’ come se ci fosse una sorta di “rimozione” psicologica…. E spesso accade che chi si macchia del reato di apologia del fascismo non viene perseguito ma tollerato. Questo fa pensare che in fondo questo Paese non abbia mai affrontato realmente il ventennio fascista e forse ne abbia quasi nostalgia!

Mussolini viene ricordato come un “nonno” severo e nulla più dalla maggior parte degli italiani,  la cosa è drammatica.

Per questo occorre subito smettere di rincorrere i populisti e le loro tematiche. Occorre puntare sull’Europa come propulsore di democrazia e civiltà. Occorre rilanciare l’open society contro i sovranismi di ogni tipo.

La ‘Questione meridionale’: clientele da superare

Esiste, inoltre, un’altra questione che riguarda il mezzogiorno d’Italia e il ruolo che dovrebbe avere in un’Europa che sia protagonista dei cambiamenti che riguardano i Paesi che affacciano sul Mediterraneo. Un’Europa che sappia governare i cambiamenti e che stimoli e sproni zone come il sud-Italia a essere partecipe del presente e artefice del proprio futuro e non vittima di ataviche cattive abitudini e atteggiamenti conservatori. E’ proprio dalla presa di coscienza delle proprie possibilità che il sud e i Paesi mediterranei potranno (nel medio periodo) essere un volano per  tutta l’Europa visto il ruolo che potrebbero avere su un’area in cui gli scambi commerciali, culturali e economici offrono ambi margini e occasioni di sviluppo e crescita. Ma il Mezzogiorno di Italia la smetta di perpetuare modelli di governo locale plebiscitari, peronisti e clientelari! Abbia la forza di scommettere su se stesso e sulle proprie capacità di saper attrarre investimenti. Dimostri di saper sfruttare le sue naturali risorse e “faccia sistema” con il resto del Paese e si faccia parte propulsiva di un nuovo progetto di rilancio europeo che parta dal mediterraneo…. E vedrete che con un po’ di rigore e una decisa assunzione di responsabilità il sud potrà essere nel giro di un decennio l’esempio di un nuovo modo di fare impresa. Un ponte di opportunità per tutta l’ Europa. Un ruolo strategico (non è un caso che la base NATO di Napoli sia stata scelta come riferimento europeo per la lotta al terrorismo)

A patto che si smetta con nostalgie nefaste…

Massimo Ricciuti