Previously considered an exotic proposal, basic income is now garnering an unexpected level of interest in the lackluster campaign ahead of Italy’s March 4 elections. Berlusconi spoke of a “dignity income,” hijacking the original meaning of the term, which was introduced in a campaign by Libera and the Basic Income Network Italy. The 5 Star Movement, in turn, has made the “citizenship income”—actually a grim form of workfare and forced labor—a rallying cry for their supporters, numbering over 25 percent of the electorate.
After decades of hostility to this idea, “guaranteed minimum income” has gained acceptance on the left as well, becoming a headline promise of the Potere al Popolo program, although it’s understood as a means of fighting poverty and not, for example, as a redistribution of the wealth produced by human beings connected by digital platforms 24 hours per day. The last legislature approved a “social inclusion income” (REI) as an aid of last resort, subject to the obligation of undergoing job training, reserved only for the breadwinner of the (many) families that are in conditions of serious poverty.
The interest shown toward basic income is always tied to the obligation of working, irrespective of what this work would actually consist of. This inseparability is a result of anthropological pessimism and a hatred of people’s individual autonomy. Publicly praising an income that is not connected to any work at all is inconceivable. No one can be free from the blackmail of having to find work, even as jobs are increasingly poorly paid and precarious. At most, one might receive a few hundred euros: the REI pays from €190 up to €450 for a family of up to five children. In return for that, you must work until you bleed. And then what? That’s it. Those with precarious jobs are caught in the trap, and they can never escape.