Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Feminism and the Basic Income (Part Two)

(Part One)

This is the second part of my series on feminism and the basic income. In part one, I looked at the possible effects of an unconditional basic income (UBI) on women. I also looked at a variety of feminist arguments for and against the UBI. The arguments focused on the impact of the UBI on economic independence, freedom of choice, the value of unpaid work, and women’s labour market participation.

Although the values at stake in those arguments, as well as the predictions to which they appeal, are too complex and variable to admit of a simple summary, some clear themes did emerge from that discussion. The first was there is some reason to hope that a UBI could increase women’s independence, de-gender work roles and facilitate female participation in the labour market. At the same time, it is possible that granting women an individualised income could serve to entrench gendered norms about social roles, particularly if the payment of that income encourages more women to drop out of the labour market.

In this post, I want to step back a little from the particularities of these arguments and focus instead on different models of welfare and how they may link-up with different feminist goals. I also want to comment briefly on the important role that the feminist perspective could play in political debates about the introduction of the UBI.

Again, I’ll be basing my discussion on materials found in the book Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research. Primarily, on the discussion of welfare models found in Tony Fitzpatrick’s chapter “A Basic Income for Feminists”, and also, towards the end, on Carole Pateman’s “Free-riding and the Household”.

Fitzpatrick’s chapter is particularly helpful because he draws upon the work of Nancy Fraser. Fraser, in her 1997 book Justice Interruptus, distinguishes between three models of welfare: (i) the universal breadwinner model; (ii) the care-giver model; and (iii) the universal care-giver model. Fitzpatrick looks at each and considers how the UBI may, or may not, contribute to them. I’ll start by going through each of these three models.

1. The Universal Breadwinner Model
Each of the three models is based on a set of values and assumptions. The universal breadwinner model is based on the assumption that paid employment, and the traditional wage contract, is good and that the cause of sexual equality is advanced by allowing women to access those things. In this respect, the universal breadwinner model maps onto the classic goals of liberal feminism (at least as “liberal” feminism is commonly understood). It tries to make women more like men by de-gendering the role of the breadwinner, but without questioning the value of that role.

What kinds of reform would be needed to achieve the goals of the universal breadwinner model? Fitzpatrick mentions a few:

[W]omen would require: employment-enabling services to free them from unpaid responsiblities; workplace reforms to promote equal opportunity; cultural reforms so that women identify themselves with the workplace (and so that men can accept this); macroeconomic policies to generate high levels of quality jobs; social insurance reforms to ensure that women’s entitlements are equal to men’s. Care work would need to be shifted from the family to the market and the state, but the status of care-work employment should also be raised. Benefits would be strongly linked to employment status and record, but a residual means-tested safety-net would still be required.
(Fitzpatrick, 2013, p. 168

No doubt elements of this mix of policies will be familiar. Arguably, it is this model of welfare that has been pursued in European countries over the past 50 or so years, though how successful this has been in achieving the goal of de-gendering the breadwinner role is, of course, debatable.

The question we are interested in is whether the UBI would have any role to play in this model of welfare. Fitzpatrick argues that it would not. Indeed, many of the central features of the UBI would run contrary to the spirit of the universal breadwinner model. The UBI deliberately tries to de-link income from paid employment, thereby challenging the ethics of paid work. In doing so, it provides people with the choice of opting out of paid employment. That said, the UBI may encourage some people to seek work, particularly work they actually enjoy, which could bolster the breadwinner model, but this would be a secondary and unintended effect. On the whole then, the UBI is unsympathetic to the aims of the universal breadwinner model.

2. The Care-Giver Model
The Care-Giver model is premised on the value of care work, particularly the unpaid forms of care work that have traditionally been performed by women. It rejects the notion that sexual equality is advanced simply by encouraging women to become more like men. Instead, it calls for us to use the welfare system to raise the status and recognition of care work, bringing it onto the same level as paid employment. This would allow women to choose between different roles (care-giver; breadwinner) or mixes of those roles (e.g. part-time in both). It would not, however, challenge the sexual division of labour with respect to care-work.

In order for this model to work a variety of policy reforms would be needed. Fitzpatrick mentions the following:

[W]omen would require: care-allowances set at a level comparable to breadwinner wages; workplace reforms to facilitate the kind of life pattern flexibility just mentioned [i.e. the ability to choose between the different roles]; job search, retraining and flexitime; extensive social welfare programs. Here, then, most care-work would continue to remain in the home but would be supported with substantial public funds. Part-time jobs and care-work would have to generate as many entitlements to insurance benefits as full-time employment but, as before, a residual assistance tier would also be required.
(Fitzpatrick, 2013, p. 169

Some of these policies have been implemented in different countries, particularly those concerning flexitime and direct provisions for childcare. The effect of these on revaluing care-work and raising its status are, again, questionable.

Could the UBI have any role to play in a care-giver model of welfare? Fitzpatrick argues that it could. One thing it could definitely do is facilitate the transition of women in and out of the labour market. In particular, it could make part-time work a more viable option for many women. Women in those roles would receive two incomes: their basic income grant and the income from the work. And if the UBI was financed through a progressive tax, they may not even need to pay taxes toward it.

One major problem with UBI, however, is that it might not be specific enough to raise the status of unpaid care work. Since the income would be payable to all, irrespective of what they do, it wouldn’t single out care-work for special treatment. A Participation Income (i.e. one granted to people on the condition that they engage in unpaid but socially valuable work) might be better able to achieve this aim.

3. The Universal Care-Giver Model
The universal care-giver model is premised on the value of completely de-gendering care-work and encouraging a more equitable distribution of work between the sexes. This marks a contrast from the two other models. The universal breadwinner model was questionable in that it implied that paid work was of greater value; the care-giver model was questionable in that it did not challenge the traditional sexual division of labour with respect to care-work. The universal care-giver model tries to go beyond the limitations of these two models. It aims to equalise the status of both kinds of work and to breakdown the traditional sexual division of labour with respect to care-work.

What reforms would be required for this? Fitzpatrick mentions three (based on Fraser’s work):

First, all jobs would have to be designed for people who are also part-time carers which means a working week shorter than that for full-time jobs and the support of employment-enabling services. Second, care-work activities would be distributed between the state, the household, and civil society. (Fraser talks of locally-managed and democratically care-work institutions). Finally, the most substantial change would be cultural, that is, a dismantling of the gendered assumptions which sustain the existing forms of social organisation.
(Fitzpatrick, 2013, p. 169-70

A basic income could play some part in achieving these ends, though its limitations would have to be acknowledged. By de-linking work and income, and increasing job-choice flexibility, it could encourage more men to take-up care-giving duties. But it could only really do so with substantial shifts in the cultural attitude toward care-work. Changes in income payment cannot do this, certainly not in the short-term. In fact, they could simply encourage more men to drop out of paid work, without taking up any corresponding care-work duties. Fitzpatrick once again suggests that a Participation Income, which tied income payments to specific socially valuable forms of work, would be more beneficial in this regard.

4. The Importance of the Feminist Perspective in Debates about the UBI
The relative ineffectiveness of the basic income in the face entrenched gendered norms and beliefs is something that should be kept in mind when it comes to political debates about its introduction. Assuming we embrace the goal of de-gendering work roles, we need to be conscious of ways in which political reforms could simply serve to perpetuate the gendered system. This suggests that a critical and questioning mindset will be needed when such reforms are being debated, even in purely philosophical terms.

To this extent, Carole Pateman’s article “Free-riding and the Household” is a useful corrective. She encourages participants in the debate about the basic income to shift perspectives. One telling example of this is the attention she draws to the debate about free-riding and reciprocity. As highlighted in earlier posts, one of the most common objections to the basic income is that it allows people to drop out of paid employment and free-ride on the hard work of others. This is thought to be exploitative because the people who remain in paid employment finance the system and the drop outs consequently don’t do their “fair share”. This is where the image of hippie surfers and beach bums find their foothold.

But as Pateman points out, this understanding of exploitation and free-riding focuses on the ethics of paid work and the virtues of the (male) breadwinner. It ignores the huge problem of exploitation and free-riding within the traditional family structure. Within that structure men free-ride on the unpaid work done by their partners and consequently don’t do their fair share. Yet it is telling that it is the relationship between the idle surfer and the paid worker that dominates the literature, not the relationship between, say, the idle husband and the hard-working wife. To address this oversight we need to ensure that the debate about the basic income works with a larger concept of reciprocity what it means to do one’s fair share.

As I say, I think this is a useful corrective.

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