The story I wish to tell instead suggests that there are forms of income maintenance that fall short of a fully universal basic income but would nonetheless be politically popular, and therefore robust. Moreover, those policies could also be emancipatory insofar as they expand people’s power to demand more, bridge the gaps between usually disconnected social groups, and lock in a political ratchet effect. I argue both that (1) a generous universal basic income would be emancipatory, ultimately helping to usher in a genuinely democratic economy, and (2) that income maintenance policies which are weaker — and therefore more immediately attainable — than the generous and universal ideal can nonetheless serve as a stepping stone for poor and working people to build power, forge ties, and demand more. The mechanism is the same in both cases, and indeed, all the empirical evidence about wage growth, destigmatizing effects, gender power relations, and labor force participation that I marshaled in my first essay for Catalyst comes from a social policy that fell short of a fully universal model, but was empowering nonetheless.
Not all things in the world obey the dialectic, but this does: policies that are achievable in the world today may confer power onto people, which facilitates the realization of further policies that again empower them to demand even more. Like the solution to the chicken and egg problem, policy and power co-evolve.
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