Proposals for a universal basic income have reemerged in public discourse for a variety of reasons. Marx’s critique of exploitation suggests two apparently opposed positions on a basic income. On the one hand, a basic income funded from taxes on labor would appear to be exploitative of workers. On the other hand, a basic income liberates everyone from the vulnerable condition in which one is forced to sell one’s labor in order to survive, and so seems to be one way of abolishing exploitation at its root. This paper will develop a conception of exploitation that resolves the conflict in favor of basic income. The conception of exploitation is grounded in a liberal egalitarian conception of justice rather than in Marx’s labor theory of value or an exclusive focus on the worker-capitalist relation. This position is not premised on an acceptance of the basic institutions of capitalism, but rather is a standpoint from which to evaluate them. It is not necessary to downsize our ideas of freedom and equality. But it is less obvious than it appeared in classic Marxist formulations that socialism is necessary for social justice. To quote the title of a famous article, there could be a ‘capitalist road to communism’, if a substantial basic income is feasible in a capitalist society.
© 2015 by Lucius & Lucius, Stuttgart