Business 01/03/2021

The future is a world full of self-employed and with universal basic income

Andreu Mas-Colell and Philippe Van Parijs reflect on how the pandemic will change the world of work

3 min
Philippe Van Parijs and Andreu Mas-Colell in the third cycle "In Transit", moderated by Elena Costas
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BarcelonaIn the post-pandemic future there will be a lot of teleworking, more freelancers, a different unemployment benefit and a guaranteed minimum income. Companies won't have as big headquarters and cities, in order to grow, will have to do so on the assumption that people will need bigger spaces to live and work in the same place. This is, at least, what Andreu Mas-Colell, a Catalan economist, and Philippe Van Parijs, a Belgian philosopher, see in the future. They have reflected on the question in the third dialogue of the series IN TRANSIT: Debates for a new era organised by the ARA to try to understand what the next era will be like.

The bridge between one era and the other is the pandemic. And the pandemic, in the world of work, means teleworking. For Mas-Colell, professor emeritus of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and former Minister of Economy of the Generalitat de Catalunya, the change starts precisely here. "Teleworking will have a very substantial impact on the structure of companies, on the type of contracts we will see," he says. He speaks of workers who are mainly self-employed and of the transformation that Social Security will be forced to undergo.

Because if, as he says, the labour model of the future is rather a network of self-employed workers, this will have to go hand in hand with a Social Security system which is "more powerful, that guarantees a minimum income and with new structures of unemployment insurance," explains Mas-Colell.

Philippe Van Parijs, doctor in philosophy and social sciences at the University of Louvain and president of the advisory committee of the European network of basic income, agrees. And he adds that all this will only happen if teleworking is applied with the freedom that comes with it, without the implementation of forms of control that equate it to face-to-face work. But, beyond this, for Van Parijs the key point is basic income. An issue so complex that even among them there is a disparity of opinions.

Income for everyone or jobs for everyone?

The philosopher advocates a model in which absolutely everyone has a basic income. "We have to provide people with an income that allows them to access jobs that are important to them," he proposes. The commitment to training is essential in his discourse: it is what would prevent people from being satisfied with this money to live on. He believes, moreover, that it is a policy that should come from the European Union: this is the only way to avoid opening new problems in terms of taxation.

Mas-Colell believes that to achieve this approach in Spain "the welfare state" as we know it would have to be dismantled: spending would be so great that it mean investments in education or health would be insufficient. His proposal is to prioritise employment, and establish a minimum income system for those people with salaries below what is understood to be a living wage. Regarding higher incomes, he is also clear: "It doesn't bother me much if a person who has a lot of money receives some more, because if we do things right, we will end up getting this person to return money to the State through their taxes," he says

A realistic utopia

Where the opinions of the one and the other meet again is in the fact that, whatever form it takes, achieving this basic income is a utopia, but a realistic utopia. Van Parijs defines the term as "things that are not politically feasible now but which, if you think about them, if you approach them critically and confront them with economic, sociological and legal criticisms, you end up fighting for them". "When one is dedicated to real practice it is very good to be able to point towards a realistic utopia which, although it is far away, marks the direction to follow", concludes Mas-Colell .

The dialogue between these two experts is the third part of a series of reflections on the future inaugurated by the sociologist and economist Saskia Sassen and the journalist David Wallace-Wells, who discussed how to inhabit a world in transformation. The writer Siri Hustvedt and the historian Carlo Ginzburg also took part, speaking about the narratives that construct this future.