Do we need basic income in the future? | VPRO Documentary

Isn’t it intolerable
that there will be an entire class… …who get 100K
when they buy their first home. And in the business district
they know a lot of tax tricks… …to maximise the amount parents
can transfer to their children tax-free. If you have a liberal fibre in your body… …that should make you sick, right?
People have to work for their money. For decades, it was a forgotten idea:
the basic income. A fixed amount of government money that
people can spend freely, unconditionally. Backlight focused on the subject… …and historian Rutger Bregman
wrote a book about it. Things have to change,
but we don’t know how. We live in the land of plenty. What kind
of utopia would we still want to fight for? Four years ago, we spoke at length with
Bregman about this revolutionary idea. Worldwide, the idea was embraced again. ‘Let’s give away free money’. From Finland to India, from Canada to
Kenya, experiments have been started. Are we on the eve of a definitive
breakthrough of the basic income? Together with Backlight,
Bregman selected TV clips… …to show the current state
of this groundbreaking idea. And those ‘toothbrush counters’,
let’s get rid of them. This is Backlight. Welcome
to the world of the citizen’s dividend. our basic income First, I made an episode
with VPRO Backlight, in February 2014. If the current trends continue… …we’ll have to ditch the idea
that you have to work for money. That sounds as absurd as saying
in the 1950s that all women should work. First of all, you should
think about a basic income. A very old idea.
– Free money? You could call it that, yes. In 2014, I titled my book
‘Free Money for Everyone’. In English, it’s titled ‘Utopia for Realists’,
a much better title. ‘Free Money for Everyone’ is stupid,
because they’ll say: ‘You lefties are handing out money again,
but who’ll pay for it?’ ‘Yes, the men and women
who are doing the real work.’ So you sideline yourself. People say: ‘The basic income will never
happen, it costs a fortune, it’s a utopia.’ I think it’s the other way round.
In the long term… …it’ll cost a fortune
to not have a basic income. Because when we look
at this type of investment… …we often only look at the costs. We think of the amount,
and that we can’t afford it. But a lot of studies show
the huge benefits of a basic income: Lower healthcare costs, children perform
better at school, better mental health. If you delve into the history of the idea, it’s
actually very liberal, or even conservative. Because we would get a state that might
be larger in terms of redistribution… …that gives everyone
an equal chance at success… …but that’s smaller in terms of patronising. In terms of paternalism.
People will be free to choose. That’s classic liberalism,
almost right-wing. So it’s venture capital
for the common man. Now only a few people can take risks,
but with a basic income, everyone can. A number of experiments, including
one conducted in North Carolina… …among the Eastern Band
of Cherokee Indians… …have shown that the benefits
outweigh the costs. So it’s literally free money,
an investment that repays itself. Imagine getting paid, simply
for being yourself, every six months. Would you enjoy life more? That’s exactly what the Eastern Band
of Cherokee Indians did 20 years ago. Twice a year, all tribe members
get a cheque, simply for being Cherokee. Imagine that. The tribe members didn’t stop working. Data from the past 20 years
even show the opposite. 12,000 dollars
for all 15,000 tribe members educational levels
mental health crime – stress – addiction Coincidentally, a casino opens… …and the profits of the casino
are distributed… …among the Eastern Band
of Cherokee Indians. So all these people
are lifted out of poverty… …and the researchers realise
it’s a gold mine, a sociologist’s dream. A huge number of scientific papers
were written about the fascinating results. Which were spectacular: Healthcare costs
went down, people invested in their lives… …and the behaviour of parents
and children improved. There were so many
hugely positive side effects… …that the benefits outweighed the costs. For me, it was a real eye-opener… …that since the 1960s, there have been
large-scale trials of this crazy idea. Few people know that in the late 1960s,
nearly all experts were convinced… …that the basic income
would soon be implemented in the US. The New York Times published letters… …signed by a thousand economists
who supported it. There were huge experiments
in the 1970s, under Nixon. He liked the idea,
which is hard to imagine. Nixon thought: ‘Oh well, then I’ll be
the president who writes history.’ Not that he had studied it so well,
that he was such a visionary. He just thought:
‘Let’s do it.’ And he got pretty far,
until the democrats torpedoed his plan… …because they wanted a higher
basic income, how ironic can you get? To Nixon, this was one of the key parts
of his entire political programme. It meant that more than
ten million Americans… …the working poor, as they are called,
who live in poverty while having a job… …would have got a guaranteed
basic income, a revolutionary plan. I only know Nixon from Watergate,
as a scary, power-hungry wiretapper. But he had a socialist idea. So what about the connection between
the basic income and socialism? That’s a fallacy, because this idea
transcends left and right. Nixon is right: The current welfare state
often makes people stay at the bottom. It’s called the poverty trap. If you’re on welfare, but you want
to work three or four days a week… …you lose all your allowances. What does our social security
system look like? It’s a huge circulation machine
full of allowances. Help, there’s another one. 80 percent of people receive
an allowance, which makes no sense. Plus it makes the system
susceptible to fraud. And it requires a lot of inspection
by ‘toothbrush counters’. So what will be the result
if we introduce the basic income? First of all, we can erase all those
allowances and circulation machines. Let’s do it. Here we go. And those
toothbrush counters, let’s get rid of them. And what’s the result? A very simple
system: One allowance, that’s it. Social democrats, or left-wing people
in general, often don’t understand… …that you shouldn’t talk about poverty or
unemployment with a patronising tone. Low-wage workers hate that the most:
Being addressed as pitiful people… …who need the state to help them. No, they need venture capital
to be able to take risks in life. So they can also contribute. People
yearn to make a productive contribution. What’s always more powerful to me about
the conservative, right-wing arguments… …for a citizen’s dividend…. …is that it’s not about the state
telling you what you’re doing wrong. No, the state gives you
the means to fulfil your ambition. Maybe we shouldn’t call it
a basic income but a dividend. Because it’s a fact
that we’re incredibly rich right now. We have a whole lot of land,
buildings, technology, knowledge. And you could make those
who have access to it pay interest. Distributed equally, that interest
is the dividend, our venture capital. A super liberal idea. Are there any examples of these
basic income dividends worldwide? We’ll have to go to the US again, to
another very conservative state: Alaska. Since the 1970s, they’ve had the world’s
most successful basic income system. Which is funded by the oil revenues. They said:
‘We don’t want the state to get it…’ ‘…because we’re not socialists.
The state would squander it.’ ‘We’ll give it back to the citizens.’
If a politician touches it, he’s through. experimenting with free money – 2015
Backlight Fantastic.
It’s simply framed differently in his head. The basic income
is capitalism’s crowning glory. Capitalism is about being able
to take risks, to try something new. Find a new job, start a company,
end a bad marriage. You want freedom, dynamics. And innovation is all about taking risks. Allowing failure after failure
for a few brilliant ideas. This would’ve been such a brilliant plan.
Alaska for America. A conservative state… …has had a programme since the 1970s
that’s popular across the board… …and you say:
‘Let’s make it nationwide.’ ‘And we won’t use tax on labour for it,
so we won’t bleed average Joe dry…’ ‘…but we’ll use tax on capital,
like oil revenues or carbon tax.’ Genius, but then she doesn’t do it.
It’s enough to drive you crazy. You think:
What if she had implemented it? People who can make their own choices
are more creative and innovative. And more productive,
because people enjoy their work. Plus there are ‘soft benefits’,
which are very important. People can become a caregiver
or do other useful things. And having a lot of spare time
makes people happy. Everyone understands the ‘soft benefits’:
Care for your mother, grandma or child. But when you treat it on par with paid
labour, everyone says: ‘We can’t do that.’ That discussion often fails when people
start to make calculations on cigar boxes. They think: ‘What if we abolish the dole?’
Maybe it adds up, or it doesn’t. But essentially it’s not about that. The main obstacle for a citizen’s dividend
isn’t economic or technological… …but ideological.
Something has to change up here. In the late 19th century,
you had liberal thinkers… …like John Stuart Mill
and Pieter Cort van der Linden. In their writings,
they constantly oppose the rentier class… …those who buy something, sit back while
the price goes up and say it’s their right. They denounce that. They think people
should work and contribute to society. For instance,
if you’re in the financial sector… …you maximise debt, by providing loans
to as many willing people as possible. You’ll receive a lot of interest,
which isn’t sustainable at all… …so then it crashes, you say sorry,
and the tax payer cleans up the mess. You get all the interest
but don’t pay for the mess. That’s the classical business model
of speculating bankers, pure and simple. But then you start using all kinds
of complicated terms, like derivative… …interest rate swap
and credit blah blah obligations. So you think it must be useful… …while in reality it’s just the old,
Louis XIV, Sun King business model. They can live off their money
and knowledge, and say: If you want to live in Amsterdam,
you have to pay a sky-high rent. Since the 1980s and 90s,
we’ve seen more and more talent… …absorbed by Silicon Valley
and Wall Street. On Wall Street, you invent complicated
financial products to exploit other people. And in Silicon Valley? The best summary
comes from someone… …who worked at Facebook for years.
He said: ‘The best minds of my generation…’ ‘…are thinking about
how to make people click on ads.’ So we make people buy shit they don’t
need to impress people they don’t like. Such a huge waste of talent,
and we pay for their education ourselves. We have major schools in this country,
called business schools or universities. Basically, those are pirate schools,
so we pay for our own exploitation. It’s preposterous, if you think about it. So it’s not a good mechanism,
but should we all get in on the scheme… …so we’ll all get a citizen’s dividend? We’re already in on the scheme,
all of us together. If you think about the financial sector,
which we all like to criticise… …what’s actually behind that? Our pension funds and banks,
which jack up our property values. If you get angry when your return goes
down and there’s no inflation adjustment… …so you vote for the pensioners’ party… …maybe that means you can’t get angry
about the next government bailout. Because you’re complicit in it. We’re all little rentiers now.
Or, at least, many of us are. At least half of the country, I think. Everyone who has built up a nice pension
or bought a house at the right time… …is a major rentier. The thing is: We only really get the
crumbs, but the crumbs still taste good. That’s what makes it so ingenious,
of course. Those crumbs make me complicit?
– I think so, yes. Yes, let’s face it… …if you bought a house five years ago,
let’s say in Amsterdam or Utrecht… …and you sell it now, you could
make a 100K profit. Or 200K even. I’ve read about people
who sold their apartment in Amsterdam… …and bought a huge farm in the
countryside, where they live like a king. Did they work for that? Of course not.
Is it fair? Of course it’s not. The state should skim it off.
But it must feel good if it happens to you. Mark Rutte once said that inheritance
tax is the most unjust tax there is. On his office wall, there’s a portrait
of Pieter Cort van der Linden… …the first liberal prime minister. But Cort van der Linden and pals wanted
to raise the inheritance tax to 100 percent. Not a euro from your parents.
Work for your money. Isn’t it intolerable
that there will be an entire class… …who get 100K
when they buy their first home. And in the business district
they know a lot of tax tricks… …to maximise the amount parents
can transfer to their children tax-free. If you have a liberal fibre in your body… …that should make you sick, right?
People have to work for their money. So the inheritance tax should be much
higher, but no party still supports that. The average VPRO viewer
will also choke on his glass of wine… …if the inheritance tax goes up. The average VPRO viewer thinks he’s
very left-wing, but he’s a rentier as well. In the 1960s, they were squatters,
but now they have real estate in the city. They’re thinking:
Hands off. The old liberal idea was to skim it off. Dutch ministers
in the 19th and early 20th century… …proposed the ground lease system. So if there’s a land price hike
thanks to public investments… …because we built a metro line or a park,
funded by our collective labour… …that money shouldn’t go to the owners. It’s a very logical, fair, liberal,
right-wing, sound idea. You should work for your money. But now there’s a class of home owners
who don’t want to work… …and who say:
No more ground lease. Have we become a rentier state?
– To an extent, yes. I know people who can buy a house
and others who can’t. The decisive factor isn’t their salary,
but whether their parents have 100K. So whether mum and dad can help you.
That’s what happens in rentier countries. And what does the future
of a rentier society look like? Sad, very sad. The Netherlands has been
a rentier nation before. The Golden Age brought us great
prosperity, but in the 18th century… …the slacker period started, and our
country didn’t produce so much anymore. We started building beautiful riverside
mansions, which you can still admire. But there was no productive investment. Are we on the eve
of a new slacker period? We’re in the middle of it, I would say. My idea is that in all those places in
society where people get free interest… …it should be distributed equally. This could be one of the main sources
of funding for the citizen’s dividend. A very nice example
would be to levy a carbon tax… …and use the profits to pay out a basic
income. That’s the most elegant system. So you take our main challenge,
climate change… …as nearly all economists
support a carbon tax… …and then you don’t give
the money to the state… …but you choose a right-wing solution
by giving all citizens a dividend. It’s one of the most hopeful visions. This dividend would be
a citizen’s dividend. So all Dutch citizens would get it. Instead of simply implementing a basic
income, you should create a whole ritual. So when you turn 18 or 21, you take
your lover, parents, family and friends… …to your first basic income ritual… …and in the presence of your loved ones
you say how you’re going to use it… …and why you won’t betray
the responsibility and use it well. It could be a part of a pretty nationalist,
patriotic package. At least, if you ask me. The country that first implements this
should be proud of it. In Alaska, they’re also proud of it.
– Yes. But won’t this make you an enemy
of the left-wing intellectual community? With your patriotic citizenship packages. I think a lot of people are pretty tired
of the usual left versus right discussion. That feeling of knowing
what someone will say. The basic income has a great return
on investment, for left and right alike. If you don’t have a heart,
you have a wallet, right? It makes sense
to invest in things that pay back. Imagine the innovation and creativity… …if everyone had some venture capital
to take risks. You could do so many things
you can’t do now. So many people
live from salary to salary… …but with a basic income, you can
switch jobs, start a company, relocate… …and say ‘no’ to the dickhead
you’ve been looking at for years. And if it’s about the importance
of meaningful work… …if you ask me, one of the
most important thinkers right now… …is the American anthropologist
David Graeber. Let’s have a look. In 2013, an essay was published
by an anthropologist, David Graeber… …who’s one of the most
important thinkers today. It was a brilliant essay, titled:
‘On the Phenomenon of…’ And now a very scientific term:
‘…Bullshit Jobs.’ In this essay, he described a phenomenon
he saw in people around him… …who had a job
of which they themselves thought… So it wasn’t Graeber who said it, or me. No, these people said about their own job: ‘It won’t really make a difference to
the world if I don’t show up at the office.’ A bullshit job.
– Yes. Crucially, people say so themselves,
and Graeber introduced this hypothesis. Two Dutch economists, Robert Dur
and Max van Lent, have tested this. They asked a huge number of people
if they felt their job was useful or not. They used a slightly different term:
Socially useless jobs. Graeber’s intuition turns out to be correct. Worldwide, about 8 percent
of employees, in 47 countries… …are sure their job is useless,
and 17 percent have doubts about this. So together, about a quarter
of the working population… …seriously doubt the use of their work. But who are these people?
They added some nice tables, let’s see. Well, they’re not firemen: 0 percent.
Policemen: Also 0 percent. So they think their job is very useful?
– Priests: 0 percent. Yes, they think it’s very useful. Librarians are also convinced
of their importance. But when you look at the other table,
you find the usual suspects. Sales, marketing and PR professionals:
21 percent useless. Finance managers: 15.1 percent. And these are only the people
who explicitly say so. But there will also be people who tell
themselves that their useless job is useful. So we’ve ended up in an image economy,
or a bullshit economy… …in which we all brag
about our great jobs. But we could also do something we like. When I started writing about this, most
reactions came from advertising people. A lot of people emailed me and said:
I recognise this. Let’s say you’re a young investigative
journalist. There’s no money in that… …so you advertise
the companies you hate. Journalism platform Follow the Money
calls this ‘whorenalism’. After that, you use the money
you’ve earned… …to publish reports
about the exact same companies. You could call this the bullshit cycle,
and it’s everywhere. Like the company lawyer who’s thinking:
‘Why am I defending these assholes?’ At some point, he thinks:
‘Can’t I help a couple of asylum seekers?’ So you use the money you’ve made
with bullshit to do truly useful things. It’s an upside-down world. I often think
about a psychological phenomenon… …that’s called pluralistic ignorance. Everyone will recognise it: You’re walking around a shopping mall
with four or five people… …until someone asks:
‘Where are we going?’ But no one knows.
‘I thought you knew.’ When I look at the bullshit job economy,
that’s what’s happening on a huge scale. People have meeting after meeting
about some paper… …on co-creation in the network society,
and everyone thinks: ‘It’s probably useful.’ So you spend lots of money
to educate your greatest talents… …at the best universities. In their jobs they don’t contribute anything
and wonder: ‘What the hell am I doing?’ Then they crash and have a burnout. And at 40 or 50,
they decide to just paint from now on. That’s a pretty absurd system. Why don’t we just stop doing that and let
people follow their dreams from the start? But if we all start painting,
it’ll ruin the economy. But what’s the economy?
What do you mean by that? The economy is the system
that creates enough benefits… And what are benefits? If it’s true that a quarter of the Dutch
working population has a useless job… …and I think it’s true, because they say so
themselves. And they’re the experts. So if it’s true, we could cut
the working week by a fifth… …without getting any poorer in reality. And this is a huge phenomenon,
if you think about it. We often worry about unemployment,
which rose to 8 percent during the crisis. It was the main political debate:
How to tackle unemployment. But the number is much higher: A quarter of the working population
seriously doubts the use of their job. That’s a lot, and those people
cost the rest of society much more… …than the people on welfare. Because the salaries of the people
with bullshit jobs are much higher. So there’s a huge class
that the rest of society has to provide for. This flips the perspective. We actually
live in an upside-down welfare state. So the bullshit jobs are supported by the
teachers, dustmen, nurses and librarians: All the people with a useful job. And neither left nor right
seems to share this perspective. The VPRO viewers will love this one. Take Japan, for instance. One of the richest, most civilised… …and most robotised countries in the
world also has the lowest jobless rate. You’d think all those robots
would cause mass unemployment, but no. I was in Japan to give interviews
about my book. Normally, at interviews, there’s an
interviewer, a cameraman, a sound guy. But in Japan, there were
15 extra people taking notes… …and pretending
to be doing something useful. Capitalism has a phenomenal ability
to invent new bullshit jobs. It keeps coming up with new jobs,
even though they’re pointless. Theoretically, one day we could all
be doing completely useless work. We’ll all be in a prison called ‘office’,
writing emails to each other. While we could also just call it a day. I thought this only happened in industries
like advertising, design and the media. In professions in which people
are under a lot of stress. But based on the reactions I received,
this happens everywhere. In the past, I worked
90 to 100 hours a week. Every night, I had to hurry
to catch the last train. But one night I was on the platform,
and I suddenly thought: ‘One step. Just one.’ ‘One step and I’ll never
have to work again.’ Do you ever feel
you’re working yourself to death? In Japan, this phenomenon
is called ‘karoshi’. But it’s also a taboo,
so very few people talk about it openly. When Kona Shiomachi
anonymously shared a manga… …titled ‘Stop Working Before You Die’,
it soon went viral. After a while, overwork makes you
unable to think clearly… …and pessimistic about everything.
You’re in constant agony. It’s like walking on a narrow ledge
with an abyss on both sides. The path is littered
with crossroads and exits. But you can’t hear or see anything.
You can’t move forward. In Japan, you clearly see
how absurd it can get. It makes no sense, of course. It’s not
efficient to work 80, 90, 100 hours a week. In the 1920s, Henry Ford
was one of the first to say: ‘If my staff works 40 hours instead of 60,
they’re more productive and profitable.’ So it’s not about efficiency at all. If the metro had a two-minute delay,
they were handing out notes… …so you could prove to your employer
that it wasn’t your fault. That’s happening in Japan?
My god. You can laugh about it,
but we’re slowly moving in that direction. It’s not inconceivable that…
– That it will happen here as well? Yes, if you keep making
the work ideology more extreme. Fortunately, it isn’t nearly as bad here,
but it also exists in the Netherlands. How many people are sitting
in their offices at 4, 5 p.m., thinking: ‘I’m spent, I should go home.’ But they don’t want to be the first to go. Just think about the waste:
So many hours of useless work… …simply because we don’t dare to tell
each other: ‘This is pointless, let’s quit.’ The story we always tell, is that those at
the top are the ones who make money… …the strong shoulders that bear the
heaviest burden, and the right says: ‘They’re very productive people,
let them be.’ ‘If they don’t pay too much tax,
it’ll be alright.’ The left says: ‘Maybe, but we should
also show solidarity with the underclass.’ ‘So they should pay a bit more tax.’ That’s pretty much the political debate. But the assumption is the same:
Prosperity comes from the top. But if you look at the real economy,
the people we really depend on… …who can’t go on strike,
because we’d be in deep shit… …then that’s actually the underclass,
or the lower middle class: Teachers, dustmen, cleaners, nurses.
If they quit, we’re screwed. So they are the strongest shoulders
that bear the heaviest burden. And I want us to move towards
an economy in which they also… …perhaps thanks to a basic income, gain
more bargaining power, higher wages… …so they will also have to pay more tax,
and then we’ll see who shows solidarity. Here’s my vision of a healthy,
civilised society: You give everyone the right
to good public education and healthcare. And you give them a ground to stand on,
which is unconditional. No need to fill out forms or humiliate
yourself at the social services desk. It’s simply a right, not a favour. And you’re convinced
there’s enough capital to finance this? If 20 to 25 percent of Dutch people
say their job doesn’t contribute anything… …we’re so rich that we can support
those people. That’s insane. Including regular unemployment, that’s
30 percent of people who don’t contribute. Apparently we can do that. As a society,
we’re so rich, innovative and strong… …that we can afford
such a huge load of bullshit. And as we get richer,
our computers and robots get smarter… …and our entire social system improves,
we can afford even more bullshit. So a very different society is possible. Who are the opponents
of a citizen’s dividend or basic income? The main opponents of these kinds
of ideas are always the people in power. It’s as simple as that. If you’re living off
your interest, you don’t want to share it. And you’ll say: ‘It’s fine to give it to me,
I come from a good lineage.’ ‘But if you give it to everyone,
they’ll squander it. It’ll be a disaster.’ That’s what Louis XIV said
in the 17th century: ‘You can’t give the plebs
a citizen’s dividend. It won’t work.’ So the idea that most people are no good,
that they’re fundamentally wicked… …is one of the oldest ideas in the West,
and it’s always been in the rulers’ interest. So that we don’t trust each other, because
then we need those rulers to control us. Yes, and people to manage the money.
– There you go. So it’s a revolutionary idea to say: ‘Wait, maybe most people actually
want to make something out of life.’ ‘Maybe most people are actually good.’ If you really follow that idea,
you can completely reorganise society.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *