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Vol. 49 (2012) No. 2 p. 6-15



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This essay examines contemporary arguments for basic income in view of Marxian theories of political economy. In the first section, it begins with a general definition of basic income as a regular income publicly supplied to all individual social members without means test. This idea has gathered academic and social attention in Western Europe since the 1980s. It reflected a deadlock of traditional welfare policies, as individualistic life style (such as single mothers and elderly singles) became widespread, as well as increasing irregular workers with unstable jobs. It has been supported not just by social democrats among other various ideologists but also by influential Marxian theorists as a policy device possibly to guarantee real freedom for all in a future society via social democracy against the Soviet model. When the idea is introduced into Japan after two decades, however, it is argued mainly within a framework of reformation of the existing social security system in a capitalist society. The possible academic contributions from the view of Japanese Marxian political economy to this contemporary issue still remain to be explored. In the second section, a history of this idea is briefly reviewed. Two types of social thoughts which flowed into the contemporary arguments for basic income are discernible. The first type originates from T. Pain, asserting social need and legitimacy of basic income redistribution upon the premise of capitalist market economy. The second type assumes either centrally planned or market socialist society where some sorts of basic income for social members as communal owners of means of production are easily and duly to be realized. However, full basic income, which is sufficient to maintain an ordinary economic life for individual persons by itself, would not be realizable theoretically even in models of market socialism, not to mention capitalist societies, so long as it would seriously damage functions of labour market and incentive for market labour. In the third section, affinities between ideas of basic income and Marxian political economy are investigated. For instance, Marx's own image of future society beyond capitalism as 'association of free individuals' is clearly closer to the contemporary socialist idea of basic income to achieve real freedom for all individuals rather than to the Soviet model of society. Marxian analysis of contemporary capitalism must serve to clarify the historical necessity and feasibility of basic income as an advanced form of social welfare policy, better and deeper than any other economic schools. On the other hand, contemporary arguments for basic income request reconsideration on some of Marxian thoughts and theories. For example, although Marx formulated that an ideal rule of redistribution 'from each according to one's ability, to each according to his need' is realizable only at the second higher phase of communist society, contemporary Marxian economists began to be aware that redistribution according to one's necessity could be at least gradually and partially realizable already in the form of advanced social security system or its reform program as basic income. Further, if Marx's theoretical treatment of skilled or complex labour is reconsidered as suggested in this essay, Marxian labour theory of value would easily gain affinity with the idea of basic income demanding fundamentally egalitarian redistribution of income. Thus this essay attempts to show that Marxian basic theories of value, surplus-value and economic crisis can serve well as a basic frame of reference also for examining the historical significance of contemporary arguments on basic income.

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