Are means-unconditionality and work-unconditionality linked?

If we want no means test, it is important to drop the work test. Bringing together the last two unconditionalities discussed – the absence of the means test and the absence of the work test – makes it possible to briefly formulate the core of what makes basic income particularly relevant under present circumstances. At first sight, there is total independence between these two unconditionalities, between the absence of an income test and the absence of a work test. But the strength of the basic income proposal crucially hinges on their being combined. The abolition of the means test, as we have seen, is intimately linked to the removal of the unemployment trap (in its two main dimensions), and hence to the creation of a potential for offering and accepting low-paid jobs which currently do not exist. But some of these jobs can be lousy, degrading dead-end jobs, which should not be promoted. Others are pleasant, enriching stepping-stone jobs, which are worth taking even at low pay because of their intrinsic value or the training they provide. Who can tell the difference? Not legislators or bureaucrats, but the individual workers who can be relied upon to know far more than what is known “at the top” about the countless facets of the job they do or consider taking. They have the knowledge that would enable them to be discriminating, but not always the power to do so, especially if they have poorly valued skills or limited mobility. A work-unconditional basic income endows the weakest with bargaining power in a way a work-conditional guaranteed income does not. Put differently, work-unconditionality is a key instrument to prevent means-unconditionality from leading to the expansion of lousy jobs. If there is no means test, no work test is needed. At the same time the work incentives associated by means-unconditionality makes work-conditionality less tempting as a way of alleviating the fear that benefits without a counterpart would nurture an idle underclass. In the absence of a means test, the tax and benefit structure can be expected to be such that beneficiaries can significantly increase their disposable incomes by working, even at a low rate and on a part-time basis, and without being trapped in such jobs once their skills improve or once they can improve their working time. Moving (back) into the work sphere will therefore be facilitated and encouraged, and, for those who fear a dualisation of society into workers and non-workers, there will therefore be far less of a need to insist on coupling the right to the benefit to some obligation to (be available for) work. To put it (somewhat too) succinctly: Just as work-unconditionality prevents means-unconditionality from unacceptably supporting exploitation (which it would do by subsidising unworthy low-paid jobs accepted under the threat of losing the benefit), similarly means-unconditionality prevents work-unconditionality from unacceptably fostering exclusion (which it would do by inviting one to no longer regard as problematic a system that durably disconnects the less productive from any labour participation by effectively killing off low-productive jobs). The two key unconditionalities of basic income are logically independent, but they are intrinsically linked as components of a strong proposal.