Guy Standing: 'Social competition with emerging economies is crazy'

Guy Standing, professor Economic Security at the university of Bath, UK, and founding member of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) published the bestselling book The Precariat. The New Dangerous Class. His criticism of the way European governements are responding to the financial crisis is scathing.

Many citizens -even in Europhile Belgium- consider the EU as a basic tool in the precarization of work and life. Is there a way the EU can reinvent itself as an instrument of social protection in combination with economic innovation?

Guy Standing: All countries of the European Union have responded to the pressures of globalisation by opting for variants of a strategy called labour market flexibility, in order to lower labour costs and try to make their labour markets and economies more ‘competitive’ with China, India and other emerging market economies. But this is a crazy scenario. Wages and benefits are being cut; state benefits are being cut even more, and economic insecurity is becoming chronic. This is what is affecting the growing precariat. This sad trend will continue until people become angry enough to force politicians to tackle the inequality and abuse of millions of workers who make up the precariat. We must now move beyond the demonstrations and occupations of squares across Europe and other countries in 2011 so create a progressive agenda. The non-government organisations that are standing up for minorities and vulnerable groups will be a vital part of that agenda.

Most of the emerging countries aspired more to a European social market model than to the neoliberal Anglosaxon economic system. Can they continue on the road towards a redistributive society if the EU continues down the road of precarization?

Guy Standing: Emerging market countries are realising that the social market model built up in the post-1945 era in the European Union is inappropriate for them, where full-time industrial employment is only for a small minority and will never become the norm. Countries such as Brazil have wisely realised that they must redistribute the gains from economic growth to all their population. That is why they have moved towards a basic income for all. It is significant that while cash transfers have been spreading across the country, economic growth has risen, inequality has fallen and unemployment is at its lowest ever. Reducing inequality is what we need to see in Europe.

While poor countries (amongst them the BRICS) clearly need economic growth to lift populations out of poverty, Europe and North America can hardly argue it still needs the kind of economic growth that made us rich but also caused climate change. At the same time, the standstill economy does not seem to be a viable way to provide decent work for all either. What would you propose to solve that dilemma?

Guy Standing: All countries must realise that so-called economic growth is not ecologically friendly. We need to move away from focusing on maximising growth, and focus on fostering reproductive activities, ecologically sustainable work and reducing the grotesque inequalities. The precariat would benefit most from policies that encouraged and rewarded work that is not is simple labour designed to boost profits and economic growth. I intend to show how this is vital to that progressive strategy I mentioned earlier.

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