Abolishing the Distributaries of Value
Nick Srnicek (2018)
Under our current mode of production, we find ourselves socially recognised through monetary sums. The efforts that we make, the energy that we expend, the projects we build, and the contributions we add to society are aggregated and represented as a single figure in a vast social ledger. These figures mark our position in society, tracking the production, consumption, and distribution of value as it travels around the world and as it determines our mode of existence in a world dominated by capital.
The question we face today is what happens when the mechanisms for creating and distributing that value become scarce? What happens when the production of value is simply funnelled and concentrated upwards, while its distributary networks dry up and perish as dead labour takes over from living labour? At best, we see people fighting and pushing to reach the few remaining outlets, increasingly debasing themselves in a desperate effort to siphon off some value from the process of accumulation. At worst, entire groups of people are excluded and left as an unnecessary excess to the functioning of the economy. How can this situation be rectified? How can the distribution of value be re-engineered in ways that abolish its concentration while simultaneously enabling the expansion of capacities to act, think, and feel?
It is here that ideas of a universal basic income can offer us potential. Instead of tying the distribution of value to a narrow set of socially validated performances, a universal income recognises that the production of value is collective and the wealth we generate is a commons. While capitalism has individualised the attribution, distribution, and recognition of value, we must instead demand a basic collective right to our common wealth. Whether we work in a factory, work in the home, or work to create, we demand a right to be recognised and a right to existence without the compulsion of wage-labour. This is the future that a universal basic income offers: in a world where the requirements of living labour have been reduced to a minimum, we stand poised on the edge of an immense expansion in our collective and individual freedoms. The challenge now is to rebuild anew the channels of value.