Basic income : another idea of cooperation

Mark Hunyadi is Professor of Social, Moral and Political Philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain. In an article entitled «  Une autre idée de la coopération : la philosophie sociale de l’allocation universelle  » [1], he provides in his favor an argument that is really convincing and « relates to a moral reason resulting from a certain conception of cooperation « . He starts from the observation that providing an allowance to people who do not participate in the well-being of society represents the greatest resistance to the introduction of a basic income. He therefore considers that the fight against this resistance, which is emitted by citizens as well as by certain thinkers, must be a priority.

In his defense of basic income, the philosopher does not rely on the liberal argument of respect for the plurality of lifestyles, but takes a path related to cooperation. Relying on the fact that we « all contribute to social cooperation« , he brings in his way a very convincing answer to the objection of the « surfer of Malibu » [2]. Showing that the social utility is not just about having a job, he opens a way that seems to lead almost naturally to the introduction of a basic income.

The purpose of this article is to present a summary of this article which, for anyone interested in the normative foundations of basic income, is a source of inspiration that will certainly prove fertile.

Objections to basic income are often based on the indissociable character of social integration and the laborious contribution.

The objections come, for example, from the sociologist Robert Castel, who sees in the introduction of a basic income a disconnect between work and protection, which risks « to operate a tremendous regression compared to our conception of democracy » (Castel 2013). Similarly, but for other reasons, in his Theory of Justice, the philosopher John Rawls analyzes cooperation in the sense of a contribution, itself conceived in a « labor-related way », and therefore does not imagine, inasmuch as he does not contributes to social cooperation, that we can subsidize the Malibu surfer. In response to Rawls’s objection, philosopher Philippe Van Parijs argues that …

 » … the true liberalism, which imposes no a priori conception of the life one should lead, should thus recognize the possibility of a life without work ».

He thus pushes to the end the logic of liberalism of equal respect for all forms of life.

The philosopher focuses on the heart of the « labor-related » argument …

Voluntarily abandoning the innumerable so-called « realistic » arguments against basic income, the philosopher « concentrates on the philosophical heart of the labor and contributionist argument that fundamentally links social integration and laborious contribution – a link that the idea of a basic income« . With the aim of going beyond Van Parijs’ liberal strategy pushed to the end, he considers that it can be said: « Since such an allowance is feasible, it is liberally necessary; and if it does not appear feasible, everything must be done to make it so – in the very name of liberalism « . This is a strong argument, which should allow liberal opponents (in the political sense of the term) the idea of a basic income to « meditate on the real premises of their opposition« .

… while criticizing the narrow vision of cooperation

But he prefers to embark on another path, that which consists, in a cooperative logic, of « restoring to this liberal respect a foundation other than liberal« . The idea that emerges is that the Rawlsian implication rests on a very narrow conception of the cooperation, and for this reason, it seems to Hunyadi that one can quite contest its natural character. Indeed, we can consider that there is a real blindness to reduce the social link to the only contribution to the socio-economic system. The surfer, even if he does not have a salaried job, stimulates the tourism industry, shows an alternative way of life to the productivist lifestyles. He is therefore also « socially useful ». What makes the Malibu surfer’s subsidy very unacceptable is the famous argument, arguably the most difficult to uproot people today, of « social laziness« , that the introduction of a basic income would greatly help to encourage. This argument « nevertheless testifies to such an enormous blindness that the prejudice on which it rests is deep« .

Liberalism forgets « the cooperativist basis of its own exercise »

Indeed, the Malibu surfer’s dilemma is based on one of the most common and well-anchored prejudices of liberalism in particular, which is to forget the cooperativist basis of its own exercise : no individual right could yet be effective without recognition. Correspondingly of all, no personal merit could be expressed without a general context of cooperation, no work would be possible without the environment that allows it. The least of our financial capitalists who pride themselves so much on its stock market glory would be nothing without the entire legal, institutional, economic, regulatory and social system that simply makes their exploits possible. This « network of interrelations is the common ground of all possible social life« . Whoever is nothing without all the others. Autonomy, so dear to the liberals, can not be exercised without the whole system of rules to which everyone agrees every day.

It is a primordial fact of existence, a fortiori of social existence, that « everyone depends in some way on all others » – exactly in the sense that Aristotle said that …

… « a man who is incapable of being a member of a community, or who does not feel the need of it because he is self-sufficient, is not part of a city, and therefore is a brute or a god. (Aristotle 1997: 1253-27-29).

Marx’s idea that « true individualism can only be cooperative » reinforces the argumentation

Hunyadi then supports his argument on the analysis of Marx’s thought. If his famous idea « Of each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs! « (Marx 1965: 1420) presents a principle of justice a priori totally individualistic, it remains nonetheless that, in all of his writings, his fundamental intuition has remained the same: true individualism can only be cooperative in the sense that authentic self-realization goes through an unalienated relationship to others. Free cooperation is equivalent to full self-realization, which means that any contribution by everyone, according to their freely expressed capacities, is a contribution to social cooperation. Thus, « all contributions are connected to each other« .

« In this sense, the Malibu surfer, like Saint Simeon the Stylite, the one who chooses to devote himself to the education of his children …, the solitary artist or the collector of beer capsules, all participate in some way in social cooperation – even if it is obvious that they do not do it in the Labor-related way ».

Interdependence is therefore the primordial social fact, and each of our individual actions is the fruit of a multitude of accumulated human actions, but which he has not himself desired. Society is still a system of cooperation in the broad sense, and « only ideological bias can reduce this cooperation to the only laborious contribution of its members ».

So the social contribution is not just about doing a job

« The social philosophy underlying the idea of ​​a basic income quenches its thirst from this fountain of social cooperation, from this broader idea, where the social contribution is not limited to the exercise of a job ». Some consider it utopian. However, it only confirms a factual truth: « we all contribute to social cooperation, in a de facto solidarity which, even if it is not always immediately apparent, is nonetheless real ». Justifying Malibu surfer’s activity in terms of social cooperation certainly requires a little more intellectual effort than is necessary for the doctor. « But this is only the sign of our indecipherable alienation from the Labor mentality. » Once that is achieved, however, the horizon becomes clearer and « we can then look at our fellow men » and convince us, as true political liberals, that …

… no one has the right to arrogate to himself a power of a priori definition about what is a useful contribution to society [3].

The philosopher Mark Hunyadi thus manages, with great ease and in a very clear way, to make strong arguments according to which « the social utility is not limited to a job ». Insofar as this point is fundamental, because it feeds a large part of the objections that can be made against the basic income, it opens a way that seems to lead almost naturally to its introduction.

Robert Cauneau, a basic income activist, member of the MFRB


[1] Mark Hunyadi, « Une autre idée de la coopération : la philosophie sociale de l’allocation universelle », A contrario 2015/1 (n° 21), p. 25-33.

[2] See

[3] This idea provides an answer to arguments such as that of Jean-Marie Harribey who considers that there can be no remuneration for work that has not been « socially validated », thus excluding any possibility of remuneration outside paid employment.


Aristotle (1997), The Politics, I, 2, 1253 to 27-29

Castel Robert (2013), « Quels droits pour un plein accès à la citoyenneté ? Entretien avec Robert Castel », Mouvements

MARX Karl (1965), « Criticism of the program of the German Workers Party », in Works, economy, I, trad. of Maximilien Rubel, Paris, Gallimard

VAN PARIJS Philippe (1995), Real Freedom for All, Oxford, Oxford University Press

VAN PARIJS Philippe (2013), « De chacun (volontairement) selon ses capacités, à chacun (inconditionnellement) selon ses besoins ! », Mouvements, N° 73


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