17. June 2020

Universal Basic Services

2 min Lesezeit
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The Corona crisis has shown the vulnerabilities of market-coordinated, highly differentiated societies: brittle child care arrangements, limited community health capacities, sub-par elderly care, among others. Moreover, it has demonstrated that these vulnerabilities, while to a certain extent shared and universal, fall most heavily on the shoulders of the disadvantaged, and can vary greatly by region.

One approach to address these basic vulnerabilities after Corona is to introduce a greater array of universal basic services, akin to the National Health Service in the UK. By de-linking provision from markets, this renders the services in question more resilient to disruptions in financial markets, household incomes, and other economic shocks.

Since the set of potential basic services is heterogenous — reasonable contenders include child care, elderly care, community health, communications, energy and water supply, public transport, and possibly housing — both agreeing on which services to make universal, and determining how best to provide them, is challenging. An avenue that merits further exploration may be to combine polity-level rights to a certain set of services with local, regional, or national delivery arrangements.

The set of services and their delivery arrangements depend on the technical nature of the service in question and on the homogeneity or heterogeneity of citizen needs and preferences. In both cases, although technical details matter, the scope and delivery decisions are inherently political. A third question that requires further exploration is therefore how to ensure democratic accountability throughout the determination and the delivery of the services in question. Here, a combination of local, regional, national, and possibly supra-national democratic decision and accountability mechanisms, selected via sortition and/or with quotas for gender and race to ensure balance, looks promising.

Given the promising nature of universal basic services, particularly in terms of increasing resilience and social cohesion, combined with the large number of open and challenging questions, this proposal both requires and merits further research.

This proposal links to Reducing Leverage, particularly if housing is included, a European Investment Authority, as a possible co-implementer, and Valorising Work, Democratising Corporations, as a further avenue for democratising control over the division of labour.

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