André Gorz and the Guaranteed Social Income

In an article entitled « Economics and the policy of the unconditional income of existence, a tribute to André Gorz » [1], Antonella Corsani, economist, presents the way in which this philosopher was able to conceive the existence income. The following developments are meant to be a synthesis of this article, which offers a very enlightening introduction to this author’s thinking.

French philosopher and journalist, André Gorz (1923-2007) becomes in the seventies one of the main theoreticians of political ecology and degrowth. His thinking, which oscillates between philosophy, political theory and social criticism, leads him quickly to advance the idea of ​​a « guaranteed social income (GSI) ». On the observation of an evolution towards a society of « free time », Gorz makes the bet « of a social emancipation through the radical reduction of working time » [2]. But at that time, he did not question the centrality of the work, and did not conceive the payment of this minimum income other than work-related.

Unlike the philosopher John Rawls and his followers, who consider work to be a « good », Gorz conceives the guarantee of a « full income » for all, an income independent of the occupation of a job, as « the right of every citizen to receive, over his whole life, the product of the incompressible quantity of socially necessary labor which he has to provide during his life« . This conception is coherent with the prospect of the extinction of wage labor and the « law of value »: the guaranteed social income is no longer a salary. It is consistent with the appropriation and control of time. But it is not consistent with the « open perspectives and changes introduced by post-Fordism » [4]. On this basis, A. Gorz is led to reconsider the idea of ​​a GSI that he conceived at the end of the 1990s as a sufficient (and not minimal) income, unconditional and as a primary income, which is a tool allowing exit from capitalism. Finally, although little interested in the practical aspects of its implementation, the philosopher suggests modalities for its introduction.

Sufficient income, not minimal

This income must be sufficient because a minimum income, below a subsistence level, would be a kind of subsidy to employers that would turn against employees.

Not being assured of a sufficient basic income, employees would be continually looking for a job, whether precarious or not, and ready to accept any job and for any salary. The GSI comes under a different logic and aims to free them from the constraints of the labor market. « The basic social income must enable them to refuse work and « unworthy » working conditions; and it must be situated in a social environment that allows everyone to arbitrate permanently between the value of use of his time and his exchange value: that is to say, between the « utilities » he can buy by selling working time and those that it can produce by the self-evaluation of that time. « [5]

An unconditional income

The second characteristic, unconditionality, means that this income can be paid without compensation in work. « Only his unconditionality – wrote A. Gorz – can preserve the unconditionality of activities that make sense only if they are accomplished for themselves. » [6] But unconditionality must also be understood as unconditionality with respect to resources: the income-tested GSR could be considered as assistance income for the poor. « The counter-example of unconditional social income is the French « Prime pour l’emploi », a negative tax, a minimum income to limit misery, granted under the dual condition of employment and income. »

A primary income …

According to Gorz, the GSR should be conceived as a primary income. This means that it is not confused with the forms of income from redistribution (transfer income) and financed by taxes, nor with the forms of indirect salary financed by social security contributions (pensions, unemployment benefits). The GSR is part of the primary distribution, just like the direct salary, without being confused with it. In this spirit, A. Gorz refers to the distributive economy, as Jacques Duboin conceived it in the 1930s: « in this perspective, the » social income «  is not a salary, because it does not correspond the value of work but a fair share of the wealth produced« .

… which must prefigure an exit from capitalism

These three characteristics make GSI an Unconditional Income of Existence, not subsistence, fundamentally opposed to the universal allowance in its liberal conception.

It must prefigure, according to A. Gorz, « an exit from capitalism, rather than be a social damper of its misdeeds or a tool of social regulation of a precarious economy of full employment, according to the liberal logic, or again, instrument of a new deal to accelerate the transition from industrial capitalism to « cognitive capitalism » [7].

But the design of the primary income of Gorz must be specified. For some, the justification of the GSR as primary income is based on the fact that it constitutes the counterpart of a productive social contribution [8] that exceeds employment and escapes the measure. The criticism of A. Gorz is radical: « two conceptions of the income of existence are found in the presence, sometimes with the same authors: the one who sees in it the means of subtracting life from the commercial imagination and the total setting to work, and the one which, on the contrary, sees in it a necessary remuneration for non-working time, whose contribution to labor productivity has become decisive. It must be seen that this second conception contains a formidable trap […] this conception does not only take into account the total employment of the person. It legitimizes it: if the income of existence « remunerates » the invisible work which is a source of visible labor productivity, this remuneration allows to require that the invisible work actually makes the visible work as productive as possible. We thus remain in terms of the value of work and productivism […] The income of existence has the meaning of an « attack against the labor value » only if it does not require or remunerate anything: its function is, on the contrary, to restrict the sphere of value creation in the economic sense by making possible the expansion of activities that create nothing that one can buy, sell, exchange for something else, nothing so that has value (in the economic sense) – but only non-marketable wealth with intrinsic value. By freeing « self-production » from the constraints of economic valuation, income from existence will have to facilitate the full unconditional development of people beyond what is functionally useful for production [9] « .

Two modalities for the implementation of the GSI

A. Gorz did not believe that the GSI could be put in place peacefully and « from above ». It can only come « from below », according to two possibilities.The first is intermittency – the continuous income formula for discontinuous employment – that Gorz envisioned as a real « transition policy« . But the formula of intermittency comes up against the liberal principles of financial equilibrium, and more fundamentally with the neoliberal logic of social policy.

The second possibility is that of melting and complementary currencies.

In the perspective of A. Gorz, the GSI can not be based on taxation, because it would then be locked in the capitalist logic of the redistributive economy.

If, in this perspective, the GSI is not the counterpart of anything, and does not pay anything, it will still be a primary income, a monetary income but made of a different currency. She will not have the same functions. It can not be used for purposes of domination, power. « It will be created  » from below « , driven by a wave of substance, at the same time as networks of communal self-production cooperatives in response to a combination of the various forms of crisis that we feel to rise : climate crisis, ecological crisis, energy crisis and monetary crisis as a result of the collapse of the credit system [10] ».

At a time when the notions of « work » and « wealth » are at the heart of the crisis and therefore of the questions it raises, the proposals of André Gorz, also precursor of political ecology and degrowth [ 11], disappeared a little over 10 years ago, are more current than ever.

Robert Cauneau, basic income activist, member of MFRB


[ 1] Antonella Corsani, « Économie et politique du Revenu Inconditionnel d’Existence. Un hommage à André Gorz », Mouvements 2013/1 (n° 73), p. 11-18. DOI 10.3917/mouv.073.0011

[2] See an interview with the philosopher Anselm Jappe :

[3] A. Gorz, 1983, Les chemins du paradis, Galilée, Paris, p. 89.

[4] A. Gorz, 1997, op.cit. p. 140.

[5] Ibidem, p. 137.

[6] Ibidem, p. 144.

[7] See in particular : Y. Moulier-BoutAnG, « Le revenu garanti, condition structurelle d’un régime vivable du capitalisme cognitif », Multitudes, n.° 27, 2007.

[8] See for example : J.-M. Monnier, C. VerCellone, « Fondements et faisabilité du revenu social garanti », Multitudes, n. °27, 2007.

[9] A. Gorz, L’immatériel, Galilée, Paris, 2003, p. 30-31.

[10] A. Gorz, « Richesse sans valeur, valeur sans richesse », entretien réalisé par Sonia
Montano en 2005 publié in Ecologica, Galilée, Paris, 2008. p. 154.

[11 ] These aspects related to André Gorz’s thought will be the subject of other upcoming artcicles.

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