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For Human Dignity - The Creation of a Citizen Income

by Dominique de Villepin Tuesday, Mar. 15, 2011 at 4:37 AM

The Arab peoples hold a mirror up to us. The Arab revolution is a helping hand. A citizen income would be a fresh start to rebuild our public services that lie in ruins today. The omnipotence of the state and the omnipotence of the market must be overcome.


By Dominique de Villepin

[This article by Dominique de Villepin, former French prime minister and current president of the “Solidarity Republic” party from March 1, 2011 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.grundeinkommen.de/content/uploads/2011/03/villepin_buergereinkommen_110301_de.pdf.]

The Arab peoples hold a mirror up to us. Can we be glad about what we see? Do we hear what is said in admiration, enthusiasm and anxiety in the streets, cafes and family dining tables? We speak about them but in reality they raise questions about us. Who do we want to be? The truth is that we feel lost. The republic is at the end of its strength. This Arab revolution is a helping hand. We can grasp it or refuse it; we can hear hope or fear. We can avoid danger by choosing the wrong way, by imagining uncontrollable streams of refugees, murderous theocratic states and unprovoked terrorism. On both sides of the Mediterranean, we have a common fate. We can tear down the barriers established for almost 50 years, the contempt, animosity and cynicism. France’s task is to work for reconciliation of the two sides. There is an enormous striving for dignity. That is the keyword.

What about us? What about the cattle breeders who work without an income? What about the youths in the suburbs who graduate and know very well that their chances for a job are four times less than the others? What about the long-term unemployed who feel pushed from retraining to traineeship without job perspectives? What about the younger ones for whom entrance into vocational life is a constant struggle? What about the seniors who feel excluded? What about the excluded who sometimes beg more for a perspective than coins? In each there is the same keyword, the same protest: we want our dignity back.

Here there is the same passion for dignity. Who takes it from us? The answer is more complex for us than there. Here there is a diffuse adaptation to indifference, an acceptance of the competition of all against all, a submission under the commercialization of the world. Our political and media life has bowed to realism as western diplomats have bowed to the normality of dictatorship – in the name of a special Arab way. The feeling of having lost too much and the to-and-from between the big parties with its little arrangements between enemies and its little adjustments in marginal areas have condemned us to the status quo. The revolution of dignity that we desire ourselves without daring to say it loudly is a discovery of ourselves, a revival of the conscience. Out of our indignation, we make a lever of regaining dignity with the help of a genuine social reconstruction.

For centuries, humanity had no other goal than to ensure its own survival. The industrial revolution changed that within two centuries. Daily we experience the simple truth: there is surplus but not for everyone. We are a nation rich in a long past and a long accumulated heritage. Isn’t it natural that every French person has a right to a share in the national inheritance? Isn’t it necessary to give the citizen freedom to be devoted to the affairs of the community as citizens of ancient Athens once enjoyed? Isn’t it sensible to profit from the free development of the abilities of every individual? In the past this was not possible and perhaps not even desirable. But in France this has now become both possible and desirable – on account of the mass unemployment, democratized education and emancipation of the woman. In the course of the 21st century, developed countries will turn to these simple, modern and just desires. I propose establishing a citizen income. This would be an income guaranteed to everyone of 850 euro, an amount that is strictly necessary and not luxury as everyone who must live from such benefits can confirm. But it forms a base on which a dignified and free life can be built. This income would be regressive up to the level of medium income of around 1500 euro. With such an income, the moral obligation for activity would be created – for paid work, retraining, voluntary work, political or union activity and artistic creation… In large part, this will be financed through the redistribution of current financial assistance, through saving administrative expenses and targeted increases of taxes, profit taxes and taxes on the upper classes.

Will this citizen income solve all problems? Obviously not. But it would be a foundation for rebuilding our social and democratic republic, a fresh start to rebuild our public services that lie in ruins today. At the same time both the omnipotence of the state and the omnipotence of the market must be overcome and public welfare finally set in the center of our republic. Private ownership may not steal away from social responsibility. Therefore a public regulation of private interests is often necessary. The crisis has proven this. We need a public banking system both for safeguarding bank customers and for ensuring the obligation of the state to finance the economy, in particular to provide credits for small- and medium-size businesses. In the housing system, we need a public service that overcomes the misuse – vacant housing and rent usury – and balances supply and demand through a catalogue of duties for the rental parties.

A fresh start to restore our concept of state citizenship, a civil service required for youth and open for all age groups will make possible social mixture and social engagement for the public welfare. This is an opportunity for rethinking the linkage of our citizen-friendly public services: doctors in ambulances, pharmacies in rural areas or problematic living areas, teachers directly in the large residential areas to support academic work and lawyers who provide neighborhood legal support. This would be a fresh start to rebuild the social dialogue. I propose taking the way of a joint determination to make possible the participation of fellow workers in the destiny of firms and in decisions about business strategy, employment and wages. This would be a fresh start in dignity and hope. It is up to us to take our fate in our own hands.


Video: Rep. Dennis Kucinich speaking in Madison Wisconsin on economic democracy as a precondition for political democracy:

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