Development economist Guy Standing, of the University of London, has popularized the term “precariat” to describe a global social class whose most salient characteristic is precariousness. Standing blames neoliberal economic policies, globalization, automation, and outsourcing for the rising number of precariats, who, if not completely locked out of the economy, must increasingly compete for temporary employment at low wages — to the point that they can’t pay off student loans or consumer debt, qualify for mortgages, save for retirement, or make plans for the future. Many are essentially one paycheck away from destitution.
Standing’s solution is a 29-plank platform of policy changes he calls “the Precariat Charter.” Some are as basic as redefining work to include all productive labor, paid or unpaid, while others are as “revolutionary” as unconditional basic income (UBI), which would pay a basic, livable stipend to every man, woman, and child who is a legal resident of a country. Although to capitalist ears this sounds like a recipe for apathy and a reward for laziness, in the places it has been implemented it has, instead, unleashed creativity. Freed from concerns about basic survival, people have used their unconditional basic income to care for children or aging parents, volunteer for favorite causes, pursue creative work or other passions, and start their own businesses. Recipients have also been able to take low-paying temporary jobs offered by employers — knowing that the wages, added to their basic income, will be adequate to make ends meet. Guaranteed income has boosted productivity and happiness, not dampened it. Click here to learn more.