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BASIC INCOME STUDIES An International Journal of Basic Income Research Vol. 6, Issue 2 BOOK REVIEW December 2011 Gijs van Donselaar, The Right to Exploit: Parasitism, Scarcity, Basic Income, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 195, $65.00 (hardcover), ISBN: 10-0195140397. José Luis Rey Pérez University P. Comillas This book contains many of the arguments advanced 12 years ago by Gijs van Donselaar (1997) in his doctoral dissertation The Benefit of Another's Pain. The author continues to be one of the main critics of the unconditional character of a universal basic income (UBI), taking as his main target the arguments introduced by Philippe Van Parijs (1995) to justify a UBI (e.g., Van Donselaar, 2003). The book's main objective is to demonstrate that a UBI is inherently exploitative. Van Donselaar develops a particular concept of exploitation or parasitism based on what Robert Nozick (1974) terms the "Lockean proviso." Briefly, the Lockean proviso states that people have a right to transform natural goods into private property through the use of their labour provided they leave enough and as good for others (pp. 94100). Employing an exhaustive hermeneutic methodology, van Donselaar offers a novel version of the Lockean justification for private property. He argues that a relation between A and B is parasitic if "in virtue of that relation A is worse off than she would have been had B not existed or if she would have had nothing to do with him, while B is better off than he would have been without A, or having nothing to do with her, or vice versa" (p. 4). Essentially, the revised Lockean proviso prohibits any appropriation that puts others in the position of a "coerced buyer." Van Donselaar also applies his concept of parasitism to a thought experiment used by Dworkin (1981) to defend an ideal of "justice" as "equality of resources." In his thought experiment Dworkin imagines an auction in which all participants have the same number of money tokens ("clamshells") to bid for resources they require in order to engage in those activities they individually prefer. Dworkin considers the result of the action to be that nobody would envy DOI: 10.1515/1932-0183.1199 Copyright ©2012 De Gruyter. All rights reserved. Basic Income Studies Vol. 6 , No. 2, Article 12 the resources obtained by any other individual even when the actual distribution may be unequal. However, van Donselaar argues that Dworkin's thought experiment fails to fully capture our intuitions about justice because it fails the parasitism test. To counter parasitism requires, not the equal distribution of initial resources, but rather a distribution of assets that takes into account our independent interest (ability and willingness) in using a resource. To acknowledge A's only interest in the marketable value of an asset (derived from the conditions of scarcity), enabling A to obtain a benefit from B who has a genuine independent interest in that asset, is to endorse A's parasitic relation to B. According to van Donselaar, the previous argument can be applied to evaluate individuals' rights to access jobs. Van Parijs (1995) famously argued that jobholders receive a gift from society and that their wage in part thus constitutes a rent that can be taxed and subsequently distributed unconditionally to all citizens as a UBI. Van Donselaar believes this argument is flawed because, like the Dworkinian auction, it fails the parasitism test. It would be unfair to tax jobs (or rather, wages) to subsidize nonworking people if they do not want to work if they have no independent interest in having a job. Van Donselaar agrees with Van Parijs about the importance of resources equality as a foundation of just distribution, as well as the idea that jobs are one important asset that must be guided by principles of just distribution. However, he disagrees vehemently with Van Parijs that this implies that all members of a political community are entitled to share in the benefits of the just distribution of (the marketable value of) jobs, independent of their willingness to work. Consequently, UBI should be restricted to those who cannot find employment due to job scarcity but are genuinely interested in working. In The Right to Exploit van Donselaar offers an important philosophical reflection along the lines of the so-called reciprocity objection to UBI (White, 2003). The book's main arguments have already been discussed in the basic income literature, given that the original dissertation is familiar to basic income supporters (Van Donselaar, 1997; 2003). Many basic income scholars are critical of van Donselaar's views. For instance, Karl Widerquist (2006) has pointed out that van Donselaar's contention about resources use is exclusively oriented to productive activities ignoring legitimate, nonproductive resources uses. Not only does van Donselaar fail to recognize that individuals may have valid marketable interest in resources, but he also holds a very restrictive view about work since he appears to regard the labour market as the only valid institution supporting a right to a job. Thus, he seems not to appreciate the value of informal work, including care work or volunteering. In a Donselaarian perspective, the Rey Pérez: Review of The Right to Exploit market is the only institutional mechanism that offers a valid criterion to determine who has a right over assets. But, from my point of view, if we reject the legitimacy of interests grounded in market value as van Donselaar tries to do then it seems we must also acknowledge that individuals' interest in resources must be broader than just a productive one. Van Donselaar agrees with other authors, like Stuart White (2003), who defend a broad reciprocity principle that captures not only productive activities in formal markets, but also general activities that bring about positive consequences for the community. Among these activities we would have to exclude those that imply trading in the market with others' pain. The point is that it is very difficult to fully identify work or jobs with the broad category of external resources that feature in the theories of Dworkin and Van Parijs. And since an external asset can be used in different ways, van Donselaar needs to explain how we can distinguish legitimate from illegitimate uses of resources. In particular, he must explain in much more detail why we should accept his view that the distribution of jobs access should be based on their "productive use" in the labour market and not on other uses that do not imply exploitation. I think that it is precisely the equalization between external assets and jobs that is highly problematic in the arguments of both Van Parijs and van Donselaar. In my view, jobs should not be equated with external resources: perhaps a broader concept of work could be considered as a resource, but not jobs that are defined through market criteria. My disagreements with some of van Donselaar's arguments notwithstanding, The Right to Exploit is a stimulating book. It offers a set of welldeveloped arguments that remains one of the most penetrating criticisms of van Parijs´s real-libertarian justification of a UBI.
Basic Income Studies – de Gruyter
Published: Jan 19, 2012
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